NHL expands engagement efforts including Pride participation

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ABOVE: Ally Braden Holtby at the Capital Pride parade June 8. Washington Blade photo by Kevin Majoros.

Hockey is for Everyone, the National Hockey League’s (NHL) cultural campaign, has evolved in a significant way over the past year. Originally an annual one-month campaign in February, the NHL shifted their strategy to a year-round community program for long-term engagement.

Hockey is for Everyone uses the game of hockey and the League’s global influence to drive positive social change and foster more inclusive communities. NHL stakeholders guide the conversation at the league level and the campaign amplifies what NHL teams are already doing.

A few examples of targeted campaigns are Black Hockey History in February, Girls and Women in Hockey in March and Pride in June.

“The evolved cultural campaign is providing a consistent drumbeat of inclusion that doesn’t feel transactional,” says Jessica Berman, NHL vice president of community development. “We needed to go deeper and the intended impact is to inspire others to think about how they show up for historically marginalized groups.”

In celebration of Pride Month this year, all 31 NHL teams participated in events including parades and festivals across North America and the League is continuing its partnership with You Can Play, an advocacy organization that fights homophobia in sports.

The representation from the NHL teams this month at Pride Parades has been a mix of staffers, general managers and active players.

Minnesota Wild’s J.T. Brown, Nashville Predator’s Roman Josi, Toronto Maple Leaf’s Morgan Rielly, New Jersey Devils’ Kurtis Gabriel and Washington Capitals Braden Holtby all marched in their respective city’s parades this month.

Holtby was once again joined by his wife Brandi and it marked his third time marching in the Capital Pride Parade. He missed last year’s celebration due to the Caps final game in their Stanley Cup win happening just two days before the parade.

As part of the new cultural campaign, the NHL has begun sharing stories and videos of people whose stories represent a cross-section of the community.

“It was important for us to become more intentional about the stories we are sharing to educate the hockey stakeholders on the intersection and commonality in the hockey communities,” Berman says. “We want to give these individuals the opportunity to go deeper and talk about their challenges and barriers.”

Included in the Pride stories was New Jersey Devils’ Kurtis Gabriel who wrapped his hockey stick in Pride Tape in February as an act of LGBTQ solidarity. He decided to leave the tape on his stick for the remainder of the season.

As Gabriel says in the video, “The outpouring of support from people was unbelievable and immediate. … It shows how such a small thing can go a long way. … I was raised by my mom to treat people the way you want to be treated. … It’s just common human empathy to be able to do this.”

Berman points to You Can Play as a critical partner in using the correct language and establishing best practices for engaging LGBTQ people.

“The NHL teams have been progressive in their thinking and have embraced the LGBTQ initiative,” Berman says. “It’s important for the teams to show up in LGBTQ spaces instead of expecting the opposite and we will continue to grow these relationships.”

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