LeBrun: Speaking from the heart on nights of Pride, NHL and hope in a grim moment

What many will likely forget last week is that the Panthers and Sharks went ahead and donned their pride jerseys with almost full participation.

They made the toughest call.

They knew that by wearing them, they would focus on their teammates for their decision not to participate.

But James Reimer, Eric Staal and Mark Staal shouldn’t take their teammates right to celebrate inclusion in the sport.

And so I applaud the sharks and cheetahs for making the decision that they did.

This is the first thing I want to remember.

It doesn’t matter. Seeing NHL players wearing Pride jerseys sends a message to members of the LGBTQ+ hockey community—that they are welcomed through arena doors, and that they have a place in the game.

They are still a weak community. This NHL season probably didn’t make a lot of them feel terribly comfortable about where the sport is headed with inclusion.

I recently spoke at the official launch of the Alphabet Sports Collective, a massive initiative co-founded by Brooke McGillis and Payne Pittinger.

A young gay man then came to me to tell me how important it was to hear someone like me, with my platform in the NHL, be an ally to their community. I fought back the tears.

And I mean, my simple and perhaps naive goal in all of this, and why I’ve chosen to ally with Alphabet, is that I want sports to make everyone feel like they belong in hockey. It’s a noble goal. Because – let’s be real – hockey isn’t for everyone now.

For those who argue that we should not mix politics with sports, this is not politics. This means that everyone is welcome in the hockey community. This is not a policy, sorry. This is human decency.

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I wish the Staal and Reimer brothers had heard of this young offbeat and their love of hockey and understood the pure hurt it could engender in them to see these NHLers opt out of Pride Nights – and find out why.

I don’t fully understand how Christian beliefs translate into an unwillingness to put some members of society on a level playing field.

Listen, I don’t want to force players to participate in Pride Nights if they’re not comfortable with it. I’m not interested in shaming them. This is not fruitful.

I would much rather have them have a meaningful conversation behind closed doors with people like McGillis or Pittinger. This is where the real work has to be done. education. And believe me, both McGillis and Pettinger are eager to have those conversations. They already had a lot of them. Honestly, the NHL Players Association and the NHL should have McGillis on speed dial.

“I think we’ve lost sight of what these nights are about,” Bettinger told me Friday. “They’re not asking the players to decide what’s right or wrong; it’s about the community for one night stands wanting to feel welcomed by the NHL and the sport and feel safe — by their favorite NHL team. It’s about the community and welcoming everyone, not kicking them out.”

My interactions with Rimmer & Stahl Bros. over the years have been positive. They have always been nice people to deal with.

But I think in this case they made a mistake. And I wish they had spoken to McGillis or Pittinger before making their decision, at least to get a deeper understanding of factors they might not have considered.

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I am not angry. I am not angry. I’m just frustrated with what happened this NHL season. There was so much joy in my heart when I wrote the stories of Pettinger and Luke Prokop over the past few years. I felt hockey was making giant strides.

I don’t feel that way today.

But it’s not over yet.

Indeed, there are moments like this that give you hope.

Then there’s Matthew Tkachuk explaining Thursday night why Pride Night was important to the Panthers.

“A night like this one, to me, really means everyone,” Tkachuk said. “In my opinion, it is by far the greatest game in the world, and everyone is welcome in my locker room.”

This is what I choose to remember.

(Top photo of Anthony Duclair and the Panthers at Pride Night: Elliott G. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

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