Detroit — The NHL, long ahead of the other four major professional sports leagues in terms of its outreach to the LGBTQ community, announced this week a major initiative to continue to advance the effort.
The NHL is calling February "Hockey is for Everyone" month.
During the month, the NHL will sponsor activities aimed at putting a spotlight on LGBTQ issues — including the naming of a Red Wings' community ambassador, and a pride night at Joe Louis Arena — as well as issues of ethnic and gender equality, socio-economic status and peoples with disabilities.
"Hockey is for Everyone" will be a part of the NHL's "You Can Play" initiative, launched in 2012 by, among others, Patrick Burke, the son of former Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke and the brother of Brendan Burke, an openly gay college student at Miami (Ohio) when he died in a car accident in February 2010. Its mission, in part, is to combat homophobia in sports.
Several NHL teams will host a "You Can Play" designated game this month, celebrating the LGBTQ community. The Red Wings told The News on Thursday that their game will be Feb. 15 against St. Louis at Joe Louis Arena. Additional details, including ceremonial puck droppers and possibly a special national-anthem singer, will be revealed in the coming days.
The Red Wings and other teams also will use special "Pride Tape" on their hockey sticks during pregame warm-ups.
"Our clubs, our players and our fans are committed to welcoming everyone to hockey," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. "While the NHL family strives for diversity and inclusiveness all year long, February is 'Hockey is for Everyone' month, which will highlight, on a daily basis, the many ways our sport brings greater attention, heightened awareness and broader opportunities."
The Feb. 15 game is believed to the be the first official LGBTQ pride night held by any of the four major Detroit professional sports franchises. The Tigers, Lions, Pistons and Red Wings have had unofficial pride games, organized by community LGBTQ organizations but not the teams. Detroit City Football Club has hosted pride events, occasionally wearing special jerseys.
Each NHL team also has designated one player to be a "You Can Play" ambassador, and for the Red Wings, that is Frans Nielsen. He was asked and accepted the role. Ambassadors are charged with being a leader in the locker room and in the community on issues of diversity and inclusion.
Other notable ambassadors include Livonia's Ryan Kesler (Anaheim) and Rochester native and former Michigan player Jacob Trouba (Winnipeg). Also, Andrew Shaw agreed to be Montreal's ambassador, after an incident last year when he shouted an anti-gay slur at a referee while he was playing for Chicago.
The NHL, the 30 teams and the Players Association came together to organize the venture.
"We are extremely proud of the work these teams and players are doing to promote respect for the LGBTQ community," said Wade Davis, director of professional sports outreach for 'You can Play,' in a statement. "'You Can Play' can have a major positive impact on millions of players, staff members and fans worldwide."
On its website, http://shop.nhl.com the NHL is selling, for a limited time, "Hockey is for Everyone" T-shirts, as well as rainbow pride hockey tape.