Last February, the NHL introduced “Hockey Is For Everyone” month, a new initiative involving the league, its clubs, and the players association. The idea was simple: “Our clubs, our players and our fans are committed to welcoming everyone to hockey. While the NHL family strives for diversity and inclusiveness all year long, February is Hockey Is For Everyone month,” commissioner Gary Bettman said at the time.
Now, just days before the start of another “Hockey Is For Everyone” month, Kid Rock will take center stage at the 2018 NHL All-Star Game. The country rock singer is known for displaying Confederate flags at his concerts, making anti-transgender comments at a show, endorsing President Donald Trump, and slamming Colin Kaepernick. He is, quite frankly, one of the most divisive musical acts they possibly could’ve chosen.
And based on comments that Steve Mayer, NHL executive vice president and executive producer for programming and creative development, made to ESPN, the performer’s fandom outweighed any other concerns about his behavior.
“It’s all about the entertainment at the end of the day for us, and this selection was purely based on that, and the fact that Kid Rock is a hockey lover. That’s simply the background here.”
You’d think, after a century in the entertainment business, the NHL would understand how many people don’t find that kind of answer acceptable anymore. But this is sadly nothing new for a league that’s repeatedly shown its claims of commitment to diversity and inclusion to be nothing more than lip service.
Here are just some examples from the past year.
There was the time Ryan Getzlaf was suspended only one game when cameras caught him using a homophobic slur on TV. There was the time the league said it would merely “reassess” the 2018 NHL Draft in Dallas if Texas passed anti-LGBTQ legislation. There was the weird Penguins White House trip that basically nobody acknowledged. There was the time Kid Rock himself played the opener at the Red Wings’ new arena and people protested outside. There was the time the NHL patted itself on the back for its You Can Play ambassadors, even though nobody really seems to know what they do or how they’ve made a difference in the community.
Over and over, the NHL — a league of predominantly wealthy, white, heterosexual men — has undercut its messages of diversity and inclusion with its actions. And in this case, league officials presumably had months to research Kid Rock and what his concerts look like. ESPN’s reporting says the league considered his past controversies and acknowledge the backlash. So, in that case, the next reasonable step is to assume they simply don’t care.
For a lot of hockey fans, that’s a slap in the face. It’s another sign that all these initiatives and fancy nights where players use rainbow sticks during warmups mean little until the rest of the league’s actions back up its words. The league has made so much progress in this area, yet it opted to focus on Kid Rock’s fandom instead of his other behavior. The idea of celebrating Hockey Is For Everyone month days after having a Michigan native who loves the Confederate flag play your marquee event is dumbfounding.
Hockey really isn’t for everyone as long as the league keeps doing stuff like this.