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The Flyers response to ‘Hockey Is For Everyone’ month has been very disappointing

I expect my favorite team to be a leader on inclusion and diversity. But this month, they have failed to prove that they are.

Sarnia Sting v Niagara IceDogs Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

February is “Hockey Is For Everyone” month across the NHL, an initiative the league announced back on the first of the month. I won’t put words in their mouth; this is what they say this month is about:

Every day throughout February, Hockey Is For Everyone activities will focus awareness on such areas as LGBTQ; ethnicity and gender equality; socio-economic status and those with disabilities. The campaign is conducted in partnership with the You Can Play Project -- a nonprofit committed to supporting the LGBTQ community and fighting homophobia in sports. The campaign marks the first time the Players' Association, the League and its Clubs have collaborated to encourage teamwork, inclusiveness and diversity in hockey at all levels daily for an entire calendar month. ...

Teams will host Hockey Is For Everyone™ awareness nights honoring and recognizing hockey players of all ages from diverse backgrounds including: sled hockey players, blind players, youth boys and girls players, special needs players, and recent immigrants.

Obviously, “Hockey Is For Everyone” is a pretty broad name for an initiative, and it can manifest in lots of ways. But the overall goal here is also clear: the NHL is taking an entire month to repeatedly put on display the outreach that they (hopefully) are making towards marginalized communities on a year-round basis.

The goal is awareness. You know how in school you’re supposed to show your work on a math problem, not just know the answer? The league and its teams do wonderful things in their communities year-round, but this month is about showing that work, and making sure that people know they’re actually doing it.

Much of that outreach, of course, is dependent upon the teams themselves. They are the front lines between the game and the fans, and as a result, you’ve seen a lot of teams out on those front lines, prominently screaming from the rooftops all the great work they do.

An example of a team doing it right

The Washington Capitals are an example of a team that went well above and beyond the call of duty for this league-wide initiative. Here’s a list of special events that were specifically promoted by the team as part of Hockey Is For Everyone month:

  1. They hosted Fatima Ali, a young hockey player from the United Arab Emirates, in Washington for several days. During her time in the States, the Capitals held several public outreach events with her, including one on the ice with Caps players following practice and a ceremonial puck drop before a home game. I got like, four different press releases about this. They promoted the hell out of it.
  2. They hosted a Chinese Cultural Night during a home game. The game was also broadcast on CCTV in China.
  3. They hosted the USA Warriors, a group of veterans wounded in combat, for an event at their practice facility.
  4. In coordination with the charity Dreams for Kids, the team for hosted a hockey clinic children with physical and developmental disabilities.
  5. They hosted a Try Blind Hockey event with the Blind Veterans Association.
  6. They held a screening of the (excellent) Soul On Ice film, a documentary on the history of black hockey players, for middle school students from DC Public Schools.

At their designated “Hockey Is For Everyone” Night home game tonight, all of this will come to a tidy conclusion for the Caps.

They will put a particular spotlight on LGBTQ inclusion, using rainbow-colored tape during warmups. Braden Holtby, the team’s designated “You Can Play” ambassador, has a special mask that he’ll wear in the game -- and he’s done a lot of talking about it. The mask will be auctioned off following the game, with proceeds benefitting the You Can Play Project.

All of these events were public, and well-promoted by the Capitals marketing team. Again, that’s the point of having a month like this. It’s one thing to do these things, but it’s another thing entirely to tell everybody that you’re doing it. It’s about raising awareness for these various causes.

The Flyers dropped the ball

When it comes to that, I have to say that I’m extremely disappointed in the Flyers' response to Hockey Is For Everyone month.

In terms of public events that were announced through any or all the official team channels as part of HIFE month — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, the team’s website, a press release — the Flyers have come nowhere near what a team like Washington has done.

In fact, here is every official team communication about this:

Yeah. That’s it. (There’s also a pride flag shirt with the Flyers logo for sale, but that’s an NHL thing — they did it for every team.)

This is not to say that the Flyers aren’t doing things in the community this month (example here, example here). They do things in the community every month, and that’s great and the team absolutely deserves credit for that work. Snider Hockey is also a fantastic organization that helps underprivileged kids in Philadelphia, and it’s probably the model for similar organizations around the league.

But this month of February is specifically designated for outreach to and awareness of these marginalized communities, particularly as it ties to welcoming them to the sport as fans and players. The Flyers have done next to nothing to support that goal.

Radio silence on LGBTQ inclusion, You Can Play ambassadors

Like Holtby in Washington, and like every other team in the NHL, the Flyers have a You Can Play ambassador. It’s Claude Giroux, and according to the league, his role is to “be a leader in the locker room and in the community on diversity, equality, and inclusion.”

The locker room part is important stuff that we’ll never see, for good reason.

But the community stuff? The Flyers didn’t even tweet about it. Not on February 1 when it was announced, nor in the 23 days since. There has been zero public acknowledgement of Giroux’s role as YCP ambassador from the organization, and from what I can tell, not a single word spoken about it by Giroux either.

The Flyers did hold their own Hockey Is For Everyone night on Wednesday against the Capitals. I was not in the building, but our intrepid reporter Charlie O’Connor was, and he confirms that there were a few brief 20-30 second videos shown before and during the game and ... that’s it.

One tweet, some short videos in the building. How is that enough, especially when compared to what other teams are doing?

No special awareness nights, no displays of inclusion from players on the ice in the form of pride flag stick tape, no Alumni outreach for events with marginalized groups at the Skate Zone, not a single Facebook post, nothing. There’s no excuse for this.

We used the Capitals as an example of a team that went above and beyond, but basically every team in the league did some sort of big public event — shared and promoted on social media and on the ice in a way that actually raises awareness.

Specifically on the issue of LGBTQ inclusion, 22 of 30 teams held special “You Can Play” nights where they lit up the rink in the rainbow flag, used rainbow-colored tape during warmups, had coaches wear You Can Play pins, and made public callouts of the evening throughout the game.

If a team that doesn’t even have players yet did more for public awareness of Hockey Is For Everyone month than the Flyers did — well, that’s all you really need to know.

It’s hard to understand why they didn’t do more

I don’t think the Flyers are being actively hostile towards the LGBTQ community or any of these other communities. After all, the team was one of the first in the league to host a You Can Play night when they did it last season. They sponsor Snider Hockey. They hold an Autism Awareness Night every year. They legitimately do a lot of good.

That’s what makes this so odd. There’s no reason not to have a You Can Play Night, or a Chinese Cultural Night, or to shout from the top of the Comcast Center all of the amazing things the organization does with the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation. It’s like being handed a suitcase full of money and not spending a dime of it.

People in these communities and their allies notice when their favorite team is silent. I’m confused and very disappointed in the organization I’ve been rooting for since birth, because I expect them to be a leader with this type of outreach. During this huge league-wide effort in February, the Flyers have not done anything to earn that expectation.

In the spirit of not wanting to jump to conclusions, I reached out to a team spokesman with questions about how the team was celebrating the month. I was given a list of events put together by the team’s marketing department, which you can see in full below. All of them are good things, but to date, almost none of them have been publicized by the team.

For a month that’s all about awareness, that’s just not enough.

Feb. 1

  • In honor of National Girls & Women in Sport Day and in partnership with the Women in Sport Foundation, Snider Hockey will celebrate the theme of “Expanding Opportunity with its girls’ teams.
  • There will be a special open house for girls at Sims Rink in West Philadelphia designed to introduce new girls to the sport and to Snider Hockey.
  • Snider Hockey, a Hockey is for Everyone program, will be hosting a Hockey Clinic at Simmons Rink with Flyers Alum Bob “The Hound” Kelly, in partnership with Rothman Institute.

Feb. 3

  • Twice a year, each of 5 Snider Hockey (a Hockey is for Everyone program) rinks host a “College Night” where college hockey players help lead on-ice practice and talk with students off the ice about what life is like as a college athlete. This event is at Sims rink and the University of Pennsylvania ice hockey team will engage with the Snider Hockey students.

Feb. 4

  • All Snider Hockey (a Hockey is for Everyone program) high school students are required to attend at least one college campus visit per year as part of the postsecondary success program. This visit is to the University of Delaware College Campus.

Feb. 6, Flyers vs. Blues

  • The Flyers will host the players from the Flyers Quebec Pee Wee team in a suite.
  • The Pee Wee players will be recognized on the scoreboard during the game with an in-game send off to wish them good luck at the Quebec Peewee tournament in February.
  • In the Quebec tournament the team will play against other teams from 110 countries. The team will immerse in the Quebec culture.

Feb. 8

  • Community College of Philadelphia will host an info session for Snider Hockey, a Hockey is for Everyone program, high school students and their families at Simons Rink.

Feb. 9

  • Twice a year, each of 5 Snider Hockey (a Hockey is for Everyone program) rinks host a “College Night” where college hockey players help lead on-ice practice and talk with students off the ice about what life is like as a college athlete. On this day the Bryn Athlyn College ice hockey team will visit the Scanlon Rink.

Feb. 16

  • Community College of Philadelphia will host an info session for Snider Hockey, a Hockey is for Everyone program, high school students and their families at Sims Rink.

Feb. 22, Flyers vs. Capitals

  • The Flyers will run in-game messaging on the scoreboard promoting HIFE month. Messaging will include recaps of Flyers HIFE events throughout February as well as messaging provided by the NHL.
  • Flyers will invite local group that represent different areas of diversity in hockey to the game through group sales and donated golden tickets.
  • Flyers Captain Claude Giroux will also be donating his suite to children and their families from the non-profit group Access Sports Experiences (focused on at-risk and special needs populations)
  • Flyers will offer information booths to these organizations on the Wells Fargo center concourse throughout the game.
  • Flyers will honor a leader in the Youth Hockey Community with a special scoreboard presentation and “Community Teammate” award.

Feb. 27

  • Community College of Philadelphia will host an info session for Snider Hockey, a Hockey is for Everyone program, high school students and their families at Tarken.

March 2

  • From 3/2-3/4 the Lameroux Twins from the Women’s National Team will be visiting Philadelphia.
  • The twins have partnered with CCM to donate $10,000 worth of equipment to Snider Hockey (a Hockey is for Everyone program).
  • During their stay the women will actively participate in a number of activations with the Snider Foundation and the kids who participate in the program and they will attend a Philadelphia Flyers game.