NHL opposes Texas ‘bathroom bill,’ but stronger stance may be needed

NHL hockey commissioner Gary Bettman, right, and deputy commissioner Bill Daly. (Wilfredo Lee/AP)

Many felt the National Hockey League only talked the talk, but backed down at crunch time, when Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf let loose a homophobic slur during Round 3 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs but was not suspended.

Today, it appears the NHL may be heading towards a do-over on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender file.

There is a controversial bill winding its way through the Texas Legislature — known as the “bathroom bill” — deemed homophobic and non-accepting of transgender rights. Should the bill pass, all eyes will be on the NHL, which recently awarded the 2018 draft to the Dallas Stars.

The NHL has undertaken numerous initiatives to prove it is accepting of the LBGT community, including welcoming Pride Tape and pairing up with You Can Play. On Wednesday, both the Stars and the NHL condemned the senate bill.

“We strongly oppose the bill in its original form,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told Sportsnet in an email Wednesday afternoon. “We hope and expect that bill in that form will not be passed into law. We would obviously have to reassess the situation in the event that happens.”

The Senate bill, as described by the New York Times, “would require transgender people to use bathrooms in schools and local government buildings corresponding to the gender listed on their birth certificates or state-issued identification cards.”

Championed primarily by the religious right, such a bill would stop school districts or other organizations from making their own decisions regarding acceptance of transgender people. Telling people which bathroom they are to use, opponents say, takes Texas back to the days when there were separate washroom facilities for blacks and whites.

This past February, the NHL appointed 30 “You Can Play Club Ambassadors,” a player from each team who could speak to the inclusiveness of the league.

Still, the NHL remains the only major North American league that has not had a current or former player “come out” as gay.

Meanwhile, Stars president and CEO Jim Lites was the first executive from a pro team in Texas to speak out against the bill on Wednesday.

“Dallas was warm and welcoming when we came to this great city 25 years ago, and it remains so today,” Lites said in a statement. “The Dallas Stars stands strongly opposed to any legislation perceived as discriminatory, including proposed bathroom legislation. We welcome fans from all over the globe, and our roster boasts players from half a dozen countries. Dallas welcomes all, and we welcome all.

“We’re thrilled that Dallas will host the NHL Draft next year,” he added. “We are proud of our home and want every visitor to feel at home here, too, and that’s why we oppose this discriminatory bathroom legislation.”

There is precedent here, set by the National Basketball Association when it moved the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte over objections to a North Carolina law limiting anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people. The NBA had expressed its opposition to the law prior to its enactment, and moved the game less than a month after state legislators revisited the law and chose to leave it largely unaltered.

The game was moved to New Orleans.

In stating a need to “reassess the situation,” Daly left the door open for a similar decision to made by the NHL, should the bill pass. Should the bill go through, there would be much pressure for hockey to conduct itself the way basketball did.

Said Outsports.com co-founder Cyd Zeigler on Wednesday: “The NHL’s decision to host the 2018 NHL Draft, while discriminatory legislation is being pushed by the state senate and governor, shows a complete disregard for the well-being of LGBT fans and partially undoes years of goodwill the NHL has fostered with our community. The message is clear: We’ll embrace you when it’s easy, not when it’s hard.”

That’s the NHL’s conundrum, in a nutshell.

If you’re going to call yourself an inclusive league, team up with You Can Play, and march with the Stanley Cup in Pride parades, then you’ve got to be there to back the LGBT community on issues like these. If you do not, then you are deemed phony and hollow.

The bill has not been passed as of yet, but is expected to be decided upon either way by mid-August.

After that, the puck will be in the NHL’s end, when it comes to Dallas and the 2018 draft.

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