Every NHL team now has an "LGBTQ-inclusion ambassador" for a league that has no openly gay players.
The NHL will host events throughout the month for its "Hockey Is For Everyone™" initiative that raise awareness about LGBTQ issues and gender equality in the all-men league.
"The NHL is teaming up with the You Can Play project to create more visibility for LGBTQ inclusion in the league and build a list of team ambassadors that creates a web of support reaching all 30 team locker rooms," reported Outsports.com, a website run by SB Nation.
"In support of their longstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion in hockey, the National Hockey League, the League’s Member Clubs and the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) will spotlight a variety of community-related initiatives for Hockey Is For Everyone™ month," the NHL said in a statement last week. "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 ambassadors' purpose is for other players to have someone they can "reach out to if they need support." Outsports.com noted, "there has never been a current or former NHL player who has come out publicly."
"Every other major pro league in North America has at least two," the website added.
Among the NHL's new inclusivity officers is Montreal Canadiens player Andrew Shaw, who famously yelled "Fuck you, fucking faggot, fuck you," at a referee during last year's playoffs.
"I mean, I get it," Shaw said at the time after being fined and suspended for a game. "It's a hurtful word."
"You had to wonder: Did he really get it?" NHL.com wrote in a story about Shaw's new role. "Did he really understand that this was a reason a gay player might not feel comfortable coming out in the NHL? Was he sorry for what he said or sorry he got caught? Was he just saying what he was supposed to say to do damage control?"
Shaw now says he believes he was the best candidate for the LGBTQ-inclusive ambassadorship for the Canadiens because of what he "went through last year," and said the role will be "more than symbolic."
"I learned that words are hurtful," he said. "They affect people. Even though you might not think they do, they cut deep into some. It's not right."
Another ambassador is Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby, who tweeted from last year's D.C. pride parade draped in a gay pride flag with the hashtag #RockTheRainbow.
— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) June 11, 2016
The NHL's announcement of the ambassadors comes as the "refs, and the league, are declaring war on fighting." Fights are "vanishing" from the NHL, and were down 16 percent in 2016, and 40 percent from the 2012 season.
The goal of the NHL's Hockey is for Everyone™ initiative is to "provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status."
The NHL also has a "Green" initiative, which gives tips for using "smart thermostats" to manage energy use, links to Obama White House fact sheets on "Tackling climate through sports," and celebrates the former Environmental Protection Agency Gina McCarthy for saying she was "incredibly proud" of NHL Green.