When Kyle Dubas called Devils general manager Tom Fitzgerald in mid-March, the trade deadline had already passed. However, he was not looking to trade players. Dubas expected something different.
He wanted Meghan Duggan, former Team USA captain and director of player development for the Devils, to speak to Maple Leafs players as part of the team’s Gay Pride night initiatives.
Duggan’s answer was an automatic yes.
On Friday, Duggan spoke with the Toronto Maple Leafs and AHL Marlies. The Leafs posted part of his chat on social media, and it went viral, ahead of the team’s. Pride celebration Tuesday night.
“For me and the two general managers, this is something where you can put team rivalries aside,” Duggan said. the athletic. “(Fitzgerald) let me know right away that he supported him, and it was great to be welcomed into the Leafs family for a day.”
NHL Pride nights have been making headlines in recent months. In some cases, individual players, such as the Flyers’ Ivan Provorov and the Canucks’ Andrei Kuzmenko, have chosen not to wear their team’s Pride jersey. In others, teams like the Wild and Rangers collectively scrapped their plans to wear Pride jerseys altogether. Just this week the Blues, who have worn Pride jerseys in the past, announced they would not be wearing them to Pride night.
By bringing Duggan in to speak with the team, the Leafs were able to amplify the voice of not only an Olympic gold medalist and member of the NHL front office, but also a member of the LGBTQ+ community. And Duggan took the opportunity to educate players on why Pride nights and inclusion are important.
“It’s not about endorsing certain values,” he explained in an interview with the athletic On tuesday night. “It’s just about telling a group of people who have been left out in so many different areas of their lives that ‘you’re welcome here.'”
Duggan began his talks on Friday, as shown in the video, with a simple exercise with prompts like, “Raise your hand if you’ve ever played in a professional hockey game.” either “Raise your hand if you’re married.”
Duggan, along with members of the Leafs team and staff, raised their hands. Eventually, when the idents changed, Duggan was the only one to raise her hand.
“Raise your hand if you’ve ever had to stand up in front of someone and justify your right to be married.”
The goal of the exercise, Duggan said, was for the players to get to know her and understand that her path has been similar to theirs. She played professionally and represented her country at the highest level. She is married. she has children. But she also wanted to highlight how her paths parted ways.
“I’ve lived a very similar life,” Duggan said. “But I’ve also been very excluded in my life. And I wanted them to understand what it means to be excluded and why inclusion is important.”
It also reminded players of the power that comes with their platform, not just as professional athletes but as members of the Leafs organization.
“It can be a dangerous place for members of the LGBTQ+ community,” Duggan said. “So I said, don’t underestimate the power of, if you feel comfortable, standing up, being an ally and showing a public and vocal alliance because that can not only change someone’s life, but it can save someone’s life. That’s how powerful their platform is.”
The message was well received, Duggan said, and he felt it really caught the attention of the team. Some players and members of the coaching staff and management team approached her after her talk to tell her personally about the impact she had on the room.
“The main takeaway was (about) inclusion in our sport and trying to open the doors for everyone to enjoy the sport and feel welcome and comfortable just being themselves,” Auston Matthews said. “I think that was a very powerful message.”
As part of the Leafs’ Pride celebration on Tuesday, the players wore special jerseys during a morning press availability. The rainbow ribbon was available for players to wear prior to the game, and all players except Ilya Samsonov, a native of Magnitogorsk, Russia, wore a special Pride decal on their helmet during warm-ups.
Some Russian players have opted out of the Pride festivities this season. Provorov cited his Russian Orthodox beliefs as the reason for him, while Kuzmenko said choosing not to wear the Vancouver Pride jersey was a “family decision.” Russia’s anti-gay laws were changed in December; by The New York Times, the laws make it “illegal to spread ‘propaganda’ about ‘non-traditional sex’ in all media, including social media, advertising and movies.” Last month, the Blackhawks cited “safety concerns” for their players of Russian descent as the reason the team refused to wear Pride jerseys. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league has no evidence of a “material” threat against any Russian player if he decides to participate in Pride night activities.
Other NHL players, such as the Panthers’ Marc and Eric Staal, have cited their Christian beliefs as the reason for not wearing a Pride jersey.
“It’s no secret that there has been negative press this year about certain players or teams choosing not to participate in these initiatives,” Duggan said. “It’s dangerous and sad and disappointing, but that’s why it’s great to celebrate and bring life and time to some of the great things that are happening.”
The Leafs players did not wear Pride jerseys before Tuesday night’s game, although they never wore them during Pride nights, which the team began celebrating in 2017. The Leafs have also been present at the Gay Pride Parade Toronto annual tournament in recent years, with players like Morgan Rielly, Micheal Bunting and Mark Giordano participating, as well as Dubas and chairman Brendan Shanahan.
“The belief within the organization has always been there in terms of including people and making our team a place where everyone is welcome and safe,” Rielly said before Tuesday’s 4-2 win.
Duggan, in addition to his work with the Devils, has been a member of the NHL’s player inclusion committee since its inception in 2020. There, he has worked on different initiatives with former Leaf Mark Fraser, who now works with the organization on Equity. , Diversity and inclusion efforts.
It was Fraser, Duggan said, who told Dubas that he would be a good fit to speak to players because of his wealth of experience in the game and his commitment to diversity and inclusion.
“My whole life was changed and it was done because I was given the chance to play sports and play hockey and be greeted personally on a rink and a locker room and that’s not the same story for a lot of people,” she said. “As someone who loves hockey, has built his life around it, has built a career through hockey, I just want to do everything I can to make it a place where people want to come and feel safe and be included.”
(Photo: John Lamparski/Getty Images for FSM)