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How the Winnipeg Jets are getting away with a theme jersey

Mar 30, 2022; Vancouver, British Columbia, CAN; Indigenous leaders and the owner of the Vancouver Canucks celebrate indigenous and reconciliation night prior to the game between the Canucks and St. Louis Blues at Rogers Arena. Participants include: Wayne Sparrow, chief of Musqueam Indian Band; Wilson Williams, elected councillor of Squamish nation; Jen Thomas, chief of Tsleil Waututh nation; Melanie Mark, minister of tourism, arts, culture and sport of BC; Nikki Fraser, councillor of Kamloops Indian Band; Shannon Henderson, Squamish Nation; Francesco Aquilini, chairman and governor of the Vancouver Canucks; Ron Delorme, Canucks alumni and Metis Nation. Mandatory Credit: Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports

There was one point in the 1930s and 1940s that the Canadian prairies played a huge role in the development of Canada’s Air Force, known as the Royal Canadian Air Force or RCAF. The RCAF turns 100 years old on April 1, 2024 and the Jets have decided to honour the RCAF by making their third jersey look very close to the RCAF uniforms of the past.

How is this allowed under the NHL’s controversial ban on special warm up jerseys? It is allowed because while this is a jersey to honour a branch of the military, the jersey is a third jersey and not a special warm up jersey. That seems to be the only difference between the two. The Jets decided to honour the RCAF for their hundredth anniversary with a third jersey instead of the traditional Military Appreciation Night without a special warm up jersey.

The Jets, like every other team, have been banned from having special warm up jerseys. This means that the Jets iconic Indigenous warm up jerseys and their new, but stunning, East Asian Heritage Night warm up jerseys will not be seen this year, or any year, unless the NHL reverses course with the ban. The ban takes away the chance to for NHL teams to give visibility to groups who are marginalized in their community. They mean that nights like the San Jose Sharks Los Tiburones Hispanic Heritage Night have less visibility without the warm up jerseys.

This is where the intersection between the NHL’s policies around special jerseys and the visibility of the organizations that teams partner with on their special nights. Manitoba’s Rainbow Resource Centre and Pride Winnipeg both commented in an article about the NHL banning Pride Tape and Jenn Rands of Pride Winnipeg said this:

“While having the visibility of a jersey and stick tape helped, it’s really the messaging behind it and the support those organizations are giving us,” Rands said. “So while it’s a bit of setback, it’s definitely not the end of Pride Nights or other theme nights.”

The San Jose Sharks doing their Hispanic Heritage Night proves Rands correct, but it is the loss of revenue from the warm up jersey auctions. There is also the fact that special guests, often children, will not be able to drop the puck for the ceremonial face-off. The NHL took away the chance to celebrate excellence in marginalized communities and elevate the causes that they advocate for. Instead of shining a spotlight on smaller organizations that have strong community recognition in the areas they serve or large organizations that support large groups of people, teams will only be able to use their platform instead of celebrating them.

The NHL made a reactionary policy change due to a few players not wanting to wear Pride jerseys. This would not have been allowed if a raging racist did not want to wear an Indigenous Night jersey or a Black History Month jersey. The NHL agreeing that players should be able to refuse to wear a jersey instead of telling players to suck it up and act like they support the cause for the cameras even if it makes them uncomfortable. No one is asking them to march in Pride or other independent support of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

The Winnipeg Jets finding a work around the NHL’s rules on special jerseys by making one their third jersey highlights both how reactionary the rule was and how it was never going to hurt the NHL’s connection to the military. The NHL has no issue with the Jets third jersey, but no team has tried a more specialized third jersey to truly challenge the NHL’s rules.