It’s not unusual for political leaders to show an interest in sports, throwing out a first pitch at a baseball game or making an appearance with a championship team. Donald Trump even took an interest in the Olympics last year, though he made a curious decision about rooting against some of his own country’s athletes.
Gov. Ron DeSantis and his administration also seem interested in sports, but not in an especially constructive way. The Daily Beast reported that the Florida Republican “is squaring off with an unlikely opponent: the NHL.”
In the latest battle of the culture wars, the NHL ... has somehow become the new epitome of woke culture gone awry. Over the weekend, the DeSantis administration got the NHL to fold on a local hiring event aimed at diversifying the league’s workforce ahead of its annual All-Star Game.
As my MSNBC colleague Ja’han Jones explained in a terrific piece this week, the National Hockey League recently conducted research on its workforce, and found that most of the people working for the NHL are white straight men. Like many employers, the league started exploring ways to create a more diverse team.
With this in mind, as part of the NHL’s upcoming All-Star Game festivities, the league scheduled a Pathway to Hockey Summit as part of a diversity program. On LinkedIn, the NHL marketed the event specifically to people who are women, veterans, Black, Asian, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQ, or disabled.
And as far as DeSantis’ office was concerned, this was outrageous.
“Discrimination of any sort is not welcome in the state of Florida, and we do not abide by the woke notion that discrimination should be overlooked if applied in a politically popular manner or against a politically unpopular demographic,” DeSantis press secretary Bryan Griffin said in a statement.
Or as Ja’han summarized, the response from the Republican’s office “is reflective of the governor’s belief that efforts to thwart discrimination are, themselves, discriminatory. “
DeSantis’ team nevertheless got its way: The NHL pulled its LinkedIn post just hours after the complaint.
As striking as it was to see the far-right governor pick a fight with the league, let’s also not forget that DeSantis has taken related steps against other sports. Last year, for example, the Florida Republican used the power of his office to penalize a Major League Baseball team for speaking out against gun violence in a way he found ideologically unsatisfying.
Around the same time, DeSantis also threatened to penalize the Special Olympics for trying to take steps to prevent its athletes from getting Covid.
As we’ve discussed, given the popularity of sports in American society, it stands to reason that politicians would go out of their way to align themselves with assorted leagues. It’s largely why it’s so striking to see Republicans frequently move in the opposite direction.
Ten years ago, for example, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell contacted the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, PGA, and NASCAR directly, demanding that they play no role in helping inform the public about the Affordable Care Act. Others on the right threatened to retaliate against leagues that partnered with the government on any kind of public-information campaigns.
In the years that followed, the relationship between the GOP and sports periodically became even more contentious. Trump, for example, during his White House tenure, lashed out at professional football, professional basketball, and threatened a boycott of professional soccer. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also picked a weird fight with his hometown NBA team, the Miami Heat.
Team DeSantis' efforts are bizarre, but they have a lot of partisan company.