Florida Governor Ron DeSantis takes on an unlikely opponent: the NHL.
In the latest battle of the culture wars, the NHL — where fighting without gloves still only brings a five-minute penalty, where the player base is 93 percent white, and even the hiring of Mike Greer by the San Jose Sharks last year there has yet to be a black general manager in the history of the sport. — somehow became the new epitome of vigilante culture that went awry.
Over the weekend, DeSantis management got the NHL to back off a local recruiting event aimed at diversifying the league’s workforce ahead of the annual All-Star Game. (The All-Star Games and Skills Tournament is set for the first weekend of February in Sunrise, Florida—a suburb just under an hour north of Miami—home of the Florida Panthers.)
How DeSantis ended up dropping the gauntlet with the fourth most popular sport in America before an event ostensibly designed to lure tourists to the state and Floridians to NHL front office jobs is the result of a wash, rinse and repeat approach to the companies’ efforts to brand themselves inclusive.
As one GOP strategist put it, DeSantis found another way to “raise his image as a fighter in addition to raising money.” But as a Republican campaign veteran told The Daily Beast, this is not a risk-free strategy for the Florida governor, as has been rumored for the 2024 challenger; It could mark the beginning of a “strategy that works until it doesn’t work.”
“I’ve been in these rooms where political consultants meet, and they try and say, ‘Well, what can we do to appeal to white voters without being blatantly racist?'” said Stewart Stevens, former George W. Bush, John McCain, and Mitt Romney, presidential strategist.
Stephens said he has “the opposite view” on DeSantis’ playbook, with the NHL flyer being the clearest example yet of how “Republicans are losing the culture wars so quickly.”
“What the NHL does doesn’t bother anyone at all in America. A lot of politics defines yourself as who you are Not Stevens said.
“There was a time with Ronald Reagan,” Gorbachev, tear down that wall. So here’s Ron DeSantis standing in front of a hockey rink in Florida and saying, What exactly? I mean it’s just ridiculous. It makes him look so young.”
Ahead of the big February weekend hosted by the Panthers—a franchise that has consistently boasted some of the worst attendance numbers in the league—the league announced a job fair. The event invites applicants from underrepresented backgrounds, including anyone who identifies as “Female, Black, Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic/Latino, Indigenous, LGBTQIA+, and/or a person with a disability.”
DeSantis’ press secretary Bryan Griffin issued a statement on Friday criticizing the NHL.
“Discrimination of any kind is not welcome in the State of Florida, and we do not adhere to the wake-up call that discrimination should be condoned if it is applied in a politically popular fashion or against a politically unpopular demographic,” DeSantis’ spokesperson said.
The NHL later delisted the job fair on LinkedIn.
An NHL spokesperson said, “The Pathway to Hockey Summit is an informational and networking event designed to encourage all individuals to consider a career in our game—and in particular, to alert those who may not be familiar with hockey of the opportunities it offers” of the current situation.
“The original wording of the LinkedIn post associated with the event was not accurate,” the league representative added, echoing similar wording after the initial release from the governor’s office.
The NHL has not confirmed if any LGBTQ+ photos will appear during All-Star Weekend in Florida.
One GOP strategist told The Daily Beast, asking not to be identified because they are not authorized to speak to the press by their current employer. “It’s a wonderful play.”
The strategist added that the average GOP primary voter “most likely wasn’t even aware this was a problem — and to be fair the left probably had no idea it was happening — until DeSantis came out with his statement.”
However, unlike DeSantis’ squabbles with the likes of Disney, Democratic governors, or even wildcards like New York City Mayor Eric Adams, the Florida governor has likely awakened an enemy capable of holding petty grudges longer and more fervently than few others. : NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman.
“It’s like anything in this new age of social media and instant feedback, but the big companies and the NHL are going to try to step on as little toes as possible,” a former sports executive told The Daily Beast.
According to a league insider, there is no serious consideration right now for the NHL to pull the All-Star Game from Florida, as Major League Baseball did in 2021 with the Atlanta Braves after Georgia adopted restrictive new voting laws.
“For any independent event, any negative PR will kill you,” said the former executive, who asked not to be identified to discuss a hot button issue in the hockey world.
With a pair of NHL teams based in Florida – the Panthers and back-to-back Stanley Cup champions Tampa Bay Lightning – the upside for DeSantis is also unclear after a short-term boost with the base.
“That’s the kind of thing you’d think was stupid if you were on a school board,” Stevens said. “Like, come on, just let them play. Who cares? There’s a chord. You get the feeling watching DeSantis that he’s somebody trying to dance by looking at his feet and wondering about the steps.”
Representatives for DeSantis, the NHL and the Florida Panthers did not respond to requests for comment. But a largely manufactured altercation could be the start of a larger confrontation.
For Stephens, the bizarre choice of target and constant obsession with the culture wars underscores “how bad Ron DeSantis’ staff is,” recalling the moment in DeSantis’ 2022 debate with Charlie Crist where the governor was caught like a deer in headlights when asked if he would commit to full term as governor and will not run in 2024.
“DeSantis would be a Trotskyist if he thought that might get him elected president,” he said. “There was a time when Republicans believed in smaller government and didn’t get involved, and he was after successful businesses that brought money to Florida?”