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Crunch’s Pride Night promotes inclusion, fun

Photo: Scott Thomas

by Megan Cahill | AHL On The Beat

An inclusive space is a space that welcomes everyone. It’s a space that actively works to make people from all backgrounds feel safe and accepted for who they are.

The Syracuse Crunch are an organization heavily embedded in the community. The team supports various nonprofits and aims to be in-tune with social initiatives. This season, the team took its annual You Can Play Night to the next level with a Pride Night featuring rainbow specialty jerseys.

“As an organization we are proud to have taken a leadership role in promoting inclusion not only in sports, but in everyday life,” said Crunch owner Howard Dolgon. “We have always believed that it is critical we utilize our platform in Syracuse to promote important causes that affect the lives of those living in our community.”

By holding a Pride Night, the Crunch made a deliberate and clear stance in support of all members of the LGBTQ community.

As part of the night, the team partnered with nonprofit organizations CNY Pride and ACR Health. CNY Pride works to serve the Central New York LGBTQ community and its allies. They provide a forum to celebrate and affirm individual sexual and gender identity and focus on commemorating the community’s rich history and diversity while working to end intolerance and achieving equal rights. ACR Health provides support services to individuals affected by a wide range of chronic diseases.

“It’s a wonderful partnership outside of some people’s comfort zones,” said CNY Pride marketing chair Kevin Bailey. “It was an opportunity both to celebrate a Syracuse institution in the Crunch and to help celebrate an inclusive space.”

“We are proud to have partnered with the Syracuse Crunch and CNY Pride for an incredible night of inclusion and fun,” said ACR Health executive director Wil Murtaugh. “It was so moving to see the team and fans supporting the LGBTQ community – what a powerful message.”

Photo: Scott Thomas

Sporting events provide an arena where fans from all backgrounds can come together. The Crunch are cognizant and proud of the diversity in Syracuse and among the passionate fan base. Pride Night offers another opportunity to celebrate that.

“The LGBTQ community in Syracuse is incredibly diverse and vibrant.” Bailey said. “We come from all walks of life. Everyone is different, everybody likes different things, but sports are something that can bring everybody together.”

In addition to outwardly showing support for the LGBTQ community, Pride Night at the Crunch helps show that the hockey world welcomes you for you. You will not be held back or judged based on who you love.

“Suicide rates among LGBTQ youth are really high,” Bailey explained. “They’re much higher than the rest of the population. It’s incredible to have an organization like the Crunch who are supporting LGBTQ youth. For them to see this hockey team that they really look up to being allies, it can really make a difference in a young person’s life.”

While Pride Night was intentionally adorned with rainbows, from the team’s jerseys and Pride Tape to the in-arena Ephesus Lighting, the game was like any other night at the Upstate Medical University Arena.

“It’s just a game, like any other game, and Crunch games are a lot of fun,” said Bailey. “Just because gay people are in a space, doesn’t make it weird or uncomfortable. You saw rainbows everywhere, but everyone loves rainbows.”

While Pride Night may just be one game in the season, the values and message are everyday beliefs. The Crunch are proud to embrace a diverse fan base and will continue on focus on being inclusive.

“I just put myself in the shoes of a young hockey fan who might be gay, might be questioning, might not know one way or the other,” Bailey said. “They see these hockey players out there in rainbow jerseys and think ‘people like me are welcome here.’ That can make such a difference in somebody’s life.”