When the NHL unveiled its Declaration of Principles initiative Wednesday, no one expected support to come from the pope of all people. And yet, that’s what we’ve got. In the weirdest bit of hockey news this offseason, a letter from the pope was read at the NHL’s Manhattan press conference kicking off the new initiative.
The Declaration of Principles initiative is a first for the NHL, which according to the league, brings together 17 organizations worldwide “to create the best possible experience for the entire hockey community” by advancing proactive policies and programs. Organizations such as the NHL, its players association, USA Hockey, Hockey Canada, and the International Ice Hockey Federation have all signed the Declaration of Principles.
The initiative has been met with some criticism, as while the NHL already promotes Hockey Is For Everyone, its stances on Andrew Shaw and Ryan Getzlaf’s uses of homophobic slurs in recent years have not been inspiring.
Still, at the end of the NHL’s press conference Wednesday, vice president of hockey development and community affairs, Pat LaFontaine, read aloud the letter he received from the pope. Here’s the text, signed by Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin:
“His Holiness Pope Francis was pleased to learn that an international group of hockey organizations has chosen formally to adopt the Declaration of Principles that emerged from last year’s Global Conference on Sport at the Service of Humanity. His Holiness trusts that this significant gesture will inspire greater appreciation for the pivotal role played by sports and sportsmanship in training future generations to pursue personal excellence and to promote the spiritual values of teamwork, solidarity and mutual respect so necessary for the building of a more just and fraternal world.”
The message, by the way, is even better in its original form.
It’s hard to imagine any world in which the NHL gets a letter from the pope so out of the blue. The letter wasn’t so out of left field as you’d think, though. LaFontaine, Los Angeles Kings president Luc Robitaille, and Omar Mitchell, the NHL’s vice president of corporate social responsibility, went to The Vatican for the Sports for the Service to Humanity conference in 2016 to represent the league.
There, it seems, is where the connection was made.
“We had a big gala in which he spoke, for about 250 people in the room. Then we had a private tour of the Vatican, and a private tour of the Sistine Chapel. One of my favorite pictures ever: There were eight religious leaders from around the world standing in the chapel,” LaFontaine said to Puck Daddy. “And they were inspiring deeper thinking for the sports delegates in the world.”
It remains quite the serendipitous occasion, but the connection between LaFontaine and the NHL’s time at the three-day Sports for the Service to Humanity conference is the real reason why the league got such high praise from the pope himself. While the mystery of the letter may be solved, it still remains one of the more incredible endorsements of the NHL in league history.