Pride, which has been held annually by National Hockey League teams for several years to show support for the LGBTQ+ community, is in the spotlight after several high-profile incidents this season.
Several players objected to participating in pregame warmups that included Pride-themed jerseys, most recently Florida’s Eric and Mark Staal on Thursday night.
The video in the player above is from a previous report.
On Wednesday, the Chicago Blackhawks decided not to wear pride-themed warm-up jerseys for their upcoming pride night, citing Russia’s anti-gay law.
WHAT ARE THE OBJECTIONS?
Brothers Staal and James Reimer of San Jose, who is Canadian, and Ivan Provorov of Philadelphia, who is Russian, cited their religious beliefs for refusing to participate in warm-ups.
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“We do not judge how people choose to live their lives and believe that all people should be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey,” Eric and Mark Stahl said in a statement. “Having said that, we do feel that wearing the Pride shirt goes against our Christian beliefs.”
The Blackhawks said they acted out of concern that the safety of their Russian player and two others with ties to Russia could be jeopardized by the law if they return home because it expands restrictions on supporting LGBTQ+ rights.
Chicago coach Luke Richardson said he and his players were disappointed.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Richardson said. “I don’t think we can control the world’s problems, so this takes it out of our hands.”
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The New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild have decided not to wear pride jerseys during warmups after announcing they would. Although each team has at least one star Russian player, neither team has clarified the reason for the change.
IS THIS RELATED TO RUSSIA’S WAR IN UKRAINE?
In part. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and the anti-gay law signed by President Vladimir Putin in December have combined to create some challenges for the NHL and its 32 teams.
No other North American professional sports league has as many Russian players as the NHL. The Russian contingent includes some of the best athletes in the league.
There are currently 45 Russian-born players on 28 teams, or about 6.4% of all players. They include second career leading scorer Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay’s two-time Stanley Cup goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, Lightning teammate and 2019 MVP Nikita Kucharov and reigning Vezina Trophy winner Igor Shesterkin of the New York Rangers.
The five highest-paid Russian players earn an average annual salary of $11.1 million this season. Sergei Bobrovsky, a two-time Vezina Trophy winner who earns $12 million, participated in Florida warmups in a Pride jersey.
Russian players almost never discuss the war, in part out of concern for the safety of their loved ones at home. It was unclear if there was any real threat behind the Blackhawks’ decision.
WHAT IS THE HONORABLE HISTORY OF THE NHL?
The Stanley Cup first appeared on parade in 2010, when then-Blackhawks defenseman Brent Sopel brought it to a celebration in Chicago. A few years later, in 2013, the league partnered with the You Can Play Project, which advocates for LGBTQ+ participation in sports. The NHL added Pride team ambassadors in 2016-17.
The Rainbow Pride strip debuted with the Edmonton Oilers in 2016. All 32 teams now host Pride Night, though many do so without themed jerseys. The Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets are calling their night “Hockey for All.”
Pride, like other themed events, are planned and organized by individual teams, not the NHL.
WHAT IS THE REACTION?
The You Can Play Project responded to Reimer’s decision, saying it was disappointed.
“Religion and respect are not mutually exclusive, and we are certainly disappointed when religion is used as a reason not to support our community,” the organization said.
Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop, who will make history in 2021 as the first player to sign an NHL contract and come out as gay, called the incidents at the parade a “step backwards” for hockey.
WHAT DID LEAGUE OFFICIALS SAY?
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, defending the teams’ handling of the situation, said the boycotts were not about embracing bigotry.
“Whether or not you choose to accept and make an affirmative statement on behalf of the cause, if you choose not to, that doesn’t necessarily make you a bigot,” Bettman said last month. “I’m sure you don’t support every single charity that approaches you, and you don’t get involved in every social cause. You choose the ones that are important to you.”
The league declined to comment on the Blackhawks’ decision.
Teams with pride coming up have some decisions to make. The Buffalo Sabers are scheduled to host their event on Monday, while the Vancouver Canucks are scheduled to host their event on March 31. Each team has at least one Russian player.
It was unclear if players would wear Pride jerseys in warmups, as teams have done in the past.