NHL teams will not wear special t-shirts for pregame warmups during next season’s theme nights, the result of a a handful of players who refuse to wear rainbow Pride jerseys last season and causing unwanted distractions.
The league’s Board of Governors agreed Thursday with commissioner Gary Bettman’s view that the denials overshadowed efforts by teams to host Pride nights that in some cases included auctioning off warm-up jerseys. All 32 teams celebrated Pride or Hockey night for everyone.
Betman, in an interview with Sportsnet After the Board of Governors meeting in New York, he suggested that teams stop having special warm-up jerseys because theme nights were being undermined by talk of certain players refusing to participate.
“That has become more of a distraction from the essence of the purpose of these nights,” Bettman said. “We are keeping the focus on the game. And on these special nights, we will focus on the cause.”
Teams will continue to celebrate Pride and other theme nights, including Military Appreciation and Hockey Fights Cancer. They are also expected to continue designing and producing autographed jerseys and selling them to raise money, even if players don’t skate in them during warm-ups.
You Can Play, which has worked with sports and leagues, including the NHL, to help them become more inclusive of members of the LGBTQ+ community, said it was «concerned and disappointed» by the decision.
«Today’s decision means that more than 95% of players who chose to wear a Gay Pride jersey to support the community will now not have the opportunity to do so,» the organization said in a statement. “The work to make locker rooms, boardrooms and stadiums safer, more diverse and inclusive must be ongoing and purposeful, and we will continue to work with our partners in the NHL, including individual teams, players, agents and the NHLPA. to ensure this critical work continues.»
Betman defended the league and the management of the teams of the situations at NHL All-Star Weekend in February, saying tolerance of differing points of view was part of being «open, welcoming and inclusive.»
“You know what our goals are, our values and our intentions throughout the league, whether it’s at the league or club level,” Bettman said at the time. “But we also have to respect some individual choice, and some people are more comfortable embracing themselves in causes than others. And part of being diverse and welcoming is understanding those differences.”
Seven players, citing various reasons, chose not to participate in pregame warmups when their teams donned Pride jerseys before games. Some teams also decided not to have players wear them after they planned to.
James Reimer, a porter from San Jose, and brothers Eric and Marc Staal from Florida, who are Canadian, also cited religious beliefs. russian players Ilya Lyubushkin from Buffalo, Denis Gurianov from Montreal and Andrey Kuzmenko from Vancouver they also opted out of their teams’ Gay Pride night warm-ups.
Lyubushkin cited a Kremlin law against homosexuals as his reason, which was also the reason why the Chicago Blackhawks decided not to Pride night jerseys. The New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild previously opted out of wearing the jerseys after previously announcing they would have them.
Sergei Bobrovsky, who is Russian, participated in the warm-ups the night the Staal brothers declined and after several compatriots decided not to wear the Pride jerseys.