The Calgary Flames design for Pride Night warmups jersey this year.
It seems like the National Hockey League (NHL) has been the center of controversy recently, especially regarding “Hockey is for Everyone” nights and Pride jerseys. Organizations started incorporating Pride Nights in 2016. In the past few years, every team has held a special night, some wearing colorful jerseys. These nights include anything from rainbow tape, auctions, and donations, to the New Jersey Devils including a drag performance in between periods.
This controversy started with Ivan Provorov on January 18, 2023. He refused to join his team in warm-ups donning a jersey made for the event. He later cited his Russian Orthodox beliefs saying, “I respect everybody, and I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say.” He was supported by coach John Tortorella in this decision.
Nine days later, the New York Rangers fully canceled their event — even after public promotions — with little explanation. However, they did donate to the Ali Forney Center. The formal statement was, “Our organization respects the LGBTQ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night. In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.” In addition to the Rangers, the Minnsesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks fully canceled their Pride Night, this time to protect Russian players. The concern for Russian players relates to Russia’s strict Anti-gay laws. In December 2022, Russia made it “illegal to spread ‘propaganda’ about ‘nontraditional sexual relations’” in all media, including social media platforms, advertisements and movies.” This is a real concern, especially for players with family in Russia or who often return home. However, in a time when LGBTQ rights are being threatened, it is important to show strong support for members in your community.
In addition to full teams and Provorov, several players have boycotted the jerseys. Ilya Lyubushkin for the Buffalo Sabres did not participate for Russian safety reasons. The Sabres proceeded with the night, but said they understood the concern for the safety of his family and himself.
Similar to Provorov, several players have sat out for religious beliefs. James Reimer from the San Jose Sharks refused to participate due to his Christian faith. The Staal brothers from the Florida Panthers refused for the same religious beliefs. In addition, Eric Staal claimed that he had never participated in a Pride Night — or even worn a Pride jersey — but was found wearing one with photographic evidence. This became extremely controversial during his recent refusal to participate.
While the problems and protests have been the center of attention this season, several teams have hosted great Pride Nights. A good example of this is from the best team in the league, the Boston Bruins. Led by veteran Brad Marchand, the players and organization went all out. Not only did the players use the regular rainbow tape, they also auctioned them off and donated the proceeds to Boston Pride Hockey. They partnered with the “You Can Play” project and Captain Patrice Bergeron had a box for his own organization, Patrice’s Pals. Patrice’s Pals works with hospitals and organizations to bring kids to the game. It includes a luxury sweet and a personalized scoreboard message. These are only a few of the amazing additions to the night.
This is the impact of Ivan Provorov and the NHL’s leniency in holding organizations accountable. Players had no previous issue putting on a jersey for 20 minutes during warmups until one player said “no.” This circle of homophobia is exactly why Pride Nights are needed. From individual players to full organizations, the NHL is sending a message.
I believe that there is a misunderstanding about the meaning of Pride Night. To wear the jerseys is not to say that you are necessarily supportive, but to say that “we as a team and organization, want to ensure everyone feels welcome to the sport.” Especially within a sport and community that has a reputation for homophobia, it is important for the people at the highest level, the leaders, to show their support towards everyone being welcomed.