NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says the league will evaluate its Pride nights in the offseason after several players have refused to wear Pride-themed jerseys this season.
“This is the first time we’ve experienced that, and I think it’s something that we’re going to have to evaluate in the offseason,” Bettman told CTV News on Monday in Ottawa.
A handful of players have objected to participating in pre-game warmups that include Pride-themed jerseys in recent weeks, citing their religious beliefs.
Pride nights have been held annually by several NHL teams for years. Bettman said the league has been “aggressive and supportive” in the profile and platforms it’s been consistently using for Pride nights.
“This is one issue where players for a variety of reasons may not feel comfortable wearing the uniform as a form of endorsement,” he said.
“But I think that’s become more of a distraction now, because the substance of what our teams and we have been doing and stand for is really being pushed to the side for what is a handful of players basically have made personal decisions, and you have to respect that as well.”
Florida Panthers players Eric and Marc Staal, in town to play the Senators Monday night, refused to wear the jerseys last Thursday night, citing their Christian beliefs.
“We carry no judgement on how people choose to live their lives, and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey,” they said in a statement. “Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a Pride jersey, it goes against our Christian beliefs.”
San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer and Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov also pointed to their religions in refusing to wear them.
LGBTQ+ advocates and others have called the players’ decisions a step back for hockey as the sport strives to be more inclusive.
On Monday, Buffalo Sabres defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin said he would not participate in the warmup Monday night when the team is scheduled to wear Pride jerseys, citing anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Russia.
Last Wednesday, the Chicago Blackhawks decided against having their players wear the jerseys for Pride night, citing an anti-gay law in Russia.
The Blackhawks said they acted out of concern that the safety of their Russian player and two others with connections to Russia could be jeopardized by the law when they return home because it expands restrictions on supporting LGBTQ rights.
All NHL teams hold a Pride night, although many do so without themed jerseys. The events are planned by the individual teams, not the league.
Bettman was in Ottawa to take in the Senators game against the Panthers. He also met with Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe and National Capital Commission officials as the sale of the Senators heats up.
– with files from the Associated Press
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