As the NHL continues to fight for more inclusion in the league, multiple teams have scheduled Pride Nights, where players wear jerseys celebrating and honouring the LGBTQ2IA+ community during the warmups.
Though many teams like the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames have celebrated Pride Night without a hitch, other teams have seen players withdraw themselves from the inclusion-friendly warmups. Some teams scrapped wearing the Pride jerseys altogether.
As Ilya Lyubushkin of the Buffalo Sabres becomes the latest NHL player to veto the opportunity to wear the Pride jersey during the team’s warmup, 2023 has seen the most controversy surrounding these nights of inclusion and acceptance.
Here’s a timeline explaining how the NHL’s Pride night fiasco has unfolded.
Ivan Provorov Declines to Participate in Warmups on Pride Night
Date: January 27
The New York Rangers were supposed to hold Pride Night on Jan. 27, with an email sent to season-ticket holders explicitly stating their plans to do. In a last-minute statement, the Rangers organization issued a statement saying the team would wear its traditional warmup jerseys ahead of their game against the Vegas Golden Knights. The organization never stated why, exactly, its players would not wear the Pride jerseys.
“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,” the Rangers wrote. “In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”
Date: March 7
The Minnesota Wild became the second team to decline to wear the Pride-themed jerseys during its pregame warmups. The organization had even designed a website meant to auction off the jerseys after the game. The organization soon deleted the website without explanation.
Moreover, the Wild had even flown Jack Jablonski, who came out as gay in 2022, from Los Angeles for the festivities. Jablonski was paralyzed during his high school hockey days. In addition to Jablonski’s presence, the Wild had even designed a “JABS” patch dedicated to Jablonski which was meant to be worn on the Pride jerseys. Jablonski wound up being the only one wearing the jersey.
Though the jerseys were nowhere in sight on the bench, 17 players wrapped the blades of their socks in rainbow tape. As well, several players including Jon Merrill and his wife Jessica Molina donated tickets to the Queerspace Collective and conducted a postgame meet-and-greet with the Wild.
San Jose Sharks Goalie James Reimer Declines to Wear Pride Jersey, Cites Religious Beliefs
Date: March 20
Luke Prokop of the Nashville Predators organization came out as gay in 2021 and subsequently became the first player under an NHL contract to do so. Since then, Prokop has become an integral player in inclusion with the hockey world.
Prokop took to Twitter on March 20 to voice his disappointment in the organizations and players who declined to participate in Pride Night festivities.
“I share the disappointment in what feels like a step back for inclusion in the NHL,” Prokop wrote in the statement. “Pride nights and pride jerseys play an important role in promoting respect and inclusion for the LBTQIA+ community, and it’s disheartening to see some teams no longer wearing them or not fully embracing their significance, while the focus of others has become about the players who aren’t participating rather than the meaning of the night itself.”
Date: March 23
The Blackhawks, no stranger to controversy, became the third team to not wear Pride-themed jerseys during the pregame warmups. Though the team didn’t cite any religious beliefs this time, they opted to state that the team would opt out of wearing the jerseys due to security concerns from Russian players.
Recently, Russia issued a new law banning what they called “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations.” Punishment for breaking these laws could result in fines. It should be noted several Russian players on other teams have worn Pride jerseys.
The Blackhawks had previously worn Pride-themed jerseys in past seasons.
Eric and Marc Staal of the Florida Panthers Refuse to Wear Pride-Themed Jerseys
Date: March 23
Brothers Eric and Marc Staal both declined to participate in the Florida Panthers warmups after they refused to sport the LGBTQ+-themed jerseys. The brothers released a statement stating that wearing the jerseys goes against their religious beliefs.
“After many thoughts, prayers and discussions we have chosen not to wear a pride jersey tonight,” the statement wrote. “We carry no judgment on how people choose to live their lives, and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey. Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a pride jersey it goes against our Christian beliefs.”
Eric Staal stated that he had never previously worn a Pride-themed jersey, however, a photograph from his time with the Montreal Canadians in the 2020-21 season proved otherwise.
Date: March 27
Ahead of their game against the Montreal Canadiens, the Buffalo Sabres are set to hold their Pride Night. Defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin opted against participating in the festivities, stating security reasons stemming from the anti-LGBTQ laws enacted in Russia. The rest of the Sabres will participate, however.
“The Buffalo Sabres are proud to continue to support the LGBTQIA+ community as allies by hosting our third annual Pride Night game,” the team said in a statement on Twitter. “It is of the utmost importance to us to continue to use our platform to strengthen our organizational goal of making hockey for everyone.
Date: March 30
Incoming NHLPA boss Marty Walsh addressed the Pride Night boycotts.
The former mayor of Boston and United States secretary of labor said: “I think it’s really important as a League, and in locker rooms, that we’re inclusive. We probably have some work to do there too.”
Walsh resigned as Labor Secretary to take the NHLPA’s top job in March.
Date: April 4
The Toronto Maple Leafs are the latest team to say they won’t wear Pride jerseys during warmup on Pride night, but instead will be wearing decals on their helmets and rainbow-coloured tape on their sticks. The team has hosted Pride nights since 2017, according to CHCH.