Multiple American professional ice hockey teams and players have refused to wear Pride Night jerseys during warm-up skates.
They include Christian brothers Eric and Marc Staal who play for the Florida Panthers in the NHL.
“After many thoughts, prayers, and discussions, we have chosen not to wear a Pride Night jersey. 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,” the brothers said in a statement.
Faithwire reports that they preferred “to focus on the game and helping the Florida Panthers win the Stanley Cup.”
San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer also refused to wear the warm-up jersey, referencing his “personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in my life.”
The Philadelphia Flyers Ivan Provorov similarly declined due to his Russian Orthodox beliefs.
“I respect everybody and I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion,” Provorov said.
The Russian received a backlash from some quarters, but his coach John Tortorella defended his stance.
“This has to do with his belief and his religion. It’s one thing I respect about Provy. He’s always true to himself.”
The Chicago Blackhawks had safety concerns for its Russian players after the Kremlin recently enacted legislation criminalsing the promotion of what the law described as “non-traditional relations” which could impact on the players when they return to Russian
The Associated Press says the decision was made by the Blackhawks after discussions with security officials within and outside the franchise.
Russian players have had to walk a careful line since the invasion of Ukraine with some cautiously speaking out against the war despite family members still living in Russia.
The New York Rangers, the New York Islanders, and the Minnesota Wild have made similar decisions.
The NHL has previously said players are “free to decide which initiatives to support” but The Christian Post reports League Commissioner Gary Bettman has indicated it will reevaluate its annual pride night events in the off-season.
The longest-serving active commissioner in US pro sports described the controversy as a “distraction” and acknowledged players’ rights of conscience.
“Hockey is for Everyone is the umbrella initiative under which the league encourages clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans,” the NHL said in an earlier statement.
“Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with league counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues,” the NHL statement added.