NHL teams will no longer have special uniforms for pre-game warm-ups at theme nights next season. This is the conclusion reached by the NHL following the refusal of a handful of players to wear rainbow jerseys last season.
The league’s Board of Governors agreed on Thursday with commissioner Gary Bettman that the refusals overshadowed efforts by teams to hold Pride parties, which in some cases included selling to auction of the uniforms worn during the warm-up. All 32 teams hosted Pride or Hockey for All nights.
Teams will continue to celebrate Pride, and other themed nights including Military Appreciation and Hockey Fights Cancer. They are also expected to continue to design and produce jerseys to be signed and sold to raise funds, although players will no longer skate in these jerseys during warm-ups.
You Can Play, which has worked with several leagues — including the NHL — to help them become more inclusive for members of the LGBTQ community, said it was “concerned and disappointed” by the decision.
“Today’s decision means that over 95% of players who have chosen to wear a Pride jersey in support of the community will no longer have the opportunity to do so. Work to make locker rooms, boardrooms and arenas safer, more diverse and more inclusive must be ongoing and focused, and we will continue to work with our NHL partners, including teams, players, agents and the Players Association, to ensure the continuation of this essential work. »
Seven players, for various reasons, opted out of pre-game warm-ups when their team donned Pride uniforms before games. A few teams have also decided not to have their players wear these jerseys despite having planned to do so.
Ivan Provorov, a Russian defenseman then playing in Philadelphia, was the first to do so in January. Provorov invoked his Russian Orthodox religion and was defended by coach John Tortorella.
San Jose goaltender James Reimer and Florida Panthers brothers Eric and Marc Staal, who are Canadian, also cited their religious beliefs. Buffalo’s Russian players Ilya Lyubushkin, Denis Gurianov (Montreal) and Andrei Kuzmenko (Vancouver) also opted out of their team’s warm-ups.
Lyubushkin cited a Kremlin anti-gay law as the reason, which is also why the Chicago Blackhawks decided not to wear Pride jerseys. The New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild also opted out of wearing these jerseys after announcing they would wear them.
Bettman, in an interview with Sportsnet after the governors’ meeting in New York, said he suggested teams stop having special warm-up shirts because theme nights were plagued by talk of the refusal of certain players to participate.
“It became a distraction from the very essence of the purpose of these parties,” Bettman said. We focus on sports. And on those special nights, we’re going to focus on the cause. »