National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman has decreed that all 32 NHL teams will no longer wear “specialty warmup sweaters” because the press surrounding some players’ refusals to wear certain ones has become “a distraction.”
The decision appears to be motivated primarily by a slew of media headlines focusing on why some players — whether for religious or political reasons — refused to don Pride-themed or rainbow-colored sweaters for “Pride nights” or “Hockey is for Everyone” nights celebrating LGBTQ fans.
Throughout the season, seven players decided not to participate in pre-game warmups when their teammates donned Pride-themed sweaters.
Some teams also initially created specialty “Pride sweaters” only to reverse course due to fear of backlash from anti-LGBTQ forces, reports ESPN and the Associated Press.
Among the players refusing to don Pride memorabilia were then-Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer, and Florida Panther players Eric and Marc Staal, who cited their religious beliefs.
Three Russian players — Ilya Lyubushkin of the Buffalo Sabres, Denis Gurianov of the Montreal Canadiens, and Andrei Kuzmenko of the Vancouver Canucks — cited a Russian anti-gay “propaganda” law that prosecutes individuals for having engaged in activities or made statements perceived to “promote” LGBTQ rights or treating homosexuality as a normal occurrence.
Additionally, the Chicago Blackhawks team did not wear their Pride-themed warmup sweaters in March because of security concerns over that same Russian law. Meanwhile, the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers also reversed course on wearing Pride-themed warmup gear.
Bettman noted that teams will continue to host specialty nights such as Pride Night, Black History Night, Military Appreciation Night, and Hockey Fights Cancer Nights. Teams may choose to create and sell specialty sweaters for various charities, so long as individual players are allowed to choose, and are not required, to participate or wear warmups against their will or in violation of their beliefs.
“Players who choose to model [the specialty gear] can do that,” Bettman said. “It’s really just the question of what’s on the ice.”
Defending his decision to eliminate the practice of players donning specialty sweaters for certain causes, Bettman said it would be better to eliminate the practice so as not to distract from the sport, and to avoid headlines singling out players who choose not to participate in warmups.
Emerging from a meeting with the NHL board of governors, Bettman said the governors agreed with his assessment of the issue.
“In the final analysis, all of the efforts and emphasis on the importance of these various causes have been undermined by the distraction in terms of which teams, which players,” Bettman said. “This way, we’re keeping the focus on the game, and on these specialty nights, we’re going to be focused on the cause.”
But LGBTQ advocates have expressed disappointment at the league’s decision.
“Today’s decision means that the over 95 percent of players who chose to wear a Pride jersey to support the community will now not get an opportunity to do so,” You Can Play, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ inclusion in sports, said in a statement.
“The work to make locker rooms, board rooms, and arenas safer, more diverse, and more inclusive needs to be ongoing and purposeful, and we will continue to work with our partners at the NHL, including individual teams, players, agents, and the NHLPA to ensure this critical work continues,” the group added.
Adolescent Counseling Services, which supports LGBTQ teens and their families, and helped raise funds though the auction of San Jose Sharks Pride jerseys this season, expressed its displeasure with the decision.
“It’s unfortunate the NHL has come to this decision, as events like Pride Night, where players wore Pride Night warmup jerseys, are a wonderful opportunity for players to show support to our LGBTQIA+ youth and spread a message of love and inclusivity,” Dr. Philippe Rey, the executive director of the organization, said in a statement to ESPN.
“Gestures like this can mean a lot to LGBTQIA+ young people, who experience bullying and hate crimes, are four times more likely to commit suicide, and report feeling unsafe in our world today. Hopefully one day, showing support for other humans won’t be seen as a distraction.”
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