The San Jose Sharks’ James Reimer became the second player in two months to publicly opt out of wearing a “Pride”-themed warm-up jersey, joining the Philadelphia Flyers’ Ivan Provorov, who also cited his Christian beliefs as the reason not to participate.
Behind the scenes, multiple teams have decided that ditching the controversial theme altogether was a smarter move, either because of player refusal or to avoid a public relations black eye.
The Minnesota Wild were the latest team to scrap “Pride” celebrations by way of rainbow-themed warm-up jerseys, a move that prompted Yahoo News to ask “whether the league’s ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ initiative is anything more than empty words.”
This was despite the fact that the “Pride Night” was still recognized by the organization: “The Minnesota Wild organization is proud to continue our support for the LGBTQIA+ community by hosting our second annual pride night tonight which we are celebrating in many ways. It is important to host nights like this to show all players, fans, and the LGBTQIA+ community that hockey is for everyone,” a team press release reads.
In February 2023, the New York Islanders continued their policy of not wearing the jerseys, stating so in advance. The team’s captain, Anders Lee, even gave public statements on behalf of the organization. “For us here in this room, we take care of what we can here and obviously very supportive of the LGBTQ+ community and do what we can to include them in our game,” Lee told the New York Post.
“Doing our best to support them, not just at the rink or showing up at hockey games, but in the community, being just a respectful human,” the player added.
The New York Rangers had a “Pride Night” in late January 2023, complete with a ceremony that stood the American flag with the pride and transgender flags. However, the lack of bright-colored jerseys still caused an uproar, with one reporter from the Athletic saying the Rangers were catering to “what was likely a small minority.”
With sports reporters lining up to write pieces about the importance of “Pride Night” across the league or even ridicule the players who disagree, it has been difficult to find players who share their sentiment of forcing compliance.
The Pittsburgh Penguins’ Jason Zucker says he is “fully supportive” of the themed nights but also that he has to be “respectful of other players’ opinions.”
However, prospect Luke Prokop, who has yet to play in the league at age 20 but is under contract, garnered media attention for his stance that accused teams of not “embracing” the “significance” of the jerseys.
The minor league player added that “Pride nights are an essential step” and that he believes in “prioritizing diversity and inclusion.”
Reporting from The Blaze.