NHL teams won’t have special jerseys for pre-game warmups during themed nights next season, the result of a handful of players refusing to wear rainbow-coloured Pride jerseys this past season and causing unwelcome distractions.
The league’s Board of Governors agreed Thursday with Commissioner Gary Bettman’s view that the refusals overshadowed teams’ efforts in hosting Pride nights that in some cases included auctioning off the warmup jerseys. All 32 teams held Pride or Hockey is for Everyone night.
Teams will still celebrate Pride and other theme nights, including military appreciation and Hockey Fights Cancer. They’re also expected to still design and produce jerseys to be autographed and sold to raise money, even though players won’t skate around with them on during warmups.
Seven players, citing various reasons, decided not to take part in pre-game warmups when their teams donned Pride jerseys before games. A few teams also decided not to have players wear them after planning to do so.
James Reimer, a goaltender for San Jose, and brothers Eric and Marc Staal of Florida, who are Canadian, also cited religious beliefs. Russian players Ilya Lyubushkin of Buffalo, Denis Gurianov of Montreal and Andrei Kuzmenko of Vancouver also opted out of their teams’ Pride night warmups.
Lyubushkin cited an anti-gay Kremlin law as his reason, which was also why the Chicago Blackhawks decided against Pride night jerseys. The New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild earlier opted against the jerseys after previously advertising they would have them.
Sergei Bobrovsky, who is Russian, took part in warmups the night the Staal brothers declined and in the aftermath of several countrymen deciding not to wear Pride jerseys.
Bettman, in an interview with Sportsnet following the Board of Governors meeting in New York, said he suggested teams stop having special warmup jerseys because themed nights were being undermined by chatter over certain players declining to participate.
“That’s just become more of a distraction from really the essence of what the purpose of these nights are,” Bettman said. “We’re keeping the focus on the game. And on these specialty nights, we’re going to be focused on the cause.”
Bettman at NHL All-Star Weekend in February defended the league and teams’ handling of the situations, saying tolerance of varying viewpoints was part of being “open, welcoming and inclusive.”
“You know what our goals, our values and our intentions are across the league, whether it’s at the league level or at the club level,” Bettman said at the time. “But we also have to respect some individual choice, and some people are more comfortable embracing themselves in causes than others. And part of being diverse and welcoming is understanding those differences.”
Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press