The National Hockey League (NHL), the highest level professional ice hockey league representing 32 North American teams, has banned teams from wearing Pride-themed warm-up jerseys during the teams’ LGBTQ+-inclusive Pride nights.
The NHL’s ban will also forbid teams from wearing jerseys commemorating military veterans, people with cancer, and others. The league’s decision comes during Pride Month and barely a week after Major League Baseball (MLB) announced a similar ban.
When a gay couple was shown kissing in the stadium, he said “That’s disgusting. Security, get rid of them.”
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently talk to Sportsnet about the rainbow-colored jerseys and how some players have refused to wear them.
“It’s become a distraction,” Bettman said. “And taking away from the fact that all of our clubs host nights in honor of various groups or causes, and we’d rather they continue to get the appropriate attention they deserve and not be a distraction.”
Bettman noted that NHL teams will still host Pride nights; players just won’t wear rainbow-colored jerseys during those nights.
Bettman’s “distraction” comment may reference instances like what happened last January when Philadelphia Flyers’ player Ivan Provorov refused to take part in his team’s Pride Night warm-up session because he didn’t want to wear a rainbow-colored jersey. He said the jersey violated his Russian Orthodox Christian beliefs.
In March, James Reimer, a goalie with the San Jose Sharks, declined to wear his team’s Pride jersey for the same reason. Players with the Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers have refused to wear the jerseys as well.
In a statement against the new policy, You Can Play, an organization opposing queerphobia in sports, said that they were “concerned and disappointed” by the new policy.
“Today’s decision means that the over 95% of players who chose to wear a Pride jersey to support the community will now not get an opportunity to do so. Pride nights will continue and we look forward to further enhancing the programming these opportunities bring to the mission of inclusion and belonging for the 2SLGBTQ+ community given this restriction,” the organization said.
Hockey commentator Gord Miller criticized the decision on Twitter, writing, “In addition to the LGBTQ+ community, people with cancer, members of the military and their families, black and indigenous people will be among those who will no longer be visibly recognized before games.”
In March, Luke Prokop, the only out gay athlete ever to play under an NHL contract, said“It’s disheartening to see some teams no longer wearing [Pride jerseys] or embracing their significance, while the focus of others has become about the players who aren’t participating rather than the meaning of the night itself.”
Prokop said that Pride Nights and Pride jerseys play an important part in “promoting and respecting inclusion for the LGBTQIA+ community” and in “fostering greater acceptance and understanding” of queer people in his sport.
“Everyone is entitled to their own set of beliefs,” he said, adding, “I think it’s important to recognize the difference between endorsing a community and respecting individuals within it.”
Last week, MLB announced a similar ban on Pride-themed jerseys.