pride fight

NHL’s ongoing Pride Night jersey drama just got even dumber

Close up of ice hockey stick on ice rink in position to hit hockey puck.

In recent weeks, three different NHL teams have blamed their string of Pride Night debacles on Russia’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws. But one of the league’s top execs say there’s zero evidence to support those ridiculous claims.

When the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild abandoned their plans for players to wear Pride warmup jerseys, it was reported they were trying to protect their Russian-born players.

Vladimir Putin has passed a string of laws that restrict the rights of LGBTQ+ people, including a rule that makes it “illegal to spread ‘propaganda’ about ‘nontraditional sexual relations,'” according to the New York Times.

The Blackhawks and Wild were both concerned that players who wear Pride jerseys could be prosecuted for spreading “gay propaganda,” The Athletic reported at the time.

Then on Monday, the Buffalo Sabres allowed Russian defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin to skip their Pride warmup skate, citing safety concerns.

About five percent of the NHL is Russian. 

But the league office isn’t backing up these dubious tales. When asked about the issue, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the NHL isn’t aware of any Russian players being in danger for supporting Pride.

“We take all risks seriously, and this one is no different,” he wrote in an email to The Athletic. “Having said that, we have no information that would suggest there is any material threat that would exist [in Russia or otherwise] related to a Russian player participating in a club’s Pride activities.”

So, there you have it, folks: the league’s second-in-command disproved that bogus Putin excuse in just two sentences. 

The notion that Putin’s anti-gay laws, passed more than 5,500 miles away, ever factored into NHL teams’ decisions on how to celebrate Pride nights was always a stretch. As Outsports points out, at least six Russian players have worn Pride warmup jerseys this year. 

There’s also the fact that Chicago hosted a “Ukrainian Heritage Night” March 4, which we’re guessing would probably piss off Putin, too.

All in all, it’s been a disastrous Pride Night campaign for the NHL, with multiple players refusing to wear Pride warmup jerseys and continuing a disheartening trend of pro athletes opting out of Pride celebrations. Most of them cite religion as the reason for their homophobia.

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov, for instance, was the first player to not wear an LGBTQ-themed warmup jersey, saying it was against his beliefs as a Russian Orthodox. Then the New York Rangers abandoned their Pride warmup jerseys altogether.

Over the last two weeks, San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer also didn’t wear his Pride jersey, and neither did the Florida Panthers’ Eric and Marc Steele. All three players also used the Bible as a shield.

Pride Nights are supposed to make LGBTQ+ sports fans feel comfortable at games. But teams capitulating to players’ anti-gay bigotry accomplishes the opposite. And the fact that NHL clubs are happy to court the pink dollar but not protect their gay fans is downright insulting. 

Thanks to Daly, however, they can’t hide behind Putin anymore.

Here’s what folks are saying on Twitter about this ongoing debacle…