NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has announced that teams will discontinue the practice of wearing specialty sweaters during warmups, including those designed to celebrate LGBTQ Pride. According to ESPN, the decision comes in response to multiple players who refused to wear these jerseys due to their Christian beliefs or concerns about potential backlash from their home countries, particularly Russia.
Bettman explained that the reason behind the change is that the focus should be on the clubs’ various causes and events, rather than on distractions during warmups. He clarified that teams can still organize politically-focused specialty nights such as Pride Night, Black History Night, and Military Appreciation Night, and can continue to produce specialty sweaters for causes and charities that can be sold to fans.
The decision to eliminate the specialty sweaters was supported by the NHL board of governors, who agreed with Bettman’s assessment. However, the commissioner emphasized that this decision only pertains to what players wear on the ice during warmups.
During the season, seven players, including Eric and Marc Staal, James Reimer, and Ivan Provorov, declined to participate in Pride Night celebrations due to their religious beliefs. Russian players Ilya Lyubushkin, Denis Gurianov, and Andrei Kuzmenko also stated that they would not wear the Pride sweaters. Security concerns were cited by the Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, and Chicago Blackhawks as reasons for not wearing the Pride warmup sweaters, specifically regarding their Russian players.
The NHL’s decision has drawn criticism from groups advocating for LGBTQ inclusivity. One such organization, You Can Play, expressed disappointment, noting that the decision prevents players who wished to show support for the community from doing so. They emphasized the ongoing need for efforts to create safer and more inclusive spaces within hockey.
Bettman’s comments earlier in the year indicated that the league was considering this course of action. He expressed an understanding for players who may not feel comfortable endorsing a cause through their uniform and acknowledged that the issue had become a distraction, diverting attention from the meaningful work the teams and league are engaged in.
In conclusion, the NHL’s decision to discontinue the use of specialty sweaters during warmups, including those associated with LGBTQ Pride, is aimed at reducing distractions and refocusing attention on the various causes and events supported by the league. The decision was made in response to some players expressing reservations due to religious beliefs and concerns about potential backlash. While the move has received criticism from LGBTQ advocacy groups, the NHL maintains its commitment to inclusivity and will continue its efforts to create safer and more diverse environments in collaboration with teams, players, agents, and the NHL Players’ Association.