NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman recently noted that the league might begin reevaluating the idea of holding gay pride nights with the increasing number of players and teams opting out either for religious or foreign pressure reasons.
Recently, several players have opted out of wearing gay pride jerseys during gay pride night, and at least three teams joined these players to eschew the jerseys. Two reasons have been offered to explain these actions. First, several teams and players have cited a new law in Russia that outlaws “gay propaganda” and pinpointed the law as worrisome for the safety of their Russia-born players and those players’ family members who are still living in Russia. They fear players being seen in gay pride jerseys could cause Russian authorities to target them. Secondly, players have cited their personal religious beliefs for opting out of wearing gay pride jerseys.
Commissioner Bettman has defended the decision to opt-out. But the growing number of those choosing to do so is forcing the league to face a dilemma, and Bettman noted that the issue is something the NHL “will have to evaluate in the offseason.”
“This is one issue where players for a variety of reasons may not feel comfortable wearing the uniform as a form of endorsement,” Bettman said, according to Fox News.
“But I think that’s become more of a distraction now because the substance of what our teams and we have been doing and stand for is really being pushed to the side for what is a handful of players basically have made personal decisions, and you have to respect that as well,” he added.
To date, three teams have opted out of the gay pride jerseys. First, the Chicago Blackhawks decided not to wear them during the team’s gay pride night out of fear that their three Russian-born players may be put in jeopardy due to the new law in Russia. Previous to that, the Minnesota Wild also opted out of wearing the jersey. And in Jan., the New York Rangers opted out of wearing the gay pride jersey.
Three individual players have also taken a stance on the gay pride jersey. San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer opted out of wearing the jersey, citing his religious convictions.
In January, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov also decided not to wear his team’s pride jersey for similar reasons. And Buffalo Sabres player Ilya Lyubushkin decided to opt out this month, but he cited the law in Russia for his action.
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