The New York Rangers’ Pride Night debacle sent shockwaves throughout the hockey world.
There was a distinct lack of pride when the New York Rangers took the ice for warmups before their 7 p.m. game against the Vegas Golden Knights on Friday, Jan. 27. Not in pride for the team, but pride for LGBTQ+ community members and fans of the Rangers. Pride Night was nowhere in sight — not in the form of special warmup jerseys or rainbow pride tape.
The Rangers’ Pride Night advertised to fans for months intended to recognize and celebrate New York City’s LGBTQ+ community. The Rangers have featured Pride Nights for the past few seasons and the players have worn limited edition warmup jerseys and wrapped their sticks in rainbow tape during those games. The event’s marketing specifically mentioned that the jerseys would be auctioned off for charity. This year, however, there were no jerseys to be found.
The Rangers’ last-minute decision to forgo the jerseys and rainbow tape comes on the heels of the Philadelphia Flyers’ controversial Pride Night on Jan. 17, at which Flyers’ defenseman Ivan Provorov boycotted the pride event by refusing to skate during warmups because he would have been required to wear the Flyers’ special Pride Night jersey. Provorov cited his Russian Orthodox faith as the reason behind his boycott.
“I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Provorov’s home country of Russia heavily condemns the LGBTQ+ community. Though public activity is not technically illegal, LGBTQ+ people face social and legal discrimination and President Vladimir Putin has publicly spoken about his dislike for LGBTQ+ people.
Provorov’s statement is evidence of latent homophobia in the NHL and the hockey community as a whole. In 2016, the NHL suspended and fined Chicago Blackhawks player Andrew Shaw for using a homophobic slur. In 2022, a fan reported a homophobic attack, which was later investigated as a hate crime, after an NHL game in Denver. Two weeks ago, the East Coast Hockey League released Louie Rowe after he made homophobic comments on Twitter.
Following Provorov’s boycott of the warmup, pride events and his statement, the NHL released a statement the following day.
“Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with league counsel and support,” the statement reads. “Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”
The statement doesn’t place blame on Provorov for any wrongdoing for skipping warmups. It also endorses both teams’ and individual players’ choice to refuse to participate in league-based initiatives like Pride Night. Many teams in the NHL also host Military Appreciation and Hockey Fights Cancer Nights. No player has refused to wear the uniforms designed for those events.
The You Can Play Project, an organization created to fight homophobia in professional sports also released a statement following the game, which has since been deleted. Both these statements support Provorov’s decision not to support LGBTQ+ people.
Just 10 days after the Flyers’ Pride Night and the following statement, the Rangers made the decision to not have players wear special jerseys on Pride Night without informing fans, the media or their own players. The Rangers’ Pride Night was previously a regular season game with rainbow lighting.
You Can Play responded, stating their disappointment with the Rangers’ decision.
“We hope this discussion brings an explanation that will include the team’s philosophy on whether…[players] are allowed to exclude support for other players and fans who may value and need this support.”
While this shows a change in tone from You Can Play, the NHL has yet to release a statement in response to the Rangers’ botched Pride Night, even after pressure from fans.
The NHL’s stance is clear. While the league is happy to support initiatives like You Can Play and tout an endorsement with The Trevor Project, it has shown that it isn’t willing to apply this message to individual teams or players
That’s a tough look for a league already behind the NFL, NBA and MLB in the popularity contest.
The NHL and the New York Rangers have taken an indirect stance against LGBTQ+ acceptance. Now, with more teams scheduled to host their own Pride Nights, we’ll see how far that stance goes.
Contact Avery Hendrick at [email protected]
Add a Comment