Artists have come out against the National Hockey League’s (NHL) decision to move away from requiring teams to wear Pride-themed jerseys during warmup.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman revealed the organization would move away from Pride-themed jerseys, along with other themed uniforms because the effort caused a diversion.
“It’s become a distraction and taking away from the fact that all of our clubs in some form or another host nights in honor of various groups or causes, and we’d rather them continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction,” NHL’s commissioner Gary Bettman told Sportsnet in an exclusive interview following the NHL’s Board of Governors meeting on Thursday.
“This way we’re keeping the focus on the game,” Bettman said, adding specialty nights focusing on Pride would continue. “The only difference will be we’re not going to change jerseys for warmup because that’s just become more of a distraction from really the essence of what the purpose of these nights are.”
Mio Linzie, an artist who previously designed Pride jerseys for the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights and the Los Angeles Kings, said the organization’s decision to move away from specialty jerseys “hurts,” per ESPN.
“It doesn’t only affect the LGBTQ+ community but it also affects other marginalized communities, as the warmup jerseys is a primary part of community outreach and charity within the NHL,” said Linzie. “It’s also been a space for artists to express themselves and be able to create unique work under the NHL — and that venue has now partly been taken away.”
Dr. Philippe Rey, the executive director of Adolescent Counseling Services, which has previously raised funds through auctioning San Jose Sharks Pride jerseys, said the decision was “unfortunate.”
“Gestures like this can mean a lot to LGBTQIA+ young people, who experience bullying and hate crimes, are four times more likely to commit suicide, and report feeling unsafe in our world today,” Rey said. “Hopefully one day, showing support for other humans won’t be seen as a distraction.”
One Miami, Florida based artist, who goes by the name “Teepop,” criticized Bettman’s use of the term “distraction.”
“A distraction to who and to what? The jerseys that I designed were worn by the Florida Panther players for a total of 15 min, only during warmups on the ice,” Teepop said. “The NHL has been doing Pride nights and specialty jerseys highlighting all communities for many years now. Unfortunately, this past year the universal climate for equality has shifted. Axing all of these special jerseys across the board is gut wrenching. Because it says, ‘Everyone is not welcome here on the ice.’ No matter how they try to say that’s not what they are promoting, it is what they are saying.”
Bettman confirmed Pride-themed jerseys would continue to be produced and sold. Players will also still be allowed to choose to model the jerseys.
Brothers Eric and Marc Staal, who both play for the Florida Panthers, declined to wear Pride jerseys during a March game this year due to Christian beliefs.
“We carry no judgement on how people choose to live their lives, and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey,” they said in a statement. “Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a Pride jersey, it goes against our Christian beliefs.”
Along with the Staal brothers, a series of fellow NHL players — including San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer and Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov — have declined to wear Pride jerseys due to religious objections.
Buffalo Sabres defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin declined to participate in a March warmup in which the team was slated to wear Pride jerseys, citing fear of retribution over a so-called “anti-gay Kremlin law” in his home country of Russia.
The Chicago Blackhawks also unanimously decided against players wearing pride jerseys, citing the “anti-gay law” in Russia out of concern and safety for one Russian player and two other players with connection to the country.