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NHL Players Come Out Against Organization's Decision To Nix Themed Jerseys

Commissioner Gary Bettman Said Themed Jerseys Have Become A 'Distraction'

NHL players have come out against the organization’s decision to nix themed jerseys during warmups.

The NHL’s decision to move away from themed jerseys, including Pride jerseys, was revealed by organization commissioner Gary Bettman who said the jerseys have become a “distraction.”

“It’s disappointing to see,” said Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid during Monday’s NHL awards. “It’s not my call, but obviously it’s disappointing.”

“I certainly can’t speak for every organization,” McDavid continued. “I know in Edmonton, we were one of the first teams to use the Pride tape.”

“We strongly feel hockey is for everybody, and that includes the Pride nights.”

“I think guys should have the right to do what they want,” Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning. “It was 98 per cent or 99 per cent of other players that wore the jersey and enjoyed wearing it and were proud wearing it — whatever jersey it was — whether it was the Pride, the military night, the cancer nights.”

“The story shouldn’t be about the guy that didn’t wear it — the one guy or the two guys.”

“I understand that’s what gets the clicks and that’s what gets the views, but the word ‘distraction’ gets thrown around. I don’t think it had to have been a distraction,” Stamkos continued. “It could have been a non-issue while focusing on the good that was coming out of those nights and the money that was raised and the players that did wear the jerseys those nights.”

Calgary Flames forward Mikael Backlund said attention was taken away from the “right reasons.”

“All of us were wearing the jerseys … everyone was looking (at), ‘Who’s not and why not?'” Backlund continued. “I understand the decision the NHL made to take that distraction away. Teams can still have their nights — their special nights — and I think that’s a good thing.”

Brothers Eric and Marc Stall, 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, other 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.

Pittsburgh Penguins defenceman Kris Letang said it was “tough” to see fellow players decline to wear Pride jerseys.

“I understand sometimes why they didn’t, but to me, it doesn’t mean that you’re fully supporting or not supporting it,” he said. “It’s just to make our sport accessible to everybody.”

Last Thursday, Bettman told Sportsnet of the NHL’s Board of Governors decision to move away from themed-jerseys.

“I’ve suggested that it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys in warmups because 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,” Bettman said. “We’d rather them continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction.”

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman noted the decision to do away with themed jerseys during warmups occurred during Pride Month, to which Bettman reiterated the jerseys caused a “distraction” from teams celebrating Pride by hosting their own events.

“This way we’re keeping the focus on the game,” Bettman said, adding specialty nights would focus on Pride celebration.

“All of those nights will continue,” he said. “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.”

The NHL commissioner also confirmed Pride-themed jerseys would continue to be produced and sold. Players will also still be allowed to choose to model the jerseys.

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