Amid Pride Month backlash, the head of the National Hockey League (NHL) announced a win for Christian players who refused to wear Pride jerseys.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called the LGBTQ specialty pre-game jerseys a “distraction” in an interview last week.
“I suggested it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys in warmups because it’s become a distraction,” Bettman told SportsNet of Canada.
Ivan Provorov first protested the pre-game Pride jerseys in January when he was playing for the Philadelphia Flyers citing his Russian Orthodox religion.
“I respect everybody, and I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov told reporters at the time. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That’s all I’m gonna say.”
Despite backlash in the mainstream media, fans supported him and his jerseys immediately sold out. The defenseman has since been traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets.
In March, San Joe Sharks goalie James Reimer, a 35-year-old Christian Canadian, boycotted the pre-game Pride warmups citing his faith.
“For all 13 years of my NHL career, I have been a Christian, not just in title but in how I choose to live my life daily. I have a personal faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for my sins and, in response, asks me to love everyone and follow Him,” Reimer said in a statement.
“I have no hate in my heart for anyone, and I have always strived to treat everyone that I encounter with respect and kindness. In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in my life.”
Brothers Eric and Marc Staal of the Florida Panthers refused to wear Pride jerseys as well, citing their religious beliefs.
“After many thoughts, prayers and discussions we have chosen not to wear a pride jersey tonight. 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,” the brother said in a statement to the Associated Press.
“Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a pride jersey it goes against our Christian beliefs. We hope you can respect this statement, we will not be speaking any further on this matter and would like to continue to focus on the game and helping the Florida Panthers win the Stanley Cup,” they added.
Russian players Ilya Lyubushkin of the Buffalo Sabres, Denis Gurianov of the Montreal Canadiens, and Andrei Kuzmenko of the Vancouver Canucks all opted out of their teams’ Pride nights.
Commissioner Bettman said banning the pre-game jerseys would help the focus stay on the game and let the specialty nights continue without impacting the players.