At least one National Hockey League team with a Russian player on its roster has decided against wearing special warmup jerseys to commemorate Pride Night because of a Russian law that expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQ rights.
The Chicago Blackhawks will not wear Pride-themed warmup jerseys before Sunday’s Pride Night game against Vancouver, a person with knowledge of the matter told The Associated Press, because of security concerns involving the law that Russian President Vladimir Putin signed in December.
The decision was made by the NHL following discussions with security officials within and outside the franchise, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke to the AP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the move.
The league declined to comment through a spokesperson, as did agent Dan Milstein, who represents Russian players on the Blackhawks and other teams.
Chicago coach Luke Richardson he and his players were disappointed in the decision.
“It’s an unfortunate situation, but that’s just what we have to deal with,” Richardson said after his team’s gameday skate in Washington. “I don’t think we can control the world issues, so that takes it out of our hands. We’re just making decisions as best we can as an organization and for everybody.”
The decision comes at at time when Russian players have walked a careful line since the invasion of Ukraine, with some cautiously speaking out against the war even with family members still living in Russia. Last year, Minnesota Wild star Kirill Kaprizov ran into several roadblocks as he traveled back to the U.S., raising concerns about his safety.
Chicago defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is a Moscow native, and there are other players with family in Russia or other connections to the country. Zaitsey was not made available to reporters in Washington.
The Blackhawks have previously worn Pride warmup jerseys and donned special warmup jerseys on some other themed nights this season. There had been ongoing conversations with players about Pride jerseys prior to the decision, according to the person who talked to the AP.
The Florida Panthers — whose star goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, is Russian — planned to go forward with plans to wear the jerseys Thursday night before their home game against Toronto.
The jerseys are just one part of many initiatives Florida built into its annual event. The Panthers will also auction off the jerseys, then match whatever money is raised and donate to nonprofits that work with the LGBTQ community.
“As an organization, we’ve decided, and rightfully so, to move forward with it and support it and celebrate it,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “Teams around the league and players around the league, they’ve got the right to their opinion, and we’ve got the right to ours.”
Earlier this season, San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, but both cited religious beliefs, not the Russian law. Russians Nikolai Knyzhov and Alexander Barabanov wore the Pride-themed jerseys for the Sharks on Saturday.
The New York Rangers opted not to wear Pride jerseys or use Pride stick tape as part of their night in January despite previously advertising that plan.
Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy said he could understand why people might be upset “when things are announced one way and then changed.”
He added: “I do hope that people understand that we all support them, whether it’s someone in the gay community or someone in any other community.”
The Blackhawks have planned a variety of activities in conjunction with Sunday’s game. DJs from the LGBTQ community will play before the game and during an intermission, and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus is slated to perform. There also are plans to highlight a couple of area businesses with ties to the LGBTQ community.
“We don’t want the jerseys to represent the entirety of the night,” Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones said. “We’re still doing a lot for the LGBTQ community, and us as players respect that. We just thought that this was best for our team. We know the organization puts the players on the team first.”
The Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks have Pride nights upcoming. The Canucks have not announced specific plans for the event, while Sabres officials remain in discussions about what to do.
—Jay Cohen, The Associated Press