There is a rainbow chilling effect in pro sports. The New York Rangers’ woeful decision to abandon their LGBTQ-rainbow warmup jerseys Friday shows they’re unwilling to stand up for the very fans they lured in with their Pride Night promotion.
The message is clear: Gay fans are welcome to spend their hard-earned money at the arena like everybody else. But they shouldn’t expect to be supported.
A series of high-profile Pride Night debacles illustrates that sports teams are now afraid of a rainbow.
We’ve written previously about how an increasing number of athletes are refusing to wear rainbow Pride uniforms. Last summer, five pitchers on the Tampa Bay Rays opted out of wearing a game uniform with a rainbow logo.
Players of the Manly Sea Eagles in Australia, as well as Paris Saint Germain’s Idrissa Gueye, did the same.
More recently, Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers kicked off 2023’s Pride Nights also refusing to wear a rainbow jersey ... during warmups.
Players in Australia’s top pro basketball league, the NBL, didn’t wear Pride jerseys during the league’s first-ever Pride Round, either, despite one of their own, forward Isaac Humphries, publicly coming out as gay earlier this season.
Ten years ago, Jason Collins became the first active NBA player to publicly come out as gay, and enjoyed widespread support from the league’s biggest stars.
Humphries, meanwhile, was dissed by some of his peers.
“I will always stand up and speak out when needed for my sport, for my community, and I’m disappointed for my LGBTQ+ family of athletes and coaches who live silently in the closet,” he said last week, via the Guardian.
We’re still not sure exactly what happened with the Rangers Friday night. All we know is, the Rangers announced players would wear rainbow jerseys for their pregame skate, and then abandoned the plan.
The club’s statement about the situation was weak and vapid.
“Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night,” the statement reads. “In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”
Much like the Flyers, who also issued an empty statement about the Provorov incident, the Rangers say they support inclusion, while simultaneously affirming unnamed players’ homophobia.
The NHL has a 13-year partnership with You Can Play, the non-profit pushing for more LGBTQ inclusion in sports that has its foundation in hockey. The organization was formed following the death of Brandon Burke, the teenage son of longtime NHL executive Brian Burke, who came out to his family just a couple of months before he was killed in a car accident.
And what has the league learned from this partnership? Apparently, very little. The NHL supported Provorov a couple of weeks ago, lazily arguing that players are “free to decide which initiatives to support.”
Of course, nobody is saying that players aren’t free to support, or not support, any causes they want. But that doesn’t change the fact that providing cover for anti-gay players on Pride Night turns the event into a sham.
Supporting LGBTQ inclusion isn’t always easy. And when it gets tough, an increasing number of sports teams are now opting to back away from the rainbow.
What a shame.