Here we go again. Another NHL team is abandoning having its players wear Pride jerseys in support of the LGTBTQ community, this time the Chicago Blackhawks for the upcoming Sunday game. The reason this time? Vladimir Putin.
From Mark Lazerus of the Athletic, writing on Twitter:
The Blackhawks will not wear their Pride jerseys on Sunday, per team sources.
Safety concerns over Russia’s anti-LGBTQ “propaganda” law are behind the team decision not to wear the jerseys, sources say.
I’m told this was an organizational decision, and didn’t come from the players.
The Blackhawks called all their “community partners” that are going to be a part of Pride night, and while there was obvious disappointment in the decision not to have (let?) the players wear the Pride jerseys, they all “understand,” per team sources.
Nikita Zaitsev, Philipp Kurashev and Anton Khudobin all have Russian heritage, so the team’s security officials made the call. I don’t know if there was any pushback from players. I hope there was.
I wish the Blackhawks would just let those three players sit out warmups so the others can participate freely, but the argument against that is then those players have to make statements, statements which could put them in a situation to speak ill of the Russian government.
Yes, this is a thing as was reported earlier this month. Under Putin, Russia has become more and more anti-gay, passing several laws that restrict rights for LGBTQ people. A December law “makes it illegal to spread ‘propaganda’ about ‘nontraditional sexual relations’ in the media, advertising, movies or on social media,” according to the New York Times.
Since 5% of those who have played in an NHL game this season are Russian, the teams are justified in considering their safety. And yet something seems off. The Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings each have a Russian-born player. The San Jose Sharks have two. All four of these players were in the lineup when their teams wore Pride jerseys (Dallas on Tuesday and the Kings and Sharks on Saturday). Why was this not an issue with these teams but it is in Chicago?
As one Twitter user noted, the Blackhawks publicly supported Ukraine, which one would think with put their Russian players even more of a bind than a Pride jersey. “So the Ukraine support was okay but the #PrideNight was a bridge too far?” the tweet said. “Yea I’m not buying this form the #Blackhawks Just scratch the Russian players if they are tanking anyways.”
“Yup! Nice try Blackhawks, guessing those players didn’t want to wear them,’ said another Twitter user. “That’s what the team was concerned about, the backlash the players would get…pathetic.”
In a story for the Athletic posted Wednesday night, Lazerus noted a contradiction in what the Blackhawks said two weeks ago and now:
Now the Blackhawks will join them, contradicting earlier statements from alternate captain Connor Murphy and team CEO Danny Wirtz.
Just two weeks ago, in the wake of the Wild and Rangers decisions, The Athletic spoke with Murphy about the Blackhawks’ upcoming Pride Night. Murphy was confident the Blackhawks would wear the jerseys — a small part of Pride Night, but easily the most visible.
“I don’t think we have anyone, that I know of, that wouldn’t support that,” Murphy said. “I think it was surprising to see that stuff came up this year. We’ve been doing it for so many years, so it’s not like it’s a new subject. … It is a bit disappointing (to see around the league). It seems like we have so many other nights, and nobody raises any issues. Hockey is about inclusion, about growing the community and the game. I don’t see why anyone would have a need to feel like they don’t support a certain group. If it’s about the game and about bringing everyone together and about equality, everyone should always be supportive of that.”
Asked last month what the Blackhawks would do if a player wanted to opt out of Pride Night, Wirtz said he didn’t “want to give a lot of energy to the outliers. I want to give it to the stuff that’s working and the players that are behind it, the players that are committed to this, our employees (to whom) this is really important. That’s really where we want (to focus our) energy.”
This is another organizational fail on NHL Pride nights this season joining the Philadelphia Flyers (citing religion), the Minnesota Wild (blame Putin) and New York Rangers (never saying really why) in abandoning Pride jerseys and totally screwing up what should have been a night of celebration.
We’ll never know if the three Russian Blackhawks players are legitimately concerned for their safety or don’t support LGBTQ people and are using Putin’s laws as a get out of jail free card. By letting the minority dictate again, this is another clear example that the “hockey is for everyone slogan” rings hollow with many NHL teams.