Ilya Lyubushkin is the latest NHL player to refuse to wear a rainbow-colored jersey for his team’s warm-ups. The Buffalo Sabres defenseman is also the first to cite his fear of retaliation from Russia as the reason, something previously only spoken about by clubs (and refuted by the league front office).
The Sabres released a statement — as have all the clubs — reiterating their public support for the LGBT community while also supporting the player’s refusal to demonstrate such support.
“Consistent with previous years, our team feels strongly that one way to garner support is through wearing Pride jerseys and using Pride tape in warmups,” the Sabres stated. “That said, we are aware of general threats to certain players and understand their decision to forego risk.”
To be clear, there has been no “general threat” made against Russian players for wearing these jerseys. This has been something various clubs have put forward publicly, and which Lyubushkin clearly is taking advantage of. The NHL league office has dismissed these concerns, saying they know of no risk posed to Russian players for wearing a rainbow jersey 5,000 miles away from Moscow, where Lyubushkin was born.
Russia has passed increasingly strict laws about “promoting” homosexuality in Russia.
One positive about the situation is that Sabres coach Don Granato said it created a substantive conversation amongst the players about the topic of LGBT inclusion.
“It was nice for our group to really take an event like this and have a lot of meaningful conversations, even leading up to it based on what’s going around the world — around the U.S. and around the world — and actually have talks (about) more than hockey,” Granato said, according to the Associated Press. “I think the authenticity of our group has been really a silver-lining positive of the event that we’re excited to have tonight.”