The Chicago Blackhawks will not wear pride warm-up jerseys during the National Hockey League team’s Pride Night due to safety concerns related to the club’s Russian players, The Athletic reported on Thursday.
Citing two Blackhawk sources, The Athletic reported that the decision not to wear rainbow-themed jerseys as part of Pride Night festivities ahead of Sunday’s showdown against the Vancouver Canucks was made by team management and security officials and not the players. Last December Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a law expanding Russia’s restrictions on the promotion of what it calls “LGBT propaganda”, effectively outlawing any public expression of LGBT behaviour or lifestyle in Russia.
Under the new law, which widens Russia’s interpretation of what qualifies as “LGBT propaganda”, any action or the spreading of any information that is considered an attempt to promote homosexuality in public, online, or in films, books or advertising, could incur a heavy fine. The Blackhawks website has only one player on its roster as born in Russia, defenseman Nikita Zaitsev.
The Blackhawks did not respond to a Reuters request for comment. Chicago’s goaltender Anton Khudobin was born in Kazakhstan when it was part of the former-Soviet Union, while Swiss-born forward Philipp Kurashev is the son of Russian former professional hockey player Konstantin Kurashev.
The Blackhawks become the latest NHL team to curtail Pride Night activities for various reasons. The New York Rangers, Islanders and Minnesota Wild all opted out of wearing Pride-themed jerseys.
Individual players have also refused to take part in team initiatives. Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov and San Jose Sharks netminder James Reimer did not participate in Pride Night citing religious beliefs.
Florida Panthers forward Eric Staal and his brother, defenceman Marc Staal, did not participate in the team’s warmup on Thursday after refusing to wear Pride jerseys, saying doing so would go against their Christian beliefs. The NHL promotes a “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign each February that focuses on ways to promote diversity and inclusion.
But the league has come under criticism from gay groups and activists for taking a hands off approach to the issue, leaving it up to individual clubs and players to decide if or how they want to support LGBTQ+ or any other cause. “Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with league counsel and support,” the NHL said in a statement.
“Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”
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