Brothers Eric and Marc Staal, who both play on the NHL’s Florida Panthers, refused to wear pro-LGBT sweaters during the team’s warmup skate Thursday evening, citing their Christian beliefs.
“After many thoughts, prayers, and discussions, we have chosen not to wear a Pride Night jersey tonight,” the brothers said in a statement, according to ESPN. “We carry no judgment on how people choose to live their lives, and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey. Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a pride jersey, it goes against our Christian beliefs.”
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They concluded their remarks by noting they would not be discussing the issue further but “would like to continue to focus on the game and helping the Florida Panthers win the Stanley Cup.”
The Staal brothers are not alone in their opposition to the LGBT-themed jerseys.
Most recently, San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer refused to take part in the warmup jersey, referencing his “personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in my life.” And in late January, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov similarly declined due to his Russian Orthodox beliefs.
“I respect everybody and I respect everybody’s choices,” Provorov said at the time of his announcement over the jersey. “My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”
Although the 26-year-old Provorov faced backlash from some in the media, he was backed up by his coach, John Tortorella, who told reporters the defenseman was simply “being true to himself.”
“This has to do with his belief and his religion,” said the coach. “It’s one thing I respect about Provy: He’s always true to himself. That’s where we’re at with that.”
Additionally, the NHL said at the time players are “free to decide which initiatives to support.”
“Hockey is for Everyone is the umbrella initiative under which the league encourages clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans,” the organization said in a statement. “Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with league counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.”
The Staals’ announcement comes the same week the Chicago Blackhawks announced it would not be wearing the LGBT-themed jerseys during the 2023 season due to safety concerns for Russian players. The New York Rangers, the New York Islanders, and the Minnesota Wild made similar decisions.
The Blackhawks’ decision comes just a few months after Russia enacted legislation criminalizing the promotion of what the law describes as “non-traditional sexual relations.”
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