The Chicago Blackhawks have decided not to wear special warm-up jerseys to commemorate Pride night, citing an anti-gay Kremlin law that could endanger Russian athletes when they return home.
The Blackhawks, who have a Russian player and two others with Russian connections, will not wear Pride-themed warm-up jerseys ahead of Sunday’s game against Vancouver, a person with knowledge of the matter told the Associated Press, due to safety concerns. related to the law. which expands restrictions to support LGBTQ rights. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed it in December.
The decision was made by the Blackhawks after discussions with security officials inside and outside the franchise, according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity on Wednesday because of the sensitivity of the move.
Chicago coach Luke Richardson said Thursday that he and his players were disappointed, calling it “an unfortunate situation.”
“I don’t think we can control global problems, so that takes it out of our hands,” Richardson said. “We are just making decisions to the best of our ability as an organization and for everyone.”
The league declined to comment through a spokesman, as did agent Dan Milstein, who represents Russian players on the Blackhawks and other teams.
Chicago defenseman Nikita Zaitsev is a native of Moscow, and there are other players with relatives in Russia or other connections to the country. Zaitsev was not available to reporters in Washington.
The Buffalo Sabers and Vancouver Canucks have upcoming Pride nights. The Canucks have not announced specific plans for the event. Sabers management was scheduled to discuss the matter with its player leadership group on Thursday amid concerns that defender Ilya Lyubushkin will participate because he is from Moscow, where he still has family and returns in the offseason to visit .
Lyubushkin and his family members could face backlash in Russia, according to a Sabers employee with knowledge of the matter. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity due to the sensitive nature of the discussions.
The Florida Panthers, whose star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is Russian, planned to go ahead with plans to wear the jerseys Thursday night before their home game against Toronto.
The t-shirts are just one part of many initiatives that Florida has incorporated into its annual event. The Panthers will also auction off the jerseys, then match the money raised and donate it to nonprofit organizations that serve the LGBTQ community.
“As an organization, we have decided, and rightly so, to go ahead and support him and celebrate him,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “The teams in the league and the players in the league have a right to their opinion and we have a right to ours.”
Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers refused to participate in pregame warmups during the team’s Pride night in January, citing his Russian Orthodox religion. Russians Nikolai Knyzhov and Alexander Barabanov wore the Pride-themed jerseys for the San Jose Sharks on Saturday when Canadian goalie James Reimer refused to participate because he said he conflicted with his religious beliefs.
The New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild chose not to wear Pride t-shirts or use Pride tape as part of their events despite previously announcing that they would.
The Blackhawks planned a variety of LGBT-related activities in conjunction with Sunday’s game. DJs from the LGBTQ community will play before the game and during intermission, and the Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus is scheduled to perform. There are also plans to highlight a couple of area businesses with ties to the gay community.
“We don’t want the jerseys to represent the entire night,” Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones said. “We are still doing a lot for the LGBTQ community, and we as players respect that. We just thought this was the best thing for our team.”