Eric Staal seems to be wrong about whether or not he ever wore a ‘Pride’ shirt.
The Florida Panthers forward addressed the media Thursday night after he, along with teammate and brother, Marc, refused to wear LGBT-inspired ‘Pride Night’ warm-up shirts at the Thursday’s 6-2 loss to Toronto.
“I’ve never, never worn a Pride jersey before,” Eric told reporters, who were quick to contradict the six-time All-Star.
Pictures of Eric donning a Pride warm-up jersey as a member of the Montreal Canadiens in 2021 surfaced Thursday night on social media, definitely proving the Thunder Bay, Ontario native wrong.
When pressed, Eric referred the media to his and his brother’s earlier statement, explaining that they opted not to wear the Pride warm-up on Thursday due to their Christian beliefs.
Eric Staal, pictured wearing a Montreal warm-up jersey before a game in 2021
Eric Staal seems to be wrong on whether or not he ever wore a ‘Pride’ T-shirt
“We do not judge how people choose to live their lives and we believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey,” the Staal brothers said in their statement. “Having said that, we feel that wearing a Gay Pride shirt goes against our Christian beliefs.”
Marc did not address the media after the game.
The Staals gained the support of many fans on social media for their decision, but they also received a wave of criticism, some of it coming from their hometown of Thunder Bay.
“We wish Eric and Marc could understand that Pride Inclusion Nights and the (sic) jerseys are all about inclusion in the sport and having a welcoming stadium to enjoy the hockey game,” read a statement from Thunder’s Rainbow Collective. Bay. “Wearing a Pride shirt or rainbow is not about endorsing certain values or that you are gay, what it means is that you are welcome here and that your sport welcomes diverse backgrounds.
“Now more than ever it is vitally important that allies stand up and speak out about unconscious and conscious bias. The community has invested in their hometown hockey heroes, and it’s more important than ever that Eric and Marc Staal be role models not only to their own children but also to the youth who look up to them.
“2SLGBTQIA+ communities deserve better, and we urge Eric and Marc to understand why these nights are vitally important to ensuring a truly welcoming and inclusive hockey community.”
Marc Staal did not speak to reporters on Thursday about his refusal to wear the LGBTQ shirts.
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While the Staal brothers declined to participate, Russian goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky was one of the Panthers to go ahead with the Pride-themed jerseys.
The Chicago Blackhawks decided not to wear special warm-up jerseys to commemorate their Pride night on Sunday, citing an anti-gay Kremlin law that could endanger Russian athletes when they return home. The decision was made by the organization after conversations with its players.
“I think the story is not about them,” said Florida coach Paul Maurice, who has coached Eric Staal since he was the second overall pick in the 2003 draft by the Carolina Hurricanes.
“The story is about the rest of the group excited, the organization and the fans excited to celebrate a great night. These are grown men who have lived in their faith their entire lives. This is not new to them. They have the right to take that position. The rest of the players wore that sweater with pride and I hope we delivered that ‘Welcome to our building, welcome to our franchise and welcome to the great game of hockey’ message.
Florida forward Matthew Tkachuk wore the warm-up jersey, saying he “accepted a night like this.”
“A night like this, for me, it’s about including everyone,” he said. “It is, in my opinion, the best game in the world and everyone is welcome in our locker room and in our organization.”
Staal’s decision follows similar moves in the league. San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer also refused to wear a Pride warm-up jersey, due to his Christian beliefs.
“For the 13 years of my NHL career, I have been a Christian, not just in the title, but in the way I choose to live my life every day,” Reimer said in a statement.
‘I have personal faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for my sins and in response asks me to love everyone and follow him.
“I have no hate in my heart for anyone, and I have always strived to treat everyone I meet with respect and kindness. In this specific case, I choose not to endorse something that goes against my personal convictions which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in my life.’
Reimer also received criticism this week, along with the Staals.
“James Reimer, Eric and Jordan Staal are not being asked to endorse, support, approve or participate in anything,” NHL reporter Ken Campbell tweeted. Not a thing. They are asked to wear a sweater for 15 minutes when the arena is half full to make LGBTQ people feel welcome and safe. And they can’t do that.
A hockey podcaster added: “People like Eric and Marc Staal are the reason Pride initiatives are needed.”