problem loading...
NHL Pride Night Controversies, Explained
May 29, 2023
Simon Ing, Grade 12

The 2022-23 NHL season has been fraught with controversy surrounding team-mandated Pride Nights, during which many teams wear Pride-themed jerseys in warmups to demonstrate their commitment to inclusion in hockey. While these initiatives have been in place for multiple years, several players have recently decided against participating.

Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov started a chain of events when he opted out of Pride Night proceedings during warmups, citing his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs. Provorov’s decision immediately sparked outrage from fans and media.

In the coming weeks, the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild, both teams home to Russian superstars, scrapped their Pride Night plans. The Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin, Artemi Panarin, and Vladimir Tarasenko, alongside the Wild’s Kirill Kaprizov, are all Russian stars among the top players in the league. It’s worth noting that, for months, there has been fear surrounding the action that the Russian government could take on NHL players after President Vladimir Putin passed severe anti-LGBTQ legislation making it illegal for Russian citizens to promote “nontraditional sexual relations.” Kaprizov, most notably, was forced to navigate issues surrounding his military exemption and geographical mobility during his return to North America from Russia after the offseason. Additionally, the Buffalo Sabres’ Ilya Lybusyskin and the Vancouver Canucks’ Andrei Kuzmenko were players from Russia that declined to warm up with Pride jerseys. As such, it is no surprise that abstinence from Pride-related initiatives has been especially prevalent among Russian players, who fear potential retribution from the Russian government.

However, refusal to participate was not limited to only players of Russian descent. San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer and Florida Panthers’ twins Eric and Marc Staal were widely criticized for being among those that declined to participate solely due their religious beliefs. 

Nashville Predators’ prospect Luke Prokop, the first openly gay member of the NHL, condemned these actions. “I share the disappointment in what feels like a step back for inclusion,” Prokop shared on Twitter. “It’s disheartening to see some teams no longer wearing them or not fully embracing their significance.” Numerous groups advocating for LGBTQ rights have also spoken out in opposition to these players.

While fan reaction has been mixed, with some defending these players for their right to personal decisions, many have also laid blame on the players for refusing. Nevertheless, these incidents have seen consistent media attention and sparked passionate debates, ultimately leading NHL

Commissioner Gary Bettman to issue a statement in regards to Pride Nights. Bettman stated that the league plans “to evaluate the situation in the offseason,” while acknowledging that players have the right to make personal decisions.

Well, the offseason is fast approaching. How will the league address the recent uptick in Pride Night absentees?