Panthers’ Eric, Marc Staal become latest NHL players to refuse to wear ‘Pride’ jerseys

Pride Month has sparked controversy across the NHL throughout this season with players and teams opting out of large, very public parts of the festivities. As a team, the Florida Panthers still wore their Pride jerseys, but two players joined a growing list of NHL players to refuse.

Eric and Marc Staal both did not participate in warm-ups for the Panthers on Wednesday in Sunrise in refusal to wear the team’s special LGBT-inspired jerseys for FLA Live Arena’s “Pride Night.” The brothers, in a statement, cited their “Christian beliefs” as the reason.

Every other active player did, including star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, even in spite of Russian laws banning the celebration of LGBT individuals.

“As an organization, we’ve decided, and rightfully so, to move forward with it, and support it and celebrate it,” coach Paul Maurice said.

Florida was the first team in the NHL to hold a “Pride Night” back in 2013. The special-edition jerseys, designed by local artist Teepop, feature rainbow-colored numbers — and a rainbow-tinted logo and pride flag — on a white base. The team, and teams across the league, often wears unique warm-up jerseys to celebrate special occasions, including “Black History Night” and “Hispanic Heritage Night” earlier this season.

In recent years, “Pride Night” has become more commonplace across the league with rainbow warm-up jerseys a staple, but various players have bucked against this part of the celebration.

On Wednesday, the Blackhawks became the latest team to back out of plans to wear Pride jerseys during warm-ups, citing concerns about how Russian players might be punished the recent expansion of Russian gay propaganda laws, which prohibit the sharing of positive information about LGBT people. The Rangers, Islanders and Wild also scrapped plans.

Bobrovsky is the Panthers’ lone Russian player and started against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Several prominent Russian players, including Penguins center Evgeni Malkin, have worn Pride jerseys with no known repercussions from the Russian government so far.

In other cases, individual players opted out. In January, Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to wear a Pride jersey and skipped his team’s warm-ups, citing his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs. Sharks goaltender James Reimer did the same thing Saturday, citing his Catholic beliefs. The Staals joined that list, again using religion as the reason.

“Teams around the league and players around the league, they’ve got the right to their opinion and we’ve got the right to ours,” Maurice said. “It should be a great night tonight.”

Florida’s special-edition jerseys will be auctioned off to benefit You Can Play, which aims to ensure the safety and inclusion of all participants in sports, including LGBT athletes, coaches and fans.

Other special Pride merchandise will also be on sale at the team shop and there will be several giveaways, including scarves and wristbands, available throughout the arena.