In a remarkable reaction to a foreign country’s anti-LGBTQ+ policies, the Chicago Blackhawks, an NHL team, abandoned plans for players to wear Pride-themed jerseys during warm-ups this Sunday at the team’s Pride Night celebration, citing security concerns for three players with ties to Russia.
The Chicago Tribune reported sources with the team say the Blackhawks didn’t want to risk “any media” depicting the Russians in Pride Night colors, which would put the players in conflict with official Russian government policy.
In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed an expansion of the country’s “gay propaganda” law, banning the promotion of “non-traditional sexual relations and/or preferences.”
In a statement, the team sidestepped the issue of how another country’s discriminatory laws are directly impacting American players.
“The Chicago Blackhawks organization is proud to continue its annual Pride Night celebration, an evening — alongside year-round efforts — fueled by partnership and LGBTQIA+ community engagement,” the team said in a statement Wednesday.
“Together, our activities will focus on fostering conversation and more equitable spaces in our pursuit to make hockey more inclusive. We do not condone anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric, and we stand firmly with the community.”
The three players with ties to Russia are Hawks defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, a Moscow native who represented Russia in eight major international tournaments; goaltender Anton Khudobin, a Kazakhstan-born Russian; and forward Philipp Kurashev, a Swiss national and son of former Russian hockey player Konstantin Kurashev.
“I can’t speak to the Russian influence,” said Kurt Weaver, chief operations officer of the You Can Play Project, an LGBTQ+ athlete advocacy group, “but I deeply hope that that’s not the case for this team or any team that we’re going to adjust our advocacy according to a different country’s laws.”
Those same Blackhawks sources indicated management was also influenced by Russia’s harsh treatment of other professional athletes, including out WNBA star Brittney Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in Russia before being released in a prisoner exchange, and Philadelphia Flyers goaltending prospect Ivan Fedotov, who was detained as an “army evader” shortly before his planned move to the U.S. Fedatov has since been drafted and assigned to a remote military base in northern Russia.
The NHL has been plagued by recent controversy surrounding Pride Night player defections, including Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov’s refusal to wear a Pride-themed jersey in January, citing his membership in the Russian Orthodox Church, and San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer’s decision last Saturday to opt out of warm-ups after refusing to a wear rainbow-themed jersey, also citing religious beliefs.
And last night, brothers Eric and Marc Staal, who play together for the Florida Panthers, said religious beliefs were their reason for skipping a Pride Night warm-up, despite the fact both men have worn Pride-themed jerseys in the past, Eric with the Montreal Canadiens in 2021 and Marc with the New York Rangers in 2020.
In the locker room after the Panthers’ 6-2 loss to the visiting Toronto Maple Leafs, Eric Staal struggled to explain the brothers’ decision and denied having ever worn a Pride-themed jersey.
Left unsaid was what influence Ivan Provorov, James Reimer, and Vladimir Putin had on the brothers’ decision.