Putting the sports back into the spotlight and toning down the political distractions, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Thursday that NHL teams will no longer sport specialty sweaters during warmups, such as those donned in observance of LGBTQ Pride.
ESPN reports that Bettman explained that the move was because "it's become a distraction," following instances where multiple players declined to wear the special jerseys, referencing their Christian beliefs or apprehensions about reactions from their native Russia.
Bettman spoke post an NHL board of governors meeting, where he advised the clubs to refrain from changing their jerseys during warmups since it was diverting attention from the teams' respective nights dedicated to various causes or groups.
'We rather them continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction," he added.
The board reportedly concurred with Bettman's proposal, while he assured that teams could still observe politically-driven specialty nights such as Pride Night, Black History Night, and Military Appreciation Night. Teams can also continue creating specialty sweaters for different causes and charities, making them available to fans for purchase.
Bettman emphasized that the only concern was about "what's on the ice."
Seven players, during the season, abstained from participating in Pride Night celebrations, hosted by all 32 NHL teams. These included the Florida Panthers' Staal brothers, San Jose Sharks' goalie James Reimer, and Philadelphia Flyers' defenseman Ivan Provorov, who cited their Christian faith.
Russian players Ilya Lyubushkin, Denis Gurianov, and Andrei Kuzmenko also expressed unwillingness to wear Pride sweaters. Three teams, the Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers, and Chicago Blackhawks, opted out of wearing the Pride warm-up sweaters, with the Blackhawks attributing the decision to security concerns for their Russian players.
The announcement led to disappointment among groups advocating for the NHL to be more LGBTQ-inclusive.
"You Can Play," an organization dedicated to the cause, released a statement arguing that this decision curtails the opportunity for over 95% of players, who would have chosen to don a Pride jersey in support of the community. The group pledged to continue working towards safer, more diverse, and inclusive locker rooms, board rooms, and arenas.
Earlier this year, Bettman had hinted at this direction when he discussed the discomfort some players experienced in endorsing the Pride-themed uniform, terming it a "distraction." He insisted on respecting players' personal decisions and emphasized focusing on what the teams and the NHL stood for.