As teams and players around NHL back out of ‘Pride’ celebrations, Panthers ‘celebrate it’

Tribune Content Agency

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. The Florida Panthers, however, will be full participants in the team’s celebration Thursday in Sunrise.

Although some players and even entire teams opted out of wearing LGBT-inspired warm-up jerseys as part of “Pride Night” across the league, the Panthers will all wear the special, one-time jerseys on the ice for warm-ups for “Pride Night” at FLA Live Arena, Paul Maurice said.

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

Star goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky is the Panthers’ lone Russian player and will start 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.

“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.