Ilya Lyubushkin will be the latest NHL player to not participate in Pride night events, as the Buffalo Sabres defenseman is expected to sit out pregame warmups on Monday night when the team will sport Pride-themed jerseys.
The 28-year-old cited Russia’s anti-LGBTQIA+ law and fear of retribution in explaining his decision.
Lyubushkin adds a wrinkle to recent discussions, as the NHL’s Bill Daly told Scott Powers of The Athletic that "we have no information that would suggest there is any material threat that would exist (in Russia or otherwise) related to a Russian player participating in a club’s Pride activities."
Apparently Lyubushkin appears to feel otherwise. It just adds more confusion to the situation, as some Russian players (such as Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin and Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky) have participated in Pride night activities. Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov was the first player to sit out his team’s Pride night warm-up.
Of course, the practice isn’t limited to Russian NHL players. A growing list of North American players have decided not to wear special warm-up jerseys or decorate their sticks, including James Reimer and brothers Eric and Marc Staal. Some teams have decided to skip the warm-up portion entirely (typically using the Russian law as an explanation), including the Blackhawks, Wild, Islanders, and Rangers.
Sabres react to Lyubushkin not participating in Pride night
The Sabres released the following statement about their Pride night event, and Lyubushkin not participating in warmups (it sounds like he will still play in Monday’s game).
"The Buffalo Sabres are proud to continue to support the LGBTQIA+ community as allies by hosting our third annual Pride night game. It is of the utmost importance for us to continue to use our platform to strengthen our organizational goal of making hockey for everyone.
Consistent with previous years, our team feels strongly that one way to garner support is through wearing Pride jerseys and using Pride tape in warmups. That said, we are aware of general threats to certain players and understand their decision to forego risk.
We continue to advocate for under-represented groups in hockey and hope that our Pride Night, like many across the league, sparks meaningful conversation and encourages support for the LGBTQIA+ community within the sport of hockey and our city," the statement reads.
Sabres captain Kyle Okposo gave fairly candid insight on the situation, also expressing his belief that it’s not wise to pass judgment on Lyubushkin and other Russian NHL players making such choices without knowing the "full scope" of the situation.