The New York Rangers have been under fire from the hockey world after changing plans and opting against wearing Pride Night-themed warmup jerseys before Friday’s game against the Vegas Golden Knights.
The Rangers advertised that they’d don jerseys and rainbow-themed stick tape before Friday’s game. The team wore similar designs during past Pride Night celebrations, including in 2022.
This was the IG post for last year’s Pride Night. Earlier this month an email trying to get people to buy tickets advertised there would be a jersey. There wasn’t tonight, so people are owed some kind of explanation as to what changed. pic.twitter.com/w6hI3SFx9L
— Tom Urtz Jr. (@TomUrtzJr) January 28, 2023
They also trotted out these looks in 2021.
Our @Delta Pride Night player-used jerseys + sticks are autographed and ready for your bids, with proceeds benefiting @CovenantHouseNY.
Take one home: https://t.co/r0FwReVKnA pic.twitter.com/iApYnhTPF3
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) May 4, 2021
It’s worth noting that the Rangers celebrated their 2023 version of Pride Night in several ways. Broadway star Michael James Scott sang the national anthem, NYC Pride’s Andre Thomas participated in the ceremonial puck drop, and Madison Square Garden’s iconic ceiling was lit up in rainbow colors. Some fans even received themed fanny packs upon entry into the arena for the game.
A big thank you to NYC Pride Co-Chair Andre Thomas and Michael James Scott for leading tonight's pregame ceremonies. pic.twitter.com/24bjCyUO4K
— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) January 28, 2023
Those moments were understandably overshadowed by the decision to wear retro uniforms instead of these promoted Pride Night uniforms. After the Rangers’ win against the Vegas Golden Knights, the club released this canned statement.
"Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community, and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night. In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs."
Less than two weeks after Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to wear a Pride Night warmup jersey, it’s natural to key in on the phrasing of, “we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”
Some are speculating if the Rangers decided not to wear Pride Night jerseys to cover for a player or multiple players who didn’t want to participate.
At the moment, there’s no clear answer to such questions. The New York Post’s Mollie Walker and Larry Brooks spoke with two anonymous Rangers who didn’t know that the team wasn’t going to wear Pride Night jerseys, indicating that it might have been a decision made by someone else in the organization.
"Two players separately told Post colleague Larry Brooks and me that there were no team discussions about sporting the pride-themed jerseys and tape. They did not know why they didn’t wear them. Brooks also reached out to the NHL’s deputy commissioner and chief legal officer, Bill Daly, to see if teams had been advised not to proceed with their original Pride Night plans in the aftermath of Provorov’s refusal. Daly said no and that each club is entitled to proceed as it sees fit."
Some believe that this change of plans verges on false advertising.
One of the most pointed criticisms focuses on another possible side effect: could this have some negative impact on the charitable aspects of the Rangers’ Pride Night? Would people pay less money for themed jerseys if they aren’t game-worn, or even pre-game-worn? (The jerseys were to be auctioned off, with proceeds going to charity.)
"Game-worn" or at least "warmup-worn" jerseys garner more value in an auction compared to just a special jersey with a name bar. So this decision by the Rangers ends up short changing the benefiting charities as well... https://t.co/wFoVkrc1M4
— Kevin Forbes (@kforbesy) January 28, 2023
ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski received a response from NYC Pride upon learning that the Rangers did not wear the Pride Night jerseys, which included the following:
"NYC Pride has been honoured to take part in these celebrations, including as recently as last night at Madison Square Garden. NYC Pride was not made aware in advance of our participation in last night's ceremonial puck drop that Pride jerseys and rainbow tape would not be worn as advertised. We understand and appreciate that this has been a major disappointment to the LGBTQ+ community in New York and beyond.”
The Rangers' decision predictably drew considerable criticism from hockey fans online.
The fact the New York Rangers completely abandoned their plans to wear pre-game Pride jerseys shows how entrenched homophobia and transphobia is in hockey, and the NHL’s complicity to exclusion
— Ian Kennedy (@IanKennedyCK) January 28, 2023
You aren’t showing you “support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs” by removing the jerseys (which you told the community you’d wear) as an option altogether. The Rangers made everyone look bad by catering to what was likely a small minority. https://t.co/9o3OGH0rYl
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) January 28, 2023
Sorry, Rangers, but the way you become, and remain, an ally to a repressed community is not by shrinking in the face of bigotry. It's by digging in and standing up when it counts. https://t.co/yCOV41qTDd
— Adam Proteau (@Proteautype) January 28, 2023
You Can Play, a social activism campaign dedicated to the eradication of homophobia in sports and an official partner of the NHL, released a statement on Sunday demanding some clarity on the Rangers' decision.
"We have reached out to the organization and we look forward to discussing how the voices of allies and advocates on the team seem to have been silenced on the team's Pride Night and the impact of that decision. It is disappointing.
"You Can Play respects the right of players to speak up. But that shouldn't preclude allies and advocates from a simple sign of respect that goes a long way to promote a sense of belonging for those needing to see it."
Statement on the NY Rangers Pride Night pic.twitter.com/2ysT75T7Q9
— You Can Play (@YouCanPlayTeam) January 29, 2023
Indeed, plenty of people both inside and outside the LGBTQ+ community are disappointed with how the Rangers and Flyers have handled recent decisions. Time will tell if the NHL and its teams will learn some valuable lessons, or continue to blunder their way through what should be positive moments and initiatives.
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