Boston’s former mayor, Marty Walsh, officially assumed his new role as executive director of the NHL Players’ Association on March 21. Three days prior, San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer said he would not wear a rainbow-colored “Pride” jersey for warm-ups ahead of the Sharks’ Pride night, citing religious beliefs.
Reimer joined a growing list of players who are opting out of the league-wide Pride night celebrations.
Last week, the Florida Panthers’ Eric and Marc Staal said in a statement about not wearing the jerseys that the display of support for the LGBTQ community goes against their “Christian beliefs.” In January, Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov cited his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason he did not participate in a pregame skate in the jersey.
And franchises are starting to back away from their commitments. The Blackhawks decided against having players wear Pride-themed warm-up jerseys last week, citing an anti-gay law in Russia. The New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild decided not to wear Pride-themed jerseys during warm-ups after advertising that they would.
Walsh was asked about the situation in his first press conference in his new role on Thursday.
“People have very different reasons, why players decided not to wear the jersey,” Walsh said. “I’m personally supportive of the LGBTQ community. I always will be. And the more I get an opportunity to talk to people about this and learn more about it, I will.
“I don’t think the LGBTQ community should feel that the NHL players are turning their back on their community,” he continued. “The majority of the players wore the jersey.”
Walsh expanded on his comments in an interview with the Globe on Friday, saying it’s “OK” to respect the decision of an individual player.
“You have to support someone’s individual right if they don’t feel comfortable or don’t want to wear it, whatever,” he told the Globe. ”But at the end of the day, we have to be open to people and make sure they feel comfortable coming to an arena or being hockey players — or anybody, for that matter.”
Walsh acknowledged the issue surrounding the Pride night jerseys predated his tenure, and that the reasons behind opting out of wearing the jerseys can be complicated.
“... What I’ve heard from players, there’ve been concerns about laws at [in their country of origin], and you can’t question them on that. Then you have other players that have religious beliefs, and I’m not going to start questioning them on that either.”
Walsh noted there is a “hurtfulness” for the LGBTQ community surrounding the issue, before again emphasizing the number of players who are wearing the jerseys without complaint.
“I don’t want the gay community to think that people don’t support them,” he said. “I would say probably 90-plus percent of the hockey players, if asked to wear the jersey, are wearing the jersey.”
The Bruins held their “Hockey is for Everyone Night” on Feb. 18 in which they welcomed LGBTQIA+, sled hockey, Black, and women’s players during the starting lineup announcement.
The Bruins wore Pride hats and shirts, as well as American Sign Language shirts. A host of players, including Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, David Krejci, Hampus Lindholm, Derek Forbort, Linus Ullmark, and Jeremy Swayman used sticks wrapped in rainbow tape during warm-ups. The sticks were signed and auctioned to benefit Boston Pride Hockey, the LGBTQIA+ and ally-friendly organization.
“The game of hockey should be welcoming,” Walsh told the Globe. “If you are a gay hockey player, you should feel welcome playing the sport of hockey.”
Material from the Associated Press and previous Globe reporting was used in this story.