Lazerus: Sharks get it right. Don’t let pride outliers steal the spotlight — or hide

Let’s start, for once, with the positive: The San Jose Sharks did the right thing.

They spoke to James Reimer. Listen to James Reimer. And upon learning that James Reimer had decided not to wear the team’s night jersey, citing his Christian beliefs, they wore the jerseys anyway on Saturday. They chose to show their support for inclusivity in hockey in general and for the queer community in hockey in particular, rather than protect a teammate from bad PR.

It may not seem like much after all, wearing a rainbow jersey while warming up is pretty much the minimum a hockey player can do. But recently many teams have chosen the other path, resulting in recent incidents in what seems like an endless barrage of physical blows to any hockey fan with a conscience, any hockey fan who wants to create a more welcoming and inviting space for all fans.

As many fans have been asking themselves for years, how do you love a sport that doesn’t love you back?

Well, you’re clinging to the Lutons of the hockey world. Connor Murphys. and on Saturday, Logan Couture.

“Everyone has a choice and they’ve made their choice,” Sharks captain Couture said in the wake of Reimer’s decision. “The rest of us are going to wear the jersey. I think this organization considers this a very special night. And I think a lot of guys are really excited to get out and wear the jersey and celebrate. I think hockey is really for everyone.”

Unfortunately, doing the right thing is considered bravery in the NHL.

The Philadelphia Flyers got it right when Ivan Provorov, citing his religion, chose not to wear a Pride jersey in January. The Flyers may have dropped the ball on posts, but in the end, the full-minus-one team skated in special jerseys during the warm-up. And Provorov was left to answer for his absence.

Less than two weeks later, the New York Rangers dropped a plan to wear Pride jerseys. The decision sparked a backlash and Rangers issued a statement the following day.

“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 the core values ​​of our organization, we support the individual right of everyone to respectfully express their beliefs.”

It seems that the second half of this statement won.

Earlier in March, the Minnesota Wild chose not to wear Pride jerseys for fear of Russian players. It should be noted that superstar Kirill Kaprizov endured a harrowing journey back to North America from Russia last summer.

Yes, protecting players is important. And yes, Russian gamers have reason to fear for their safety. The teams faced difficult decisions in this matter.

But backing away from snug sweatshirts sends a clear message.

To the players: “Hey, we’ve got your back.”

To gay hockey players and hockey fans everywhere: “We don’t have your team.”

Because this is hockey, and the only people that matter are the people in the locker room. I learned that from a very early age. It is taught as a virtue but is often twisted into a vice, excuse or cover.

There will always be extremists and bigots in every walk of life. Hockey is no exception. There will be players who choose to opt out out of fear of retaliation from a Russian government bent on setting its society back decades. There will be players who choose to choose their religion and interpret it in a way that gives them cover for their bigotry.

Let them sit. Let them tell about themselves. Let them show the world who they are and what they stand for. They have every right, and the rest of the hockey world has every right to decide what that means to them. We all have to decide what “love thy neighbor” means to us.

But “Team Decisions” on pride shirts allow players to use a teammate’s justified fear of a draconian Russian law or another teammate’s religion as a cover for their bigotry. These decisions mean players don’t have to make statements like Reimer did. This is the really treacherous stuff. As anyone who has spent any time in the hockey world knows, there is a hard right streak running through it. Sunlight is the best antiseptic, and as long as there are shadows to be reckoned with, homophobia will continue to pervade hockey.

Every time something like this comes up, I think of something Brooke McGillis — hockey’s most prominent LGBTQ+ activist, voice of reason and progressive force — told me last year about a story about homophobic language in sports.

“(Homophobia) is less pronounced than in years past, but I find it more serious,” he said. “If someone is public with their bigotry, at least I know. It’s like Canada vs. America in general. Everyone is polite in Canada, right? And it can be disarming and you can let your guard down. But you never really know who’s backing you up and who’s inclusive and who’s nice.” With your face. While in America, you know right away. I personally prefer it, because then I know who to avoid, who to steer clear of, and who is truly supportive and inclusive.”

And some teams’ decision to put people ahead of the communities in which they play also makes life more complicated for closed-minded young players, my colleague Steve Buckley has argued.

The message these teams send could make it hard to come out — which means the sacred space of the NHL’s locker room will remain without gay players. The only people who matter are the ones in that room, right? Well, what if one, two, or three of them are openly gay? These are your teammates, your brothers, your fellow warriors and all the other masculine metaphors hockey players love so much. It shouldn’t take befriending someone like me to accept queer people, but the truth is if you grew up to see them as “other,” that’s what it might take. This is how you win hearts and minds, this is how you cut through the abstract, the unknown and homophobia.

Nashville Predators detective Luke Prokop — who split time between the WHL and ECHL this season — is the only openly gay man in professional hockey. And it would take an enormous act of courage for an NHL player to get through his career. Just read Twitter, Reddit, or the comments section at the athlete Or James Reimer’s statement if you don’t understand why.

I’ve reached out to several teams in recent months asking to interview players who I’m told really believe in making hockey a more welcoming place for the LGBTQ+ community, so I can – for once – write a positive story about it, about all the good things that happen behind the scenes, Instead of all the bad things that happen in the spotlight.

All of these requests were rejected. This is hockey.

The Sharks sent out an official statement confirming their organizational support for the strong and vibrant LGBTQ+ community in the Bay Area and beyond. It was nice to see. It called to mind what Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz — a man with a PR nightmare of all PR nightmares to conquer — said last month when asked about the Blackhawks’ upcoming Pride Night, and what the team would do if a player refused to wear a jersey. .

“It doesn’t change how this organization is, how we feel about these things, how we’re going to support these things, how we’re going to do all the things we need to do to improve our sport,” said Wirtz. “I actually don’t want to give a lot of energy to the outliers. I want to give it to the things that work, the players behind it, the players who are committed to this, our staff (to whom) this really matters. That’s really where we want to (focus our energy).”

These are the correct answers. It is simple, clear and must be said.

But they are not what anyone sees. What is anyone talking about. Because Reimer’s action, like Provorov’s action, like that of the Wild and Rangers, speaks louder — to their teammates, to their fans, to closed players in all leagues from youth to pro, to all those who truly want hockey to be for everyone — than any of them can. word.

(Photo by Logan Couture Saturday night: Kavin Mistry/NHLI via Getty Images)


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