Within days after a professional hockey player refused to wear a jersey affirming the LGBTQ+ community as part of the NHL’s Hockey Is for Everyone initiative, the first out NHL player active in the sport has voiced his disappointment.
On Saturday, as part of a celebration of inclusivity, members of the San Jose Sharks suited up in warm-up jerseys that featured a rainbow flag. All but the team’s goalkeeper participated.
That player, James Reimer, claims that his belief in the Bible makes it impossible for him to celebrate the openness meant to be conveyed by the program.
“For all 13 years of my NHL career, I have been a Christian — not just in title, but in how I choose to live my life daily. I have a personal faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for my sins and, in response, asks me to love everyone and follow Him. I have no hate in my heart for anyone, and I have always strived to treat everyone that I encounter with respect and kindness,” his statement began.
However, he explained that his understanding of the Bible supports a little bit of bigotry.
“In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in my life,” he wrote.
Many criticized the player, making the point that Reimer surely violates many of the rules outlined in the Bible, like working on Saturday and eating certain foods, but is selective about this one in the name of exclusion. In addition, some called Reimer’s actions a publicity stunt that left him on an island, separated from his team.
Gay player Luke Prokop, a Nashville Predators prospect, expressed his disappointment with the stunt on Twitter.
“I share the disappointment in what feels like a step back for inclusion in the NHL,” he wrote.
He indicated that the focus on the meaning of the night is lost when players take up the spotlight, and the story becomes about who is not participating.
“Everyone is entitled to their own set of beliefs, but I think it’s important to recognize the difference between endorsing a community and respecting individuals within it. Pride nights are an essential step towards fostering greater acceptance and understanding in hockey, and I strongly believe that by prioritizing diversity and inclusion, we can create an environment where every player feels comfortable bringing their authentic selves to the game,” Prokop continued.
“While there’s still progress to be made before hockey is for everyone, I’m optimistic about the change we can achieve and am committed to being a part of it,” he concluded.
Prokop came out as gay in 2021, and though the then-19-year-old was inspired by NFL player Carl Nassib’s public announcement that he too was gay, he said that wasn’t the reason for his unveiling.
This year, NHL Pride Night events have met with some controversy among players, especially those from Russia, where LGBTQ+ rights are nonexistent.
Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov made headlines when he decided not to participate in warm-ups when the team celebrated its Pride Night January 17. In late January, the New York Rangers scrapped a plan to wear Pride jerseys, but they did host other Pride-related giveaways.
In March, the Minnesota Wild did not wear Pride-related apparel despite flying Jack Jablonski, who is gay and paralyzed, in for the game. He was the only one to wear a Pride sweater at the game, CBS Sports reports.