Today, the Chicago Blackhawks, who have worn Pride jerseys in warm-up in past years, announced they will not be wearing them this year, supposedly to protect Russian players from consequences of Russia’s expanded “gay propaganda” ban. This is the first NHL team to officially use this explanation for cancelling the jersey, after speculation this was the reason behind Vancouver being non-committal about wearing a Pride jersey despite having numerous other special warm-up jerseys this year. Notably, Ben Pope reported Chicago team administration made this decision, not the players.
However, if we look at the Russian law, this is clearly more an excuse than a legitimate concern. While the Russian law is obviously horrendous, it is important to consider how it is actually applied. The law is a censorship law, designed to remove LGBTQ+ people from visibility. Last December, the Russian State Duma expanded from the 2013 version which prohibited distributing “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors (similar to what Florida is proposing) to a 2022 version which made it illegal to distribute to anyone. The expansion built upon a 2021 amendment to the Russian “foreign agent” law, which sought to silence critics of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Considering sporting events have been categorized as available to minors, the 2022 version likely changed nothing with regards to NHL warm-ups. For example, in 2017, a Russian Duma member accused the video game FIFA 17 of violating the law because players could use a rainbow jersey in it. However, the game was never banned in Russia.
The law does not define exactly what counts as “propaganda”, but in practice the law has been used to ban movies, shows, and books about LGBTQ+ people and delete social media posts in support of LGBTQ+ rights. The punishment for breaking the law is a fine ranging from 50,000 to 400,000 rubles (about $65 to $5200 US dollars. You know, well within the range of a NHL player to pay in the worst case scenario). The offense is not considered criminal, and the State Duma rejected a proposal to make it a criminal offense to repeatedly violate the law. Only a few fines are given out each year, rarely to individuals, and never to Russian citizens for doing something outside Russia.
By using this excuse, NHL teams give power to this law it does not really have. The NHL claims to support Ukraine, yet rather than push back against Vladimir Putin, they have decided to not only accept his desired oppression, but fear-monger about how wide reaching and punitive his state is. The right way to fight the law is to not back down and continue to be inclusive and show that Russia is out of line of the world, not bring the world in line with Russia.
While the NHL’s Pride jersey issue began with Ivan Provorov saying he did not want to wear the jersey, he emphasized it was for religious reasons, not because he had any legal concerns. In the same San Jose Shark game on the weekend where non-Russian James Reimer refused to wear the jersey for religious reasons, his Russian teammates Alexei Barabanov, Evgeny Svechnikov, and Nikolay Knyzhov all wore one. By invoking this Russian law, NHL teams have found a way out of doing something they clearly don’t actually want to do. Gary Bettman’s comment that “we also have to respect individual choice” has started an even bigger disaster than I first imagined. The NHL is no longer even respecting individual choice, as many teams have decided to cancel the jerseys entirely to hide their homophobes. This reveals a tension in the NHL where clearly many players, coaches, and executives remain homophobic, but also realize that being homophobic is seen as wrong. We can not accept using Russia’s “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” censorship as a way for these men to hide.
Thank you to Tahmina Inoyatova for aid with context, research, and Russian translation.
3 thoughts on “It’s not the Russians: Why the new excuse for teams not wearing Pride jerseys doesn’t hold up”
Well said. The Blackhawks literally celebrated Ukrainian Heritage Night earlier this season and had no problem playing their Russian players while draping the place in giant Ukrainian flags. It’s so obviously not about what Russia thinks.
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Typical US fashion: blame Russia. I wonder if any NHLer who protested wearing military warmup jerseys would be reprimanded for its association with the grotesque US military and all the killing of civilians they represent. But Russia going to war is somehow uniquely bad.