*Content Warning: Suicide statistics*
Dear James Reimer,
Once upon a time, I was your biggest fan. Even when most of the Toronto Maple Leaf fandom questioned you as the starting goaltender over Jonathan Bernier, I fervently advocated for you. I saw your passion for the sport, and win or lose, I could tell you placed everything on the ice every night as you went out to defend your team. And gosh, some nights you were just spectacular, saving a dismal defence from complete annihilation. In the crushing defeat in OT of Game 7 in 2013, my heart wrenched not only as a Leafs’ fan but as a James Reimer fan. I knew you had given it your all: my heart broke for you. I was such a James Reimer fan that my two closest friends at the time mailed you a letter (see below) and requested you sign your card for me. It was the best gift anyone had ever gotten me.
Now, I am embarrassed by this autograph. I am a proud member of the queer community. When you refused to wear a Pride Jersey on the San Jose Sharks Pride Night recently, my heart broke again: this time because you used your religious beliefs as a justification for discrimination. While I am still a Toronto Maple Leafs’ fan, I have followed your career and have always rooted for you. I have watched in horror as Provorov’s Pride boycott has laid bare the NHL’s values and the true colours of various players. But your decision was a particular punch to the gut.
I realize now, maybe what I refused to believe when myself, Dr. Szto and Dr. Pardy wrote the roundtable on Provorov’s boycott – that Pride in the NHL has been a façade. Sure, I always recognized Pride nights as performative, as nothing more than a money grab and a way of saying, “Well, we did something!” But I wanted to believe, so badly, that we were progressing forward: that performative Pride nights would evolve into better inclusion of queer hockey players and fans and that they would evolve into season-long commitments ensuring that the queer community was truly welcomed in hockey spaces. Yet, I realize now I was wrong. So, maybe Dr. Szto was right, maybe Provorov’s Pride boycott was a good thing: now the homophobes in the NHL will show their faces — we can identify them and stop cheering for them. At least now I know that my hockey hero does not (in your words) endorse me: I can shred your signed hockey card that my friends were so kind to get me all those years ago.
When I wrote my piece for the Provorov article, I did not want to get into questions about the intersection of religion and the LGBTQI+ community. But as religion continues to be trotted out an acceptable excuse for discrimination and marginalization of the queer community, I have no choice but to address it. I still believe you are a kind man: you’ve always shown that. So, here I plead my case to you, hoping that you reconsider your decision and your words.
While the San Jose Sharks did a commendable job at not letting your actions shadow their Pride night (unlike the Flyers and Provorov), one absent Pride jersey is enough to make hockey a questionable environment for queer people to enter, both as athletes and as fans. When you use your religion as a rationale for not wearing the Pride jersey, it signals to many queer people that they are not welcome in that space. As you and others make these decisions, I feel progressively more alienated and, frankly, scared to enter these spaces. This absent Pride jersey works to situate the queer community as inferior. Whether your intentions were rooted in homophobia or not, your actions serve as a weapon to uphold gender hierarchies that marginalize the LGBTQI+ community. You said in your press release that “every person has value and worth, and the LGBTQIA+ community, like all others, should be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey.” So, I ask you to consider, if you truly believe those words, then why did you choose an action that makes the queer community feel devalued and shows simply that hockey is not for everyone? Pride events are meant to support queer rights, and your actions directly demonstrate that you do not support the rights of the LGBTQI+ community, which does not make us feel we are valued or worthy, as you yourself say we are.
Now, I’d like to focus specifically on your religious justification. Following Matt Bernstein (@mattxiv), a queer Jewish activist, who has a significant social media presence, you have “cherry-picked” what parts of the bible you follow. Yet, in your statement to the press, you noted, “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 life.” It seems you pick and choose which parts of the Bible you choose to abide by and which to ignore. Here are some examples of what I am referring to, taken from Matt Bernstein’s Instagram account:
You have religious freedom, and the NHL has made it clear that it is a player’s choice to participate in Pride night, but I am confused why religion and LGBTQI+ inclusion need to be oppositional. Madison Packer, an American ice hockey player, highlights this well in her tweet:
So, again I ask you to consider your choices and your words. Why are some parts of the Bible ignored while you stand by others, and why do religion and queerness even have to be controversial?
Next, I’d like to talk about your statement about respect and kindness. You stated, “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.” Do you really think you treated the queer community with respect and kindness? Every queer person in that arena, watching that game on television, and who has since learned of your decisions likely did not feel treated with respect and kindness. I certainly did not. Your decision, quite frankly, made me sad: it hurt. But more important than this, I’d like you to consider the statistics on LGBTQI+ youth suicide. A survey conducted by the Trevor Project (2022) found that 45 percent of LGBTQ youth contemplated suicide in the past year and that “LGBTQ youth who live in a community that is accepting of LGBTQ people reported significantly lower rates of attempting suicide than those who do not.” Can you imagine how important it is for a young child struggling with their gender or sexual identity to see their hockey hero wearing – or in your case, not wearing – a Pride jersey? Can you think about the impact you could have? Wouldn’t a show of kindness to LGBTQI+ youth be showing these young hockey fans that, as a devout Christian, you support them? Your words have confused kindness with equality. You state that you treat everyone you meet with respect and kindness, but the respect and kindness that the LGBTQI+ community yearn for is for queer folks to have the same privileges as heterosexual couples and people. Surely, you must recognize that your choices demonstrate that we do not deserve that equality, and thus, you have not shown us respect nor kindness.
Lastly, your religious argument, along with Provorov’s and others, relies on harmful and untrue stereotypes about the queer community: that being queer is a lifestyle choice. Religion is a choice: being queer is not a choice. This thinking and your decision perpetuated and reinforced this belief in the larger society. If you want “the LGBTQIA+ community, like all others… to be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey,” then you need to use your platform to include them, not exclude them. If you will not wear a Pride jersey, how else will you support this welcoming environment you speak of? Will you show your inclusion of us and assist in creating this welcoming environment in other ways? I would love for you to think about how you, as a devout Christian, could show you are welcoming to someone who is queer? But mostly, I want you to ask yourself, how can queer people create a welcoming space in hockey or gain the same privileges as heterosexuals without heterosexual allies?
It’s disappointing to see that the hockey hero I once admired is now using their religious beliefs as a justification for discrimination. I implore you to reconsider your decision and use your platform to promote inclusivity, acceptance and equal rights for all individuals, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Mostly, though, I’d ask you to be clear about what it is you really stand for. Either you 1) don’t support gay rights, and thus, you will not wear the jersey, or 2) you do support gay rights, and thus, you will wear the jersey (at the very least). You can’t support gay rights and then say wearing the Pride jersey conflicts with your beliefs. It can’t be both: so, which one is it?
Niya St. Amant (an ex-fan).