Blackhawks nix Pride jerseys Sunday due to safety concerns for Russian players

The Hawks have three players born or with family in Russia, where a law was passed in December banning “gay propaganda.” Conversations with security officials prompted an organizational decision to scrap the jersey plans, sources say.

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The Blackhawks will not wear rainbow-colored Pride jerseys during warmups Sunday.

The Blackhawks will not wear rainbow-colored Pride jerseys during warmups Sunday.

Sun-Times file photo

WASHINGTON — The Blackhawks will not wear rainbow-colored Pride jerseys during warmups against the Canucks on Sunday — the team’s scheduled Pride Night — because of safety concerns for Russian players, according to sources close to the team.

The Hawks have worn Pride jerseys on Pride Night in previous seasons and have worn special jerseys during warmups on other themed nights, such as St. Patrick’s Day and Black History Month, earlier this season.

However, conversations with security officials about the uncertain implications of a new Russian law banning “gay propaganda” prompted the Hawks to make an organizational decision to scrap the Pride jersey plans this year, per sources.

The homophobic law, enacted in December, makes it illegal for Russians to promote or “praise” LGBTQ relationships or suggest they are “normal,” CNN reported.

The Hawks currently have at least three players on their NHL roster — Russian defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, Swiss forward Philipp Kurashev and Kazakh goaltender Anton Khudobin — who are of Russian heritage or have family in Russia.

The decision was made by the front office rather than by the players, per sources.

Pride jerseys have been a hot-button topic around the NHL this season since January, when Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to wear a Pride jersey — while every other Flyers player did so — for the Flyers’ Pride Night. Provorov cited his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs.

Since then, the Rangers, Islanders and Wild also have scrapped plans to wear Pride jerseys. Wild star Kirill Kaprizov had a difficult time leaving Russia for the U.S. at the start of the season, eventually spending two weeks in Turkey in order to receive a visa, The Athletic reported.

Openly gay Predators defenseman prospect Luke Prokop described the trend as “disheartening” in a Monday tweet, calling it a “step back for inclusion in the NHL” and maligning how the spotlight often has focused on “the players who aren’t participating rather than the meaning of the night itself.”

In spite of the lack of special jerseys, the Hawks still have a wide variety of Pride-related programming scheduled for Sunday.

The Chicago Gay Men’s Chorus and DJ Zel, a member of the LGBTQ community, will perform during the intermissions, while the Chicago Gay Hockey Association will compete in an on-ice intermission competition.

Before the game in the atrium, other LGBTQ performers and small businesses will be featured and a “Glam-boni” will headline various decorations and photo opportunities.

The Hawks also are holding a “fireside chat” Sunday for staff and partners with Brock McGillis, one of the first openly gay professional hockey players and now an LGBTQ activist within the hockey community.

“The Chicago Blackhawks organization is proud to continue its annual Pride Night celebration, an evening — alongside year-round efforts — fueled by partnership and LGBTQIA+ community engagement,” the team said in a statement to the Sun-Times.

“Together, our activities will focus on fostering conversation and more equitable spaces in our pursuit to make hockey more inclusive. We do not condone anti-LGBTQIA+ rhetoric, and we stand firmly with the community.

“While we know game-day celebrations like these are an important way we can use our platform to bring visibility, it is the work we do together 365 days a year that can create true impact in ensuring all of our colleagues, fans and communities feel welcomed and safe within our sport.”

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