The New York Rangers advertised Pride Night at Madison Square Garden by announcing that the team would don special Pride-themed jerseys and use rainbow-taped sticks during pre-game warm-ups.
None of that happened — and now the team isn’t exactly saying why.
The Rangers had planned the Pride Night festivities as part of a January 27 matchup against the Vegas Golden Knights. Some of the Pride plans did come to fruition — including a puck drop and a fanny pack giveaway — but the team led fans to believe that they would also get to see the Pride-themed warm-up jerseys and sticks with rainbow tape. When asked by Gay City News to explain the about-face, the team offered an indirect general statement.
“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,” a Rangers spokesperson said. “In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”
You Can Play, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ inclusion in sports and is listed as a “Pride partner” of the Rangers, encouraged the team to hold discussions to address the issue. You Can Play acknowledged that the team has been supportive of their work in the past.
“We have reached out to the organization and we look forward to discussing how the voices and advocates on the team seem to have been silenced on the team’s Pride Night and the impact of that decision,” You Can Play said in a written statement. “It is disappointing. You Can Play respects the right of players to speak up. But, that shouldn’t preclude allies and advocates from a simple sign of respect that goes a long way to promote a sense of belonging for those needing to see it. We hope this discussion brings an explanation that will include the team’s philosophy on whether those players are similarly allowed to exclude support for other players and fans who may value and need this support.”
Another organization championing LGBTQ visibility in sports, Athlete Ally, also issued a statement criticizing the Rangers.
“We are incredible disheartened by the Rangers’ failure to follow through on demonstrating support for the LGBTQI+ community, and in doing so, perpetuating the already rampant silence and stigma around LGBTQI+ iclusion in hockey” Hudson Taylor, the founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, said in a written statement.
NYC Pride (also known as Heritage of Pride), which participated in the puck drop, was blindsided by the team’s decision to reverse the Pride plans this year.
“NYC Pride was not made aware in advance of our participation in Friday night’s ceremonial puck drop that Pride jerseys and rainbow tape would not be worn as advertised,” NYC Pride said in a written statement. “We understand and appreciate that this has been a major disappointment to the LGBTQ+ community in New York and beyond. We are communicating these concerns with NY Rangers and NHL leadership as we continue to discuss the ways these organizations can work toward inclusion.
The controversy emerged just days after Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers blew off his team’s Pride Night festivities when the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys during pre-game warm-ups.
After Rangers’ Pride Night, the NHL issued a public statement clarifying that individual teams “decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with league counsel and support.”
“Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues,” the NHL stated, according to ESPN.