NY Rangers’ Decision to Yank Pride Jerseys Could Upend Sports’ Status Quo
On a normal night, a win for the New York Rangers would’ve dominated the local news. But Friday was no normal night. For most of the sports world, the 4-1 score was barely a footnote to the biggest story of the day — the team’s unexpected decision to dump their Pride Night uniforms. In a last-minute change that sent shockwaves through the NHL, the Rangers decided to shelve their rainbow jerseys and tape, exposing the deep cracks that exist between players and the league’s woke agenda.
While the questions rain down about who’s responsible and how this could happen in a progressive paradise like New York City, the Rangers replied with a simple 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. In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”
Turns out, “individual beliefs” aren’t popular in the press, where columnists heaped hot coals on the team’s head for taking every player’s opinion into consideration. Sports Illustrated accused the Rangers of “bungling” Pride Night. The Athletic’s Steve Buckley wailed that the “retreat on Pride Night” would send a “somber message to younger, closeted players.” And the New York Post’s Mollie Walker accused the team of ruining “a beautiful celebration of inclusivity,” when, ironically, the Rangers just did the most inclusive thing yet.
While the Left rages in its echo chamber about this “slap in the face” to the LGBT community, it only shows how insatiable the mob can be. Not only did the Rangers drench the arena in Pride flags and colors, but it invited Broadway’s Michael James Scott (who identifies as gay) to sing the national anthem and brought the head of NY Pride on the ice for the ceremonial puck drop. Every fan got a rainbow fanny pack, and Madison Square Garden’s outside panels all radiated red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, baby blue, and pink. More importantly, at least where true activists should be concerned, the team promised to make a sizeable donation to a local LGBTQ+ youth organization.
If that’s “botching” Pride Night, then this country is farther gone that anyone thought.
What the Left is saying, in all of its fury, is that it’s not enough for a team to worship at its altar. Every player should be forced to bow as well. “If the Rangers are saying they’re going to be celebrating Pride Night, everybody needs to, for lack of a better term, ‘come out’ and celebrate,” David Kilmnick, president of LGBT Network, argued. These are the wolfish demands of a movement used to getting its way.
Now, thanks to a young defenseman named Ivan Provorov, the script is flipping. When the Philadelphia Flyers’ player refused to be a human sandwich board for radical sexuality, no one could have predicted how his courage would resonate across the country. Provorov wasn’t trying to start a firestorm when he sat out warm-ups in January. As he told the press, “I respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion.”
But instead of turning him into a pariah, as the media hoped, Provorov became an overnight hero, shocking everyone when his jersey sold out in 24 hours. Fans rallied to the Russian’s side, sending a not-so-subtle message to the NHL that it’s time to get back to hockey and leave the social extremism behind.
Whatever the Ranger’s reasons for bagging the jerseys (who knows how many players threatened to boycott), the support for the head office’s decision has been overwhelming. On Twitter, where the team’s statement was first posted by Vince Mercogliano, fans filled the feed with encouragement. “Good,” one user posted. “Now get rid of ‘Pride Night’ in general.” Others insisted, “Keep political propaganda out of sports!” “If players didn’t want to wear jerseys, they shouldn’t be forced.” “Let’s stick to hockey — not a poster board for every social cause under the sun.” Another wrote, “The NHL will soon realize how many people in the entire hockey community [are] on the side of Provorov.”
Unaccustomed to pushback, groups like NYC Pride vow to make the Rangers regret it. “NYC Pride was not made aware in advance of our participation in last night’s ceremonial puck drop that Pride jerseys and rainbow tape would not be worn as advertised. 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. … NYC Pride has a duty to both support our partners and hold them accountable.”
In the meantime, the media has a major optics problem on its hands — and, frankly, so does the NHL. While Pride Nights are a relatively new phenomenon, the Left has managed to exploit teams and expand their influence with this mirage that everyone is on board with their agenda. Now, with Provorov’s jersey flying off the shelf and teams staring down internal player rebellions, that myth is all but busted.
The LGBT lobby “needs Provorov to be a crazy wacko out there on an island by himself,” Family Research Council’s Joseph Backholm told The Washington Stand. “This narrative — that fans are embracing him and entire teams are refusing to force this agenda on players — is counterproductive.” Still, he went on, “I would not be at all surprised if there were coaches, trainers, and owners behind the scenes who just want to go play hockey. There’s no way that they are all of one mind on a 50/50 issue like this.” And yet, that’s the illusion the Left has been selling America for years.
“A reasonable person looks at this situation and says that it is inherently divisive to require people to take public positions on controversial issues,” Backholm said. “Insisting there’s no opposition is not reality.” At the end of the day, he agreed, “it makes life better for everyone if teams don’t demand compliance with the regime the Left is trying to create culturally. And it seems like they may be coming to that opinion themselves. I think it’s great.”
We may never know what happened in the Ranger’s locker room or which skaters wouldn’t play the league’s games. But one thing’s for certain. If the NHL returns to any semblance of neutrality, we’ll have Ivan Provorov to thank for it.
Suzanne Bowdey serves as editorial director and senior writer at The Washington Stand.