SUNRISE, Fla. – Thunder Bay brothers Eric and Marc Staal declined to wear Pride-themed jerseys during the pre-game warm-up Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The hockey-playing siblings cited their religion as the reason.
“After many thoughts, prayers an discussions, we have chosen not to wear a pride jersey tonight,” the brothers said in a statement issued to media.
“We carry no judgment on how people choose to live their lives, and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey. Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a pride jersey it is against our Christian beliefs.”
The Staals are the latest in a growing list of players who have chosen not to wear Pride jerseys during warmups as teams across the National Hockey League do so to signify inclusivity and welcomeness in the sport.
Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov was the first to opt out, when the Flyers held their Pride Night two months ago.
San Jose goaltender James Reimer on Monday refused to wear a Pride jersey during the pre-game skate and the Chicago Blackhawks have reportedly scrapped their Pride Night jersey plans, citing safety fears for the team’s Russian players.
Neither Eric nor Marc Staal took part in Thursday’s warm-ups.
“We hope you can respect this statement, we will not be speaking further on this matter and would like to continue to focus on the game and helping the Florida Panthers win the Stanley Cup.”
Eric Staal did wear a Pride jersey while a member of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2020-21 campaign.
The state of Florida has come under criticism for legislation banning the teaching of gender identity and sexual orientation in younger grades, which Gov. Ron DeSantis this week has indicated will be spread to all grades. It is known widely as the Don’t Say Gay Act.
Jason Veltri, president of Thunder Bay's Rainbow Collective, said he's disappointed in the brothers' decision.
"We wish that Eric and Marc could understand that Pride Inclusion Nights and jerseys are about inclusion in sport and having a welcoming arena to enjoy the game of hockey. Wearing a Pride jersey or rainbow is not about endorsing certain values or that you're gay, What it is saying is that you're welcome here and that your sport is welcoming of diverse backgrounds," Veltri said in an emailed statement.
"Now more than ever it's vitally important that allies stand up and speak out about unconscious and conscious biases. The community has invested in their hometown hockey heroes, and it's more important that ever that Eric an Marc Staal are role models to not only their own children, but to those youth who look up to them."
Veltri said the 2SLGBTQA+ community deserve better and urged the brothers to understand why Pride Nights are important to ensuring an inclusive hockey community.