NHL commissioner: No more specialty sweaters during warmups

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday that teams will no longer wear specialty sweaters during warmups because "it's become a distraction."

The decision to move away from specialty warmup sweaters for events such as Pride Night is the latest development in an ongoing story after a handful of players refused to wear Pride jerseys this past season.

"I've suggested that it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys in warmups because it's become a distraction and taking away from the fact that all of our clubs in some form or another host nights in honor of various groups or causes," Bettman said in an interview with Sportsnet following an NHL board of governors meeting in New York. "And we rather them continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction."

The board of governors agreed with Bettman's view.

Bettman said teams still can have specialty nights such as Pride Night, Black History Night, Military Appreciation Night and Hockey Fights Cancer. He also said teams still can create and sell specialty sweaters for various charities.

"Players who choose to model them can do that," Bettman said. "It's really just the question of what's on the ice."

You Can Play, which has worked with sports and leagues -- including the NHL -- to help them become more inclusive for members of the LGBTQIA+ community, said it was "concerned and disappointed" by the decision.

"Today's decision means that the over 95 percent of players who chose to wear a Pride jersey to support the community will now not get an opportunity to do so," the organization said in a statement. "The work to make locker rooms, board rooms and arenas safer, more diverse, and more inclusive needs to be ongoing and purposeful, and we will continue to work with our partners at the NHL, including individual teams, players, agents and the NHLPA to ensure this critical work continues."

All 32 teams held Pride or Hockey Is for Everyone night this past season, but seven players decided not to take part in pregame warmups when their teams donned Pride jerseys. A few teams also decided not to have players wear the specialty sweaters after having planned to do so.

It began in January when then-Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov opted not to wear a Pride Night-themed warmup sweater. Provorov, who was recently traded to the Columbus Blue Jackets, cited his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs, saying he wanted "to stay true to myself and my religion." San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer and brothers Eric and Marc Staal, who both play for the Florida Panthers, subsequently sat out of warmups when their teams held their respective Pride Nights, also citing religious beliefs.

Russian players Ilya Lyubushkin of the Buffalo Sabres, Denis Gurianov of the Montreal Canadiens and Andrei Kuzmenko of the Vancouver Canucks also opted out of their teams' Pride Night warmups. Lyubushkin cited an anti-gay Kremlin law as his reason.

The Chicago Blackhawks reportedly did not wear their Pride-themed warmup sweaters in March because of security concerns over the Russian law that expanded restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGBTQIA+ rights.

The Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers also said they would wear special sweaters for their respective Pride Nights only to reverse course.

"In the final analysis, all of the efforts and emphasis on the importance of these various causes have been undermined by the distraction in terms of which teams, which players," Bettman said. "This way, we're keeping the focus on the game, and on these specialty nights, we're going to be focused on the cause."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.