Russian NHL Players Offer Mixed Signals on Pride Jerseys

Ilya Lyubushkin cited fear of reprisal for declining to wear an LGBTQ kit, while Sergei Bobrovsky donned rainbow colors

Russian Ilya Lyubushkin of the Buffalo Sabres said he will not be participating in the NHL team's Pride night warmup for fear of reprisal from Russia
Ilya Lyubushkin of the Buffalo Sabres will not be participating in the team's Pride night warmup.
Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

This month, a number of NHL teams have been donning Pride-themed jerseys and — in some cases — using rainbow-colored tape on their sticks to support the LGBTQ+ community. Not every player has opted in to this initiative, however, with some — including the Sharks’ James Reimer — making a point to avoid wearing the themed jerseys.

The reasons why players are opting out are varied, with Reimer pointing to his religious beliefs as informing his decision. But that’s not the only reason some players have chosen to not wear Pride jerseys. A recent Associated Press report illustrates a study in contrasts between two Russian players and their approach to the themed jerseys.

The article focuses on Ilya Lyubushkin, of the Buffalo Sabres, who told his team that he wouldn’t be wearing a Pride jersey for fear of reprisal in his home country. Last year, Russia passed a law that intensified discrimination against LGBTQ+ people, and also restricted discussion of related topics. However, the AP also points out that another Russian playing in the NHL, the Florida Panthers’ Sergei Bobrovsky, wore a Pride jersey prior to a game last week.

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What may be more concerning is the decision of several teams to opt out of wearing Pride jerseys entirely. As the Athletic reports, the Minnesota Wild, New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks have all cited concerns for their Russian players in nixing all Pride jersey plans.

Several of the experts that the Athletic spoke to felt that Russian players could face retaliation if they took part in Pride events. Unfortunately, the last year has shown that the Russian government is happy to incarcerate prominent athletes. But it’s also unsettling that one country’s repressive laws could have an impact on the other side of the world.

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