Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Ilya Samsonov was singled out by media outlets for not wearing a "pride"-themed decal on his helmet or rainbow-colored tape on his stick during the team's "pride night," as the team boasted about its inclusive past, playing drag queen and "inclusion" videos at the arena.
Even though he didn't play in the game, Samsonov was scoped by media members during warm-ups, forcing the hockey team to play political defense in justifying allowing the goalie to make his own choice.
The April 4, 2023, "pride night" did not feature any rainbow-themed jerseys — the Leafs have never worn them — but players and head coach Sheldon Keefe wore rainbow T-shirts during media availability earlier in the day, according to Sportsnet.
According to TSN, Canada's version of ESPN, although Samsonov did not wear the decal, the Maple Leafs at least included a "live drag show set to Canadian music icon Shania Twain's song 'Man! I Feel Like a Woman!' shown on the [arena] scoreboard before players hit the ice."
The Toronto Star said that the Maple Leafs organization should be given some leeway on the issue in spite of the Russian goalie, due in part to the fact that many of the players are open supporters of the movement.
"I was at the parade with [coach] Kyle Dubas and with [team president] Brendan Shanahan, and the belief within the organization has always been there in terms of including people, and having our team be a place where everybody’s welcome and safe," said star defenseman Morgan Reilly.
“And whether you wear jerseys or not, I believe that actions speak louder than words and especially speak louder than attire," he added.
Along with the drag queen performance, the franchise also played a video featuring former American women's national team player Meghan Duggan, touted as the first "openly gay" person to work in NHL player operations. In the video, Duggan addresses players about the difficulties she's faced regarding "inclusion."
"Raise your hand if you've ever had to stand in front of someone and justify your right to be married," Duggan said while raising her hand.
"Raise your hand if you've ever had to fight to be recognized as a parent of your own children," she continues in the video.
Another report from MSN claimed the team "hid Samsonov away from the media," calling the Russian's actions a "disappointment" and "foolish and unnecessary."
Leafs forward Alexander Kerfoot praised the themed nights, saying, “Obviously, the organization has done a really good job of being inclusive to all of these groups."
Kerfoot recently attended the launch of the Alphabet Sports Collective, a "queer-led not-for-profit ... with the aim of creating a safer environment for people of all sexual identities and expressions of gender in hockey."
Samsonov is the seventh player in the league to opt of pride-related themes, joining James Reimer, Eric Staal, Marc Staal, and fellow Russians Andrei Kuzmenko, Ilya Lyubushkin, and Ivan Provorov.
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