The New York Rangers hockey team took the ice for warmups before their game on Friday night without the promised rainbow-colored jerseys and stick tape meant to show deference to the so-called "LGBTQ+" community, causing outrage among left-leaning media outlets and activists.
For the past six seasons, the Rangers have hosted "Pride Night Friday" at Madison Square Garden, and that tradition continued this year. On January 27, Michael James Scott, a Broadway star who identifies as gay, performed the national anthem. Andre Thomas, the co-chair of NYC Pride and Heritage of Pride, participated in the ceremonial, pre-game puck drop. The arena, especially the jumbotron, was emblazoned in "rainbow colors," and members of the Rangers Blue Crew, the people responsible for inciting fan engagement, still carried rainbow-colored flags.
But the players themselves did not don any gear making reference, either by word or by symbol, to sexual relationships of any kind. Instead, they wore Reverse Retro jerseys, which depict the face of the Statue of Liberty.
Writers at many news outlets and activists have heavily criticized the Rangers organization as a result. "New York Rangers ... FAIL to explain why they backtrack on promise," a Daily Mail headline howled. Mollie Walker, the New York Post beat writer for the Rangers, complained that the team took an "otherwise a beautiful celebration of inclusivity" and turned it into a "slight" against "members of the LGBTQ+ community."
David Kilmnick, the president of the LGBT Network in Queens, called the decision "a slap in the face."
"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," Kilmnick insisted. "To give the OK to these hockey players to be homophobic is not celebrating pride. It’s the opposite of it."
Promotions for the seventh-annual "Pride Night" at MSG did promise that "the Rangers will be showing their support by donning pride-themed warm-up jerseys and tape in solidarity with those who continue to advocate for inclusivity."
The organization has not explained its seemingly last-minute costume change, though it has issued a 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," the statement reaffirmed.
"In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs," it concluded.
Some have interpreted the second half of the statement to mean that at least one member of the Rangers organization was planning not to participate. Another NHL team, the Philadelphia Flyers, has had to manage a lot of unwanted attention for nearly two weeks after one team member, defenseman Ivan Provorov, publicly stated that, in keeping with the tenets of his Russian Orthodox religion, he would not wear a "pride" jersey.
"I respect everybody's choices," Provorov told reporters after the Flyers' win over the Ducks on January 17. "My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion. That's all I'm going to say."
No Rangers player has stated publicly that he would have refused to participate in the annual "Pride" celebration, but the entire team walked — or perhaps skated — away winners that night. The Rangers trounced the visiting Vegas Golden Knights 4-1 and are now 27-14-8 on the season, good for third place in the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference.
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