Marc and Eric Staal did not suit up in Pride Night jerseys during warmups ahead of the Panthers’ game against the Maple Leafs on Thursday night.
The brothers cited their “Christian beliefs” as the reason for not wearing the special uniforms, saying in a statement that they wanted to keep the focus on helping the Panthers win this year’s Stanley Cup.
“We carry no judgement on how people choose to live their lives, and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey,” the statement read, per Tim Reynolds of the Associated Press. “…We feel that by us wearing a pride jersey it goes against our Christian beliefs.
“We hope you can respect this statement, we will not be speaking any further on this matter.”
Pride Night jerseys have been a common area of controversy among several NHL teams over the last few weeks. Multiple teams said they wouldn’t be wearing them, but Florida released a statement earlier Thursday saying that it would move forward in wearing the jerseys and expected all players to act accordingly. The statement also mentioned the possibility of players deciding to refrain from wearing the uniforms—in the case of the Staal brothers—saying, they would not “take part in warmups.”
“Teams around the league and players around the league, they’ve got the right to their opinion, and we’ve got the right to ours,” said Panthers coach Paul Maurice in a statement, per FloridaHockeyNow.com. “But I’ve seen the sweaters. They’re great looking, and it should be a great night tonight.”
The Panthers were the first NHL team to host a Pride Night back in 2013. The Rangers, the Wild and most recently the Blackhawks on Wednesday have declined to wear the special jerseys. Multiple teams have cited safety concerns for Russian-born players and the potential scrutiny they and their families would face if they wore the uniforms.
In December, Russian president Vladimir Putin passed a law increasing the limitations on “gay propaganda” and activities that “praise” or “promote” LGBTQ+ rights within the public as well as on social media in the country, according to CNN. However, the Panthers “considered the Russian law and the potential ramifications” prior to the team making its decision to wear the special uniforms, per FloridaHockeyNow.com.