The “Stick To Sports” crowd should have no beef with anyone but the Minnesota Wild today. If not for their last-minute decision to cut wearing rainbow-themed warm-up jerseys from their Pride Night programming, the story of Tuesday’s game would be entirely different.
The story might be about Filip Gustavsson‘s heroic shutout that somehow resulted in a shootout loss. It might be about the controversial offsides call that wiped out Jared Spurgeon‘s goal. Maybe we’re talking about how Marco Rossi piled up three points in Iowa while the team in St. Paul couldn’t register a goal. This piece you’re reading would be dedicated to John Klingberg.
You know… Sports.
But we don’t get to talk about sports today, because the Wild instead made the story about their shortcomings on Pride Night.
Let’s fill in the backstory. The Wild held their second-ever Pride Night on Tuesday against the Calgary Flames. Last year’s Pride Night featured the players wearing Pride-themed rainbow jerseys in a show of solidarity for the LGBTQ+ community, which were later auctioned off. The jerseys were set to return this year and were even listed on the Wild’s auction website.
But yesterday, they decided against it. The chain of events for this decision started back in January, when Ivan Provorov opted to sit out of warmups on the Philadelphia Flyers’ Pride Night. Provorov cited his religious beliefs behind his refusal to warm up and thereby wear the jersey.
Since then, more teams are opting to avoid any potential backlash to similar decisions by forgoing their plans to wear Pride warmup jerseys altogether. The Wild joined the New York Rangers and Islanders in that decision.
The decision does nobody any favors. It doesn’t help the LGBTQ+ community to withdraw a show of support and solidarity. Cyd Ziegler says this in their reaction published in OutSports:
Yet the announcement of Pride jerseys — only to abandon the plan — is another slap in the face of a community that is currently going through some things.
Hopefully the Wild do what the Flyers did, tell the public who the problem was, and let him answer questions from the media. The way this is being handled by the Wild so far — quietly, deleting web pages with no announcement — is shady at best.
On top of potentially alienating LGBTQ+ fans, the Wild are handling this situation in a way where the story isn’t about any individual player not wearing a Pride jersey. By calling it an “organizational decision” and releasing a say-nothing statement as the only explanation, they may have shielded an individual from scrutiny and a PR nightmare. But now, it comes at the cost of stamping approval on withdrawing this show of support.
Type “Minnesota Wild Pride” into Google, and these are the stories you will find.
Their decision doesn’t shield any individuals who may not have partaken in warmups from criticism. This paints the entire organization, and specifically, all of its players, with the same brush.
It’s a shame, because there were many great initiatives the Wild took last night. Jon Merrill and his wife Jessica Molina donated 30 tickets to QUEERSPACE collective, an organization that supports LGBTQ+ youth. The team donated to and featured Twin Cities Pride, the Twin Cities Queer Hockey Association, and Team Trans during the game. Jack Jablonski, who memorably came out this past year, announced “Let’s Play Hockey.”
Many people in the organization cared deeply about this cause, only to find the night undermined and themselves caught up in a decision outside of their control.
The story doesn’t get to be about how Merrill and his family are doing fantastic work supporting the Queer community. No one reading these headlines is seeing that most of the team used Pride pucks and rainbow tape in warmups. They see that the Minnesota Wild and its players decided not to use the warmup jerseys.
This framing allows people to throw Merrill and everyone else who did or would have shown support for the LGBTQ+ community into the same bucket. And since there is no transparency in the decision, we have no idea where it came from, who made the final call, and even the reasons for which it was made. Calling it an “organizational decision” to nix the warmup jerseys doesn’t even succeed on the terms of lifting public scrutiny from individual players. That is still happening.
Minnesota could have avoided most of this by letting the warmup jerseys go on as planned. If anyone sat out, they could have explained their decision, let the public contextualize it, and manage their disappointment accordingly.
Instead, they forfeited the opportunity for LGBTQ+ fans to see the Wild players (or even most of them) give them the loudest, most public support. The decision, apparently made on behalf of the entire organization, serves to show that their support of the Queer community is limited, and only emboldens those who would rather not see LGBTQ+ people at hockey rinks and other public spaces. That defeats the entire purpose of a Pride Night, and it’s a major disappointment to see the Wild decide to go that route.