New York Rangers' botched Pride Night should lead to bigger conversation | Opinion
Let’s start with the obvious.
The New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden botched their Pride Night celebration on Friday.
After promoting weeks in advance 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 team reneged on that promise and emerged from the locker room wearing their Reverse Retro Liberty jerseys.
So much for solidarity.
The promo concluded with, “Buy your tickets today!” – clearly using the special warm-up jerseys and rainbow stick tape as a selling point. It’s fair to call that false advertising.
Other acknowledgments of the LGBTQ+ community remained in place, including a ceremonial puck drop from André Thomas, co-chair of the NYC Pride organization. But that was overshadowed by a slew of questions from fans about what happened to the warm-up uniforms.
Did they think no one would notice?
Notably, they’ve worn the jerseys and tape for previous Pride Nights without hitch, later auctioning them off for charity. In 2020 on the team’s official Facebook page, they offered the opportunity to “bid on team-signed #NYR Pride-themed jerseys and support grassroots organizations in our community dedicated to fighting for equality.” You can find similar posts in other years, as well.
This year, the Rangers made a contribution to the Ali Forney Center, an agency dedicated to LGBTQ+ homeless youths in the U.S. But they declined requests to explain the changes in their Pride Night plans, making Friday feel like a slight to LGBTQ+ fans who support the team.
Instead, after this story was initially published, they issued the following 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. In keeping with our organization's core values, we support everyone's individual right to respectfully express their beliefs."
Now let’s get to the part of the conversation that’s much more nuanced.
Public focus on how teams and players are handling Pride Nights across the NHL is heightened since Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov declined to participate in pregame warmups on Jan. 17, citing his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason.
It wouldn't be fair to speculate about whether that factored into the Rangers’ decision to back off on wearing the pride jerseys, or whether any players on the team had their own reservations. But clearly any organization would want to avoid the PR mess that the Flyers have been dealing with.
Here’s the thought that has been prevalent on my mind since the Provorov news broke: In a perfect world, we’d like to think all players and team employees prioritize uplifting the LGBTQ+ community – and any other group that has faced undue discrimination. But this world is unfortunately far from perfect.
Those who say that Pride Nights raise awareness and make LGBTQ+ fans feel welcome make an important and valid point. But the reality is, we can’t force everyone to support the causes we care about. Doing so only provides cover for homophobes while creating a false sense of satisfaction for those with good intentions.
Does pretending to care about an issue really promote change if it’s not coming from a sincere place?
I’d argue it makes it all feel disingenuous.
If the consensus among any organization and its players is that Pride Night is a meaningful endeavor, then they should proceed with actual pride. But if they’re only doing it for phony PR reasons, then spare us the sham.
The same goes for any cause or social issue, whether it be combating racism, fighting climate change, supporting the military or any other community outreach.
Rather than mandate that every team does the same thing, why not encourage each organization to have open dialogue about which causes matter most to their players, employees and fans?
Conversation breeds empathy, with athletes − who are role models to so many − holding the power to open so many doors. And if the final verdict is “stick to sports,” well, that’s their prerogative. At the very least, the silence would be genuine.
Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Read more of his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano.
This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: Rangers botch Pride Night by not wearing themed warm-up jerseys