BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Sabres celebrated the LGBTQ+ community with Pride Night, which featured special-themed warmup jerseys. One Sabres player didn’t appear in warmups though.
Lyubushkin is citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Russia for electing not to participate in the Buffalo Sabres’ pregame warmup on the team’s Pride night, when players are expected to wear rainbow-colored jerseys in support of the LGBTQ+ community.
The team announced Lyubushkin’s decision Monday. Lyubushkin is from Moscow, where he has family and visits regularly in the offseason.
The 28-year-old defenseman played Monday night against Montreal despite not taking part in warmups. Other players used Pride tape on their sticks in addition to wearing rainbow-colored jerseys. The Sabres as an organization are so intent on promoting Pride night that they changed their social media avatar to feature their logo encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.
“You want to make sure everyone is able to come to the rink and feel like they belong and feel like they’re accepted,” Sabres Captain Kyle Okposo said Monday morning.
Lyubushkin didn’t speak to the media about his decision, but a University at Buffalo professor explains that Russia has anti-gay laws, which ban same-sex marriage and criminalizes support for the LGBTQ+ community.
“Even simple acts like having a rainbow pin on your vest or a rainbow flag outside your house would be enough to warrant violence against you. People would attack you and in some parts of Russia, that is enough to warrant being killed,” Collin Anderson, a professor of political science at UB, told News 4.
Pride night warmup jerseys have caused controversy around the NHL.
Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers, James Reimer of the San Jose Sharks and Eric and Marc Staal of the Florida Panthers all refused to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, citing religious beliefs, while the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks opted not to have players wear them at all. Reimer and the Staal brothers are Canadian.
The Blackhawks, like Lyubushkin, cited a law passed last year in Russia that expanded the restrictions on supporting LGBTQ+ rights in the country as their reasoning.
The Florida Panthers — whose star goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, is Russian — went forward with plans to wear Pride-themed jerseys on Thursday night before their home game against Toronto. Bobrovsky took part.
“There are Russian players who will wear it. There’s people who have worn it in the past and have changed their minds like the Staal Brothers in Florida, so I think that’s a shame,” John Siskos, a fan at the game Monday, said.
Okposo spoke after Monday’s pregame skate and said the Sabres Organization’s goal was to promote inclusion for all.
“I have empathy for my teammate, for Boosh in the situation he’s in, but think about it: If there’s a closeted gay member of a team, and you have to have empathy for that person, too, in that situation,” Okposo said. “We have to realize that and that’s part of being accepting, and that’s why we want to be accepting.”
Some fans at the game agree with Okposo.
“Sometimes people just look for controversy or to spread bad news, but I think they’ve done a good job as a whole league, the PA, the agents and just letting the players have the choice of freedom,” Dan Garneau, a hockey fan, added before heading inside.
The Sabres released the following statement ahead of Monday’s game:
The Buffalo Sabres are proud to continue to support the LGBTQIA+ community as allies by hosting our third annual Pride Night game. It is of the utmost importance to us to continue to use our platform to strengthen our organizational goal of making hockey for everyone.
Consistent with previous years, our team feels strongly that one way to support is through wearing Pride jerseys and using Pride tape in warmups. That said, we are aware of general threats to certain players and understand their decision to forego risk.
We continue to advocate for under-represented groups in hockey and hope that our Pride Night, like many across the league, sparks meaningful conversations and encourages support for the LGBTQIA+ community within the sport of hockey and our city.Buffalo Sabres
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.