Let’s start with the obvious.
The New York Rangers and Madison Square Garden threw down their Pride night on Friday.
Announcing weeks ago that “the Rangers will show their support by wearing pride-themed warm-up jerseys and armbands in solidarity with those who continue to stand up for inclusion,” the team reneged on that promise and stormed out of the locker room. wearing their Reverse Retro Liberty jerseys.
So much for solidarity.
The action ended with the following. “Buy your tickets today!” – clearly using custom warm-up jerseys and rainbow ribbon as a selling point. It’s fair to call it false advertising.
Other tributes to the LGBTQ+ community remained in place, including a ceremonial elopement by NYC Pride co-chair Andre Thomas. But that was overshadowed by a number of questions from fans about what happened to the warm-up unit.
They thought that no one would notice?
Notably, they wore their jerseys and armband from previous Pride Nights without a hitch, and later auctioned them off for charity. In 2020, on the team’s official Facebook page, they offered the opportunity to “offer team-signed #NYR Pride-themed jerseys and support grassroots organizations in our community fighting for equality.” You can find similar posts in other years as well.
This year, the Rangers made a contribution to the Ali Forne Center, an agency dedicated to LGBTQ+ homeless youth in the US, but they declined to explain changes to their Pride Night programs, leaving Friday a lighthearted moment for LGBTQ+ fans who support LGBTQ+ fans. : the team.
Instead, after this story was originally published, they released the following statement:
“Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to shine a spotlight on important local community organizations as part of another great Pride night. In line with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”
Now let’s move on to the part of the conversation that is much more nuanced.
Public scrutiny of how teams and players handle Pride Nights in the NHL has increased since Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to participate in pregame warmups on Jan. 17, citing his Russian orthodox religion.
It’s not fair to speculate whether this influenced Rangers’ decision to ditch the Pride jerseys, or whether any of the team’s players had their reservations. But obviously, any organization would want to avoid the PR mess the Flyers dealt with.
Here’s the thought that’s been running through my mind since the Provorov news broke. In a perfect world, we’d like to think that all players and team staff prioritize the upliftment of the LGBTQ+ community, and any other group that faces unnecessary 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 that we can’t get everyone to support the causes we care about. Doing so only gives cover to homophobes while creating a false sense of satisfaction for the well-intentioned.
Does pretending to care about an issue really promote change if it doesn’t come from a genuine place?
I would argue that makes things feel dishonest.
If the consensus among any organization and its players is that Pride Night is a meaningful initiative, then they should proceed with real pride. But if they are only doing it for fake PR reasons, then spare us the fake.
The same goes for any cause or social issue, whether it’s fighting racism, fighting climate change, supporting the troops, or any other community awareness.
Instead of mandating that every team do the same thing, why not encourage each organization to have an open dialogue about what is most important to their players, employees and fans?
Conversation breeds compassion when athletes who are role models for many have the power to open so many doors. And if the final verdict is “stick to sports,” well, that’s their prerogative. At least silence would be honest.
Vincent Z. Mercogliano is the New York Rangers beat reporter for the USA TODAY Network. Read more about his work at lohud.com/sports/rangers/ and follow him on Twitter @vzmercogliano:.