Eric and Marc Staal, veteran NHL brothers who play for the Florida Panthers, refused to wear Gay Pride-themed jerseys in warm-ups before a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.
The warm-up shirts were part of the Florida Pride night game in support of the LGBTQ community in the Sunrise area. The Staal brothers cited their religion as the reason for the decision.
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«We do not make (sic) judgments on how people choose to live their lives, and we believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey,» they said in a statement. «Having said that, we feel that wearing a Gay Pride shirt goes against our Christian beliefs.»
Eric Staal said after the game that he just wanted to stick with the original statement and «do my best moving forward.» Marc Staal was not available to the media.
Florida coach Paul Maurice tried to make history about the players who did participate.
«I think the story is not about them,» Maurice said. «The story is about the rest of the group excited, the organization and the fans excited to celebrate a great night.
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«These are grown men who have lived in their faith their entire lives. This is nothing new to them. They have a right to take that position. The rest of the players wore that jersey with pride and I hope we delivered that ‘Welcome Back’ message. «. to our building, welcome to our franchise, and welcome to the great game of hockey.»
Matthew Tkachuk wore the warm-up jersey, saying he «accepted a night like this.»
«A night like this, for me, it’s about including everyone,» he added. «It is, in my opinion, the best game in the world and everyone is welcome in our locker room and in our organization.»
The Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, and Chicago Blackhawks have all experienced some controversy over players not wearing the Pride-themed warm-up jersey.
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On Wednesday, the Blackhawks decided not to wear a special warm-up jersey to commemorate their Pride Night on Sunday. The team cited an anti-gay Kremlin law that could endanger its Russian athletes when they return home.
Associated Press contributed to this report.