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NHL Pride jersey debate creates ‘Gospel opportunity’

Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tenn. (Adobe Stock Photo. Do not publish.)

NASHVILLE (BP) — As the pressure increases on NHL hockey players to support the LGBTQ agenda, so does the opportunity for Gospel witness.

“It’s a great opportunity when a coworker or a dad on your son’s baseball team” comments on increasing cultural pressure to support gay and transgender causes, said retired NHL defenseman Noah Welch. “There is a God. He is creator. There is order to His creation. We just have to explain the fall of man and the reason Christ came—what He did, what He accomplished and that He’s coming again. It’s just a great Gospel opportunity.”

Welch’s comments came the week after the NHL reversed course on having teams wear rainbow-colored Pride jerseys during warmups on Pride nights. Seven players refused to wear the jerseys this season, with some citing religious beliefs. While all 32 NHL teams designated nights to support LGBTQ causes, three teams (the Chicago Blackhawks, the New York Rangers and the Minnesota Wild) decided not to have players wear the Pride jerseys after originally announcing they would.

The controversy led league officials to rethink all themed warmup jerseys—worn on various themed nights to support causes from cancer research and the military to LGBTQ inclusion. Teams will continue to celebrate Pride and other themed nights next season, and themed jerseys will continue to be sold as a fundraiser. They just won’t be worn by players during warmups.

Players’ refusal to wear Pride jerseys has “become more of a distraction from really the essence of what the purpose of these nights are,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. “We’re keeping the focus on the game. And on these specialty nights, we’re going to be focused on the cause.”

A handful of players have cited Christian beliefs as the reason they would not dawn the Pride sweaters. In January, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov said his Russian Orthodox beliefs led him to sit out a pregame skate that featured Pride warmup jerseys. Sales of Provorov’s jersey soared following the incident.

In March, San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer sat out pregame warmups rather than wear a Pride jersey, citing his religious beliefs as the reason while also noting his effort to “treat everyone with respect.”

“In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.

Brothers Eric and Marc Staal of the Florida Panthers declined to wear Pride warmup jerseys in March, stating it “goes against our Christian beliefs.” Three additional Russian players opted out of the jerseys, with one citing his nation’s laws against homosexuality as the reason.

Welch said the NHL’s reversal of its warmup jersey policy suggests the league’s Pride nights may be motivated by money more than a principled stand. He added that league advocacy of the LGBTQ agenda has accelerated vastly since he retired five years ago.

“Obviously it wasn’t really a strong conviction because they flip-flopped,” said Welch, who played for four NHL teams as well as the United States Winter Olympic team in 2018. “Maybe the fan base showed them” by “buying a lot of jerseys for particular players that stood up against this. Maybe the NHL said, ‘You know what, we have a chance to make some more money if we side with the other side.’”

The controversy has left some Christian players and fans asking how they should respond. Welch urged believing NHL players to speak the truth in love.

“I would advise them to put on the full armor of God first and foremost,” he said. “The same way that pro athletes put on body armor every day to go and complete … read your Bible every day. Have the wisdom and the knowledge and the understanding of what His Word says.”

Then “remind yourself that God is sovereign and that He is ultimately in control over your career,” Welch said, adding that millions of dollars could be at stake for players who speak out. “Then just pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and give you the right words to say—when to be vocal and when to be quiet.”

Christian fans should consider protesting the league’s advocacy of ungodly causes by respectfully removing their money and their attendance from events that undermine God’s truth, Welch said. In the end, the only opinion on human sexuality that matters is God’s.

“It’s either Christ or chaos,” he said. “Whether you believe Christ is Lord or you don’t, He still is. That’s the reality. This is His creation. All authority has been given to Him. That’s really it. Christians, by the grace of God, have been taken out of the darkness, put into the light and adopted into His kingdom. We should be sharing His great news with the world.”