Thunder Bay

LGBTQ communities 'deserve better,' advocates say after Marc and Eric Staal refuse to wear Pride jerseys

A pride organization in Thunder Bay, is responding to decisions by Eric and Marc Staal, who were both born in the northwestern Ontario city, to opt out of wearing Pride warmup jerseys Thursday night as part of an inclusive sport initiative.

Brothers cite 'Christian beliefs' as reason why they did not wear special warmup jerseys with team

Eric Staal stands with his brother Marc Staal inside a an empty arena at the national men's team orientation camp
Eric Staal, left, is shown with brother Marc Staal at the Canadian national men's team orientation camp in Calgary in 2013. The brothers, who were born in Thunder Bay, Ont., and play for the Florida Panthers, came under fire for not wearing Pride jerseys (The Canadian Press)

A Pride organization in Thunder Bay, Ont., says LGBTQ communities "deserve better," after NHL players Eric and Marc Staal decided not to wear Pride warmup jersey's with the rest of the Florida Panthers on Thursday. 

The Rainbow Collective Thunder Bay issued a statement on social media in response to the decision by the Staal brothers, who are originally from the northwestern Ontario city, and it urged the two to better understand why Pride nights are important to the community.

"Wearing a Pride jersey or rainbow is not about endorsing certain values or that you're gay, what it's saying is that you're welcome here and that you are welcoming of diverse backgrounds," the statement said.

The Staals are among NHLers who have opted out of wearing commemorative Pride jerseys during Pride nights. San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer and Philadelphia Flyers' Ivan Provorov both previously declined to wear the special jerseys, citing religious beliefs. 

They issued a statement before the game, saying that wearing a pride jersey would go against their Christian beliefs.

"We carry no judgment on how people choose to live their lives, and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey," the Staal brothers said in a statement. "Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a Pride jersey it goes against our Christian beliefs."

A man poses for a portrait, he's wearing a pink sweatshirt and a black puffer vest.
Jason Veltri, president of the Rainbow Collective of Thunder Bay, says he was disappointed and compelled to act after hearing of the decision from the Staal brothers not to wear the Pride jersey. (Gord Ellis/CBC)

Jason Veltri, president of the Rainbow Collective of Thunder Bay, said in an interview with CBC News that he felt "sheer disappointment" after learning about the Staals' decision on Thursday night. 

"The Staals are local legends," Veltri said. "I was saddened, I was disappointed that Christian beliefs are being used as a guise to not wear a practice jersey, and not even their regular jerseys. 

"We can't sit by and sit quietly when these types of issues come up," he said. "Now more than ever really, LGBT issues are front and centre around the world ... we need to stand up for the rights of everyone." 

Veltri noted the NHL is moving toward changing hockey's culture and is working to be more open and inclusive, and these nights are important for the league going forward. 

Researcher questions NHL's commitment to Pride 

In addition to the individual players who have decided not to wear Pride jerseys, the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild decided not to wear Pride-themed jerseys during warmups after advertising that they would. Neither team commented on why they made the change

Chicago's NHL team said they acted out of safety concerns for their Russian player and two others with connections to Russia, due to that countries restrictions on LGBTQ rights. 

The growing number of players and teams opting out of Pride events suggests the NHL is not really taking diversity seriously and the teams are using Russia as an excuse, said Kristi Allain, an associate professor of sociology at St. Thomas University in New Brunswick who studies masculinity in sports. 

"It makes it quite transparent the NHL's position on Pride is strictly a marketing position," Allain said about Pride and other diversity efforts. 

"These are about marketing the league to a diverse audience that will buy their products, buy their merchandise without [the NHL] actually taking the necessary steps to making the league truly inclusive," she said. 

The NHL should have consequences for players who refuse to participate in Pride events going forward, to show it is serious about promoting diversity. 

"If the teams wanted the players to show up at Pride night wearing Pride jerseys, and made the penalties steep enough, the players would be there," she said. 

Hockey players take the ice.
Florida Panthers defenceman Aaron Ekblad (5) warms up while wearing a Pride Night jersey before playing the Toronto Maple Leafs, Thursday, March 23, 2023, in Sunrise, Fla. (Michael Laughlin/The Associated Press)

The Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks have Pride nights upcoming. The Canucks have not announced specific plans for the event. Sabres management was scheduled to hold discussions with its player leadership group on the matter.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has said the boycotts were not about accepting bigotry. 

"Whether or not you choose to embrace and make a statement on behalf of a cause affirmatively, if you choose not to do that, it doesn't necessarily make you a bigot," Bettman said in February. "I'm sure you don't endorse every single charity that solicits you, and you don't participate in every social cause. You pick and choose the ones that are important to you."

Pride night was to support LGBTQ inclusion efforts 

Most members of the Panthers donned the special Pride-themed warmup jerseys ahead of the team's 6-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday.

The jerseys were part of Florida's annual Pride night game in support of the area's LGBTQ community, and were also set to be auctioned in support of You Can Play. The organization works to promote safety and inclusion in sports, including for LGBTQ athletes, coaches and fans.

Florida Panthers Foundation also promised to match all funds raised Thursday night, in support of LGBTQ non-profits in the South Florida community.

A male ice hockey player raises his arms in celebration in front of the opposing goaltender in an arena filled with cheering fans
The Florida Panthers' Eric Staal raises his arms in celebration after scoring a goal against Canucks goalie Spencer Martin during the second period of a 4-3 win earlier this season. (Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports via Reuters)

After the loss, Eric Staal said he wanted to stick with the brothers' statement and "try my best to move forward."

Marc Staal was not made available to the media after the game. 

After the game, Panthers coach Paul Maurice described the Staal brothers as men of faith, and then noted how the rest of the team wore the warmup jerseys.

"I love both of those men and they have the right to their opinion. I stand by that right," he said. "But everyone else in the room has the right to put that sweater on proudly and wear it and be welcoming to all people in our community."


Olivia Levesque


Olivia is a Reporter/Editor based in her hometown of Thunder Bay, Ont. She is proud to live and work along the north shore of Lake Superior in Robinson-Superior Treaty Territory. You can contact her by emailing

With files from Jonathan Pinto, Nick Logan, Canadian Press