Rangers made an absolute mess with Pride Night about-face
By veering from their promoted plan to wear Pride-themed jerseys for their annual Pride Night on Friday at Madison Square Garden, the Rangers turned what was otherwise a beautiful celebration of inclusivity into a story about the organization.
It’s ironic that the reversed decision to forgo the special warm-ups and tape was presumably made to avoid a public relations mess. Instead, that’s exactly what has happened. After making a public promise that the team would don the rainbow colors of the Pride flag “in solidarity” with the LGBTQ+ community, and then walking back on it, what did the organization think would happen? There were fans who purchased their tickets to see themselves represented on the ice, and they were left disappointed.
The Garden and the Rangers have been hosting Pride Night for seven years. In the past, the whole team has sported the Pride-themed warmup jerseys and wrapped their sticks in rainbow tape, which is why it was so peculiar that the Rangers chose not to go through with it this time.
What changed? Why now? Who made the decision?
There is no question that the backlash the Flyers received over their Pride Night on Jan. 17, when defenseman Ivan Provorov refused to take warmups in the team’s custom jersey while citing his Russian Orthodox religion as the reason, influenced how the Rangers’ handled the event. Since then, NHL fans have been hyperaware of how their teams have chosen to go about it. The Rangers should’ve seen this coming from a mile away.
Still, the Rangers made a choice, and that choice slighted members of the LGBTQ+ community. Following suit with many other NHL teams that have made harmful decisions in recent years, the Rangers made zero acknowledgement and took zero accountability for their actions.
“Our organization respects the LGBTQ+ community and we are proud to bring attention to important local community organizations as part of another great Pride Night,” the Rangers said in a statement. “In keeping with our organization’s core values, we support everyone’s individual right to respectfully express their beliefs.”
Two players separately told Post colleague Larry Brooks and me that there were no team discussions about sporting the pride-themed jerseys and tape. They did not know why they didn’t wear them. Brooks also reached out to the NHL’s deputy commissioner and chief legal officer, Bill Daly, to see if teams had been advised not to proceed with their original Pride Night plans in the aftermath of Provorov’s refusal. Daly said no and that each club is entitled to proceed as it sees fit.
So if it wasn’t the players and it wasn’t the league, then it appears the decision must have come from higher up in the Rangers’ organization.
Broadway star Michael James Scott, who is gay, sang a goosebump-inciting rendition of the national anthem. Andre Thomas, the co-chair of NYC Pride and Heritage of Pride, participated in the ceremonial puck drop. Fans received a Pride-themed fanny pack, while the pinwheel ceiling and panels on the outside of the Garden were illuminated in the rainbow colors.
The Rangers have also promised to make a charitable contribution to the Ali Forney Center, a New York-based agency dedicated to helping LGBTQ+ homeless youths. The center assists more than 2,000 youths per year through a 24-hour Drop-In Center, which provides more than 70,000 meals annually, medical, and mental health services through an on-site clinic, and a scattered-site housing program.
Much was done right, but the Rangers completely overshadowed that by not following through on the part that spoke the most volume. To see your favorite players wear something that represents who you are means something to LGBTQ+ fans. The fact the players did not wear the warmup jerseys also prevented the Rangers from auctioning them off and donating the proceeds to LGBTQ+ causes.
More to the point, the Rangers allowed themselves to misstep out of fear of a repeat of the Provorov situation, and instead called into question the sincerity of all their actions. New York City is one of the most diverse places in the world, which should not be forgotten.
The Rangers wore warmup jerseys designed by New York-based Ecuadorian artist Mar Figueroa for Hispanic Heritage Night on Oct. 20. They wore camouflage military-themed warmups on Nov. 13 for Military Appreciation Night.
Feb. 8 will be Black Heritage Night. They’ll probably wear a special warmup for that, too. It’s a shame that Pride Night was treated differently.
The Rangers seemingly wanted to avoid controversy, but in doing so, they lost sight of the purpose of it all.
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