Florida Panthers center Eric Staal and defenseman Marc Staal didn't take part in the team's warmup prior to Thursday's game against the Toronto Maple Leafs after electing not to wear the team's Pride jerseys.
The Staal brothers released a statement on the team's Pride Night, saying that they chose not to wear the Pride jerseys because it goes "against" their Christian beliefs.
"After many thoughts, prayers and discussions we have chosen not to wear a pride jersey tonight," both Staal brothers said. "We carry no judgement on how people choose to live their lives, and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey. Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a pride jersey it goes against our Christian beliefs.
"We hope you can respect this statement, we will not be speaking any further on this matter and would like to continue to focus on the game and helping the Florida Panthers win the Stanley Cup."
Eric Staal added after the game -- which Florida lost 6-2 -- that he had never worn a Pride jersey in his NHL career. That was quickly proven incorrect, as there's photo evidence of him, as a member of the Montreal Canadiens, wearing a Pride jersey during the 2020-21 season.
#FlaPanthers Eric Staal post-game, when told there is photographic evidence of him wearing a pride jersey in Montreal:— Erin Brown (@rinkside) March 24, 2023
“I haven’t before. I never have. … I haven’t worn a pride jersey before.”
(Staal wore No. 21 with the Canadiens during the 2020-21 season.) pic.twitter.com/aHmOgkRNBo
Aside from Eric Staal and Marc Staal, every other member of the Panthers roster participated in warmups while wearing the Pride jerseys. Panthers star Matthew Tkachuk stated that "everybody's welcome" in the Panthers locker room.
"A night like tonight, for me, is really all about including everybody. In my opinion, it's the greatest game in the world," Matthew Tkachuk said following the game. "Everybody's welcome in my locker room and our locker room as an organization. I think our organization's done an unbelievable job."
"I think we were one of the first teams to start Pride Night," Tkachuk added. "We're continuing the tradition every year and showing each and every day that hockey is for every single person."
Even though Russian players have been at the center of a major controversy regarding the LBGTQIA+ community -- thanks to Russian president Vladimir Putin instituting a law that restricts the rights of LGBTQIA+ citizens -- Russia native and Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky took part in pregame warmups while wearing the Pride-themed jersey.
The Staal brothers aren't the first NHL players to refuse to wear their team's Pride-themed jerseys. It's been something that has been happening all season.
In January, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov decided not to participate in pregame warmups as he didn't wish to wear the team's Pride jersey. Provorov cited his Russian Orthodox religious beliefs as the reason for refusing to wear the jersey.
Since then, San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer also refused to take part in the team's pregame skate due to the fact that he didn't want wear the team's Pride jersey. The Minnesota Wild and New York Rangers didn't wear Pride jerseys at all during warmups for their respective Pride Nights despite having previously planned to do so. You can read more about the NHL's ongoing issue with Pride Nights around the league here.