Ex-Leafs defender Lyubushkin latest NHL player to refuse to participate in Pride Night
Former Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin is the latest NHL player to refuse to participate in his team’s Pride Night celebrations this season.
With his current Buffalo Sabres team hosting their Pride Night tonight against the Montreal Canadiens, the Sabres announced Monday that Lyubushkin would not participate in the team’s warmup but would play in the game.
Lyubushkin, a native of Moscow, Russia, is citing fear of retribution of an anti-gay law by the Russian government for his reason for not wearing the jersey, as per WGR Sports Radio 550’s Paul Hamilton.
Being a Russian player who lives in Russia in the off season, Ilya Lyubushkin has decided not to participate in Pride Night tonight. He fears for his family back home and will play tonight, but will not take warm up.
— Paul Hamilton (@pham1717) March 27, 2023
“The Buffalo Sabres are proud to continue to support the LGBTQIA+ community as allies by hosting our third annual Pride Night game. It is of the utmost importance to us to continue to use our platform to strengthen our organizational goal of making hockey for everyone,” the Sabres wrote in a statement shared on their social media on Monday. “Consistent with previous years, our team feels strongly that one way to garner support is through wearing Pride jerseys and using Pride tape in warmups. That said, we are aware of general threats to certain players and understand their decision to forego risk.”
A growing number of players, including James Reimer, Eric and Marc Staal, and Ivan Provorov, have chosen not to wear their respective team’s Pride Night uniforms this season.
“We support [Lyubushkin] in this room, and we want to make sure that he’s comfortable and we respect his decisions,” Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said. “I have empathy for my teammate, for [Lyubushkin] in the situation he’s in, but think about it: if there’s a closeted gay member of a team, you have to have empathy for that person, too, in that situation. We have to realize that and that’s part of being accepting, and that’s why we want to be accepting.”
Lyubushkin played 31 games for the Leafs in the 2021-22 season before signing with the Sabres on a two-year deal this past offseason.