Sabres player to skip Pride fete, cites Russia law

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Ilya Lyubushkin is citing an anti-gay Kremlin law and fears of retribution at home in Russia for electing not to participate in the Buffalo Sabres’ pregame warmup on the team’s Pride night, when players are expected to wear rainbow-colored jerseys in support of the LGBTQIA+ community.

The team announced Lyubushkin’s decision Monday morning. Lyubushkin, 28, is from Moscow, where he has family and visits regularly in the offseason.

The defenseman is expected to play Monday night against Montreal despite not taking part in warmups. Other players are set to not only wear the rainbow-colored jerseys but use Pride tape on their sticks. The Sabres changed their social media avatar to feature their logo encircled by a rainbow-colored outline.

Sabres captain Kyle Okposo said Thursday that he understood how difficult the situation was to navigate.

“There’s such a sensitivity to the topic, and you have concerns for the Russians, especially,” Okposo said. “I can speak for myself as an American, as somebody from North America, I don’t understand what it’s like to be in Russia and to grow up there. And I don’t think we’re able to speak about the psychology of those players, because we don’t understand. We’re frankly not capable of understanding because we haven’t been there.”

It has not been just Russian players opting out of warmups who have put Pride nights around the NHL in the spotlight in recent months.

Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers, James Reimer of the San Jose Sharks, and Eric and Marc Staal of the Florida Panthers all refused to take part in warmups with Pride-themed jerseys, citing religious beliefs, while the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks opted not to have players wear them at all. Reimer and the Staal brothers are Canadian.

The Blackhawks, like Lyubushkin, cited a law passed last year in Russia that expanded the restrictions on supporting LGBTQIA+ rights in the country as their reasoning.

The Panthers — whose star goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, is Russian — went forward with plans to wear Pride-themed jerseys Thursday night before their home game against Toronto. Bobrovsky took part.

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