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Florida Panthers’ Staal brothers are latest NHL stars to refuse Pride jerseys, citing ‘religious beliefs’

<i>Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI/Getty Images</i><br/>Eric Staal #12 and brother Marc Staal #18 of the Florida Panthers are pictured on the ice during warm-ups for a game against the New York Rangers at the FLA Live Arena on January 1 in Sunrise
NHLI via Getty Images
Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI/Getty Images
Eric Staal #12 and brother Marc Staal #18 of the Florida Panthers are pictured on the ice during warm-ups for a game against the New York Rangers at the FLA Live Arena on January 1 in Sunrise

By Jacob Lev and Zoe Sottile, CNN

Players for the National Hockey League’s Florida Panthers, Eric and Marc Staal, declined to participate in the team’s Pride Night on Thursday, citing “religious beliefs.”

The brothers did not participate in warm-ups where players wore Pride-themed sweaters before the team’s home game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“After many thoughts, prayers and discussions we have chosen not to wear a Pride Night jersey tonight,” the brothers said in a statement released by the Panthers. “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. 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.”

The Staals did play in the 6-2 loss to Toronto.

Eric Staal, 38, told reporters he would like to “stick to the statement made and released” when asked for further comment after the game.

The jerseys, posted to the official Florida Panthers Twitter account, feature rainbow accents and an LGBT flag patch on the sleeve.

Teammate and All-Star forward Matthew Tkachuk had a different view on participating in Pride Night, saying that the players in the locker room have the “right to their opinion” but that he was “excited” to be a part of the event.

“For myself personally, obviously being out there and wearing the jerseys, and kind of enjoying and embracing a night like tonight — we only have so many of these nights throughout the season, whether it’s ‘Military Night’ or ‘Hockey Fights Cancer Night,’ or whatever,” Tkachuk told reporters after the game.

“A night like tonight, for me, is really about including everybody,” he went on. “In my opinion, it’s by far the greatest game in the world, and everyone’s invited in my locker room and our locker room as an organization.”

The Pride Night event includes fundraisers for LGBTQ+ non-profits and a ceremonial puck drop featuring Stuart Milk, nephew of civil rights leader Harvey Milk, according to a news release from the Florida Panthers.

The Staals are the latest example of NHL players and clubs declining to participate in Pride Night activities.

Last week, San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer decided not to participate in the team’s weeklong Pride Night festivities which included wearing pregame warm-up sweaters, citing his Christian faith.

The Chicago Blackhawks opted not to wear Pride warmup jerseys this weekend when the team holds its Pride Night. However, rather than religious beliefs, the team cited security concerns regarding Russian players.

In December, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed into law a bill that expands a ban on so-called LGBTQ “propaganda” in Russia, making it illegal for anyone to promote same-sex relationships or suggest that non-heterosexual orientations are “normal.”

CNN has reached out to the Panthers and NHL for comment.

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