San Jose Sharks goalie James Reimer has come under fire for refusing to wear a Pride-themed jersey for the team’s pre-game warmup on Saturday night. The 35-year-old Manitoban sat out the Pride Night warmup and was benched for the game.
Reimer said he made the decision based on his Christian beliefs, and later doubled down by saying he wouldn’t wear a “Muslim jersey,” while talking about former teammate Nazem Kadri. (Kadri is the first Muslim player to win a Stanley Cup, and the two played together on the Toronto Maple Leafs.)
In a statement ahead of Saturday’s matchup between the Sharks and the New York Islanders, Reimer announced he wouldn’t wear the Pride jersey.
“In this specific instance, I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions, which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in life,” Reimer said.
“I have a personal faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for my sins and, in response, asks me to love everyone and follow him. I have no hate in my heart for anyone, and I have always strived to treat everyone that I encounter with respect and kindness,” Reimer added.
“I strongly believe that every person has value and worth, and the LGBTQIA+ community, like all others, should be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey,” the statement concludes.
Reimer was the only Sharks player to not wear the Pride-themed jersey Saturday night, which featured a pink and blue shark with interlocking hockey sticks taped with Pride colours.
The Sharks wrote in a statement that they are proud to host Pride Night, saying the event reinforces the team’s commitment to inclusivity.
“As we promote these standards, we also acknowledge and accept the rights of individuals to express themselves, including how or whether they choose to express their beliefs, regardless of the cause or topic,” the team said. “As an organization, we will not waver in our support of the LGBTQIA+ community and continue to encourage others to engage in active allyship.”
After the game, which saw the Sharks lose 4-1 to the Islanders, Reimer was asked about the refusal to don the Pride jersey by San Jose Hockey Now, with Reimer suggesting that former teammate Kadri might vouch for him.
“I just can’t publicly or personally endorse something that goes against my beliefs. That’s kind of where I’m at so far,” Reimer began. “I have lots of awesome teammates, and even in the room here, we have guys that believe different things.”
“But in Toronto, Nazem Kadri as a teammate, loved him to death. I don’t know exactly the extent of his faith, his Muslim faith. But he’s a Muslim,” Reimer said. “I think you could talk to him and ask him if I treated him any different. I love him. I competed with him on the ice, we joked around, we did life together.
“And yet, people would understand if I wouldn’t be able to wear a Muslim jersey in warm-ups, promoting the Muslim faith, being a Christian and a follow in Christ. He himself would fully understand that.”
Many on social media were outraged at Reimer’s remarks, not just regarding his refusal to wear the Pride-themed jersey, but for seemingly dragging Kadri into the controversy to defend his character.
According to San Jose Hockey Now, there have been numerous Pride Nights across the NHL in previous years that have gone forward without opposition. “But that got turned on its head in January,” the hockey outlet writes.
At the beginning of 2023, Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers became the first player of the season to decline to wear a Pride jersey, citing his Russian Orthodox beliefs.
After that, the New York Rangers and Minnesota Wild “reneged” on previously advertised commitments to wear Pride jerseys for their Pride Nights.
Reimer is in his second season with the Sharks and will be a free agent after this season. When asked by a reporter if his decision made him concerned for this future with the team, Reimer said, “I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t something that crossed my mind.”
“I saw this happening and I started conversations almost a year ago with people in high places, not because I’m ashamed of my faith but because of certain consequences that they could have for me or other people that feel this way,” Reimer said. “Those conversations happened and here I am standing up for what I believe in. I’m sure there’s people in management or ownership that won’t look favourably on this.
“At the same time, I hope that there’s another handful of people in management or ownership that respect me for standing up for what I believe in and that’s a big part of who I am.”
— With files from The Associated Press