The Florida Panthers celebrated inclusivity in sport by wearing Pride jerseys during warm-ups before their game against the New York Rangers on Tuesday. However, two players opted out of donning the special jerseys - Eric and Marc Staal.
The brothers cited religious reasons for their decision not to wear the rainbow-colored jerseys. Both Eric and Marc are devout Christians, and they believe that homosexuality goes against their faith.
In a statement released through a team spokesperson, Eric explained his decision: "While I fully support equality and respect for all individuals regardless of sexual orientation, my beliefs as a Christian do not align with celebrating certain aspects of the LGBTQ+ community."
Marc echoed his brother's sentiments: "As a family man who takes pride in his faith and respect for everyone, I cannot compromise my values or beliefs."
The Panthers issued a statement supporting both players' decisions while also reiterating their commitment to inclusivity:
"We support our players' rights to express themselves in ways that are consistent with their personal beliefs. At the same time, we remain steadfastly committed to embracing diversity and fostering an environment of inclusion within our organization."
While some fans expressed disappointment at the brothers' decision not to participate in what was intended as an act of solidarity with LGBTQ+ athletes and fans alike, others supported them in exercising their right to religious freedom.
Regardless of where one stands on this issue, it highlights the ongoing tension between religion and LGBTQ+ rights within sports communities. As more teams embrace inclusivity initiatives like Pride nights or jersey auctions benefiting LGBTQ+ charities or causes - it remains clear that there is still much work left to be done toward creating truly welcoming environments for all athletes.