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The Edge of Lori: Pride & Prejudice

By Lori Bennett National Sports Columnist

NHL Noise A storyline has been evolving in the NHL this season that makes it difficult for many to be proud hockey fans. This story began on January 17, back when the Philadelphia Flyers were holding their Pride night. The Flyers have been participating in Pride events for several years as part of efforts by the NHL and NHLPA to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community. These celebrations are part of the “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign. On this particular Tuesday night, players wore Pride-themed jerseys and carried sticks that were taped in rainbow colours for the few minutes that make up the pre-game skate. Both the sticks and jerseys were later auctioned off, with proceeds directed to growing the game in diverse communities. It sounds like a respectful show of support for a community that has not traditionally been welcomed in hockey circles. The show of respect was sullied when Ivan Provorov chose not to participate in the pregame skate, and we later learned he was boycotting the skate because he refused to wear the Flyers Pride Night warm-up jersey. After the game, Provorov told reporters that the choice was “ to stay true to myself and my religion.” The player identified himself as Russian Orthodox and said, “I respect everyone. I respect everybody’s choices.” Provorov was the only player not to participate. The Flyers issued a statement clarifying their continued support of the LGBTQ+ community. The NHL declared that players are “free to decide which initiatives to support.” Coach John Tortorella’s response was interesting. In 2016, during the height of the “kneeling for the anthem” protests and surrounding controversy, Tortorella had said he would bench any players who didn’t stand for the national anthem. By 2020 he had changed his stance on that. In this instance, he supported the player and described Provorov as “being true to himself and his religion.” Later that same month, the New York Rangers told the Flyers to hold their proverbial beer. To their somewhat muted credit, the Flyers didn’t cancel their Pride night because of Provorov’s stance. They reaffirmed their support for the event, and named the player who was refusing to participate, stopping just short of discipline. The Rangers, however, chose to quietly cancel their Pride night despite having promoted the event. Rather than singling out the players who were unsupportive, they simply killed the event altogether. The Minnesota Wild made a similar decision earlier this month. For an objective fan, the conclusion is obvious. The Rangers and Wild preferred to be criticized for withdrawing their support for a marginalized community than “out” the players who were unsupportive. If the gay community was as thin-skinned as some of those players, we wouldn’t be in a place as a society where a Pride night is possible at all. On Saturday, March 18 the San Jose Sharks were hosting Sharks Pride Night. They wore special jerseys designed by a local queer artist that featured a Pride crest and “Love wins” patch. The jerseys were to be auctioned off after the game to raise funds for Adolescent Counseling Services. The Sharks proceeded with their supportive gesture, despite a boycott from goaltender James Reimer who said the jerseys conflict with his Christian beliefs. Reimer also did not play Saturday. Reimer subsequntly issued a statement that would have made any televangelist proud. I’m left wondering how these guys think withholding their support for a marginalized community is an appropriate expression of their Christian faith. It might be time to meet Jesus again. One thing Reimer said did leave me hopeful. He was asked if his decision might impact his appeal in free agency this summer. His response was interesting. “I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t something that crossed my mind honestly. I’m sure there’s people in management or ownership that won’t look favourably on this.” It’s more likely that his .895 save percentage will influence the market, but perhaps Brian Burke is right and the NHL really is heading in the right direction despite these cases.

Blue Jays Babble Spring training is winding down and we’re on the cusp of opening day. It’s time to consider what the Jays roster will look like for the 2023 season. Starting pitching is the most logical place to start. The rotation had a gap for all of last season, and there were off-season changes. Are those changes enough? Alek Manoah is the ace for the Jays, and his contract situation was sorted this summer. He is expected to dominate at the top of the rotation, and hopefully lead them into the post-season. Kevin Gausman and Jose Berrios are also returning. The Jays are hoping for Berrios to return to form this summer, and that Gausman can stay healthy and deliver the consistent quality starts he is capable of at the second spot in the rotation. Chris Bassitt was added in the summer to replace the departed Ross Stripling, and the Jays are hoping Yusei Kikuchi has a bounce back season and can fill the final spot in the five-man starting rotation. I’m not confident the Jays have done enough for the rotation, and I expect them to be shopping again later this season. The bullpen looks strong with Erik Swanson added to a group that includes Jordan Romano, Yimi Garcia, Anthony Bass, Tim Mayza, Adam Cimber, Trevor Richards and Mitch White. From a defensive perspective, Toronto has improved. The outfield is the place where improvement is most obvious. With Kevin Kiermaier added at centerfield, George Springer can move to right field which will be easier on his body after an injury-riddled season. Daulton Varsho, another outfielder, completes the trio on the left side. Nathan Lukes can provide outfield relief. The infield remains much the same. Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is fixed at first base, as are Bo Bichette at shortstop and Matt Chapman at third base. Whit Merrifield is the likely incumbent at second base after a strong showing there late last season, but he will no doubt share the role with other utility players that include Cavan Biggio and Santiago Espinal. Brandon Belt will likely be the designated hitter in most games but can also spell out Vladdy at first base. The Blue Jays have two returning veteran pitchers in Alejandro Kirk and Danny Jansen after trading Gabriel Moreno in the off-season. The batting order looks strong. Springer is expected to lead off again, followed by Bichette and Guerrero. Belt is expected to bat clean-up, followed by a second wave that has some combination of Kirk or Jansen, Varsho, Chapman, Merrifield and Kiermaier. Offense should not be a problem for the Jays this summer. Get your score cards ready. We’re almost ready for the first pitch.

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