Ilya Samsonov, Toronto Maple Leaf’s goaltender, was singled out by media outlets because he did not wear a “pride-themed” decal on his helmet or rainbow tape on his stick during “pride night.” The team boasted about their inclusive past and played drag queen videos at the arena during the game.
Samsonov, even though he did not play in the game was spied on by the media during warm-ups. This forced the hockey team into political defense, allowing the goalie the freedom to make his own decision.
Although the “pride night”, on April 4, 2023, did not include any rainbow-themed jerseys, the Leafs have never worn them, players and Sheldon Keefe, head coach, wore rainbow T-shirts during an earlier media availability, Sportsnet reports.
TSN Canada, Canada’s equivalent of ESPN reports that Samsonov didn’t wear the decal. However, the Maple Leafs did include a live drag show set to Shania Twain’s song “Man!” I Feel Like A Woman! It was displayed on the [arena] scoreboard prior to players hitting the ice.
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 5, 2023
According to The Toronto Star, the Maple Leafs should have some flexibility regarding the issue despite the Russian goalie. This is partly due to the fact that many players are open supporters of this movement.
Morgan Reilly, star defenseman, said, “I was at [coach] Kyle Dubas’ parade and [team president] Brendan Shanahan. The belief within the organization has always existed in terms of including people and having our team be a safe place for everybody.”
He said, “And regardless of whether you wear jerseys (or not), I believe that actions speak louder than words and especially speak louder over attire.”
The franchise played a video with Meghan Duggan (ex-American women’s national hockey player), which was praised as being the first openly gay person to work in NHL player operations. Duggan speaks to players about her struggles with “inclusion”.
Duggan raised her hand and said, “Raise your hands if you have ever had to stand before someone and justify your right to marry.”
She continues the video by saying, “Raise your hands if you have ever had to fight for recognition as a parent to your own children.”
“It’s difficult to understand inclusion if you’ve never been excluded”
Pride Night | The Leaf: Blueprint Moment pic.twitter.com/n6XPpo9k2I
— Toronto Maple Leafs (@MapleLeafs) April 4, 2023
MSN also reported that Samsonov was “hidden away from the media” by the team, calling Samsonov’s actions “disappointment”, “foolish, and unnecessary”.
Alexander Kerfoot, Leafs forward, praised the theme nights and said, “Obviously, it has done a really great job of being inclusive of all of these groups.”
Kerfoot was present at the Alphabet Sports Collective’s launch. It is a “queer-led non-profit… with a goal to create a safer environment in hockey for people of all sexual identities.”
Samsonov is the seventh league player to choose pride-related themes. He joins James Reimer Eric Staal Marc Staal and Marc Staal and fellow Russians Ilya Lyubushkin and Ivan Provorov.