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A note about Pride Night in Buffalo
Sabres are having Pride Night tonight, Monday, and for the past few seasons they’ve held this it’s been a fantastic event that’s highlighted and helped out groups in Buffalo and Erie County that work with and support the LGBTQ+ community. Marginalized groups that have historically been under duress deserve support and I am a supporter as much as I can be for being a straight, white, middle-aged guy.
My opinion doesn’t count for anything regarding the LGBTQ+ community, but if there’s a fight going on, I’m on their side of things. Hate, bigotry and discrimination are poison for society. I certainly hope how I feel about this isn’t a surprise for anyone, and if it is, well, there you go.
The entire issue of support for Pride initiatives, done in order to show the NHL fan community that everyone is welcome and that the sport is for everyone. I know the league’s efforts to prove this have been immensely tested and often shown to be, at the very least, awkwardly handled. In some cases, it hasn’t been handled well at all, period, and this season has shown to be even worse on that matter. A night that’s meant to be welcoming and joyful is instead crossed up with religious beliefs and as well as the Russian government doing what they can to make LGBTQ+ people living their lives to be criminalized.
That brings us to Ilya Lyubushkin. The Sabres Russian defenseman is not participating in pregame events on Monday nor is he skating warmups in the team’s Pride jerseys. He cited the threat of retribution from the Russian government against his family or himself as the reason he’s opted out of it. It’s complicated how to process this.
On one hand, many Russian players have taken part in their teams’ Pride events and worn the special themed jerseys with, well, pride. Others have not and Lyubushkin is one of them. NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said it’s not believed there’s any credible threat by the Russian government against Russian players who support Pride events and causes done by their teams.
Along with being a straight, white, middle-aged dude I am also an American. I don’t know what it’s like to be Russian or what it’s like to live in a place with repressive leadership to such a degree it even creates an aura where danger could be brought about from anywhere for defying what the leader believes.
Something Kyle Okposo said today, speaking on behalf of he and Sabres teammates, stuck out to me about what having Pride nights means and where he was able to find that common ground and the word that stuck out was “empathy.”
“I will say in talking on a more global sense and a broader sense about the LGBTQ community, I spoke with somebody who works with some diversity, and she made a really good point to me,” Okposo said. “We’re speaking about all the different conversations that teams are having, that we’re having around this league about this topic, she said to me, ‘I know you have empathy,’ and I’m capable of that. And I have empathy for my teammate, for Boosh, in the situation that he’s in, but think about it if there’s a closeted gay member of a team and you have to have empathy for that person too in that situation. I think that really struck a chord for me because we have to realize that and that’s part of being accepting and that’s why we want to be accepting.
“That’s why we want to be open, that’s why we want to be able to have these conversations and I think in this forum, which is in the public, so many people are afraid to say the wrong things or scared that they’re going to be judged for what they say. And I think the real change and real positive conversations and the way that we’re going to be able to move the needle forward happens behind closed doors and happens when everybody is able to share opinions and feel valued and not be scared to share what they have to say, and everybody is going to listen. Those are some of my views on it as a global topic.”
I’m not Lyubushkin and how he feels about this situation is clear and if he wanted to speak on it, he would, but the idea of fear of reprisal is not something I can begin to lecture about. I don’t live his life, I don’t have kids to think about, and I don't know how I would handle that threat.
I understand there is a lot about how it’s not a real threat and it’s a cover. And maybe it is, but those who would use it as such have to live with that. But if he says he feels he’s endangered by his government, who am I to tell him he’s not? Me, the white, middle-aged, American male is going to tell him I don’t believe him? No chance. I take someone at their word until they prove to me that I don’t need to do it ever again. I refer to Okposo again about this.
“As myself, as an American and as a North American, I don’t think I’m able to understand the psychological decisions that he’s going through and some of the psychological burdens that he goes through being from a different part of the world,” Okposo said. “I don’t think it’s fair to judge him in an apples-to-apples sense. We support Boosh in this room, and we want to make sure that he’s comfortable and we respect his decisions. I think that passing judgement on him without trying to understand the full scope of his decision would be unwise.“
I know empathy as a subject matter is an odd one because of how it can be perceived in various ways. As I’ve gotten older, and I’ve lived through various situations that have shown me something about the world that I didn’t know about or know what it was like, I’ve become more in tune with emotions and in trying to understand how these things affect people. I used to be the type of person that could see someone going through something powerfully emotional be it anger, sadness, joy—anything—and not be affected by that in anyway. The general reaction would be something like, “cool, good for them,” or “wow, that sucks,” and that’s as much thought as I would put into it.
But when you see how situations affect people directly, whether they’re your friends or family or colleagues—someone close to you—and the gamut of emotions they go through, all I can think now is how can’t that affect you as an outsider? When you see how those you know are treated for being who they are and it makes them sad or angry or deal with depression and addiction, now at this point in my life I cannot imagine witnessing it and not feeling a thing. It crushes me to see it happen and I feel helpless to do anything.
I’m more or less rambling now, it’s just painful to see what a simple cause should be to support and ally with is made to look wrong by rotten people and that something as simple as showing support for it is viewed so terribly.