Brothers Eric and Marc Staal decline to wear Panthers' Pride Night jerseys

Brothers Eric and Marc Staal, who both play for the Florida Panthers, did not participate in the pregame skate Thursday night because they declined to wear the team's LGBTQIA+ Pride Night warmup sweaters, citing their religious beliefs.

The brothers were in the lineup for the 6-2 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, as they also were participants during team's morning skate.

"After many thoughts, prayers and discussions we have chosen not to wear a pride night jersey tonight," the brothers said in a statement released by the Panthers. "We carry no judgement on how people choose to live their lives, and believe that all people should be welcome in all aspects of the game of hockey. Having said that, we feel that by us wearing a pride jersey it goes against our Christian beliefs.

"We hope you can respect this statement, we will not be speaking any further on this matter and would like to continue to focus on the game and helping the Florida Panthers win the Stanley Cup."

Their decision to not wear Pride Night warmup sweaters is the latest development in what has become one of the most polarizing topics in the NHL this season. On Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that the Chicago Blackhawks would not wear Pride-themed warmup sweaters before their Sunday home game against the Vancouver Canucks because of security concerns involving a Russian law that expands restrictions on activities seen as promoting LGTBQIA+ rights in the nation.

"I can understand [why people are upset] when things are announced one way and then changed," Blackhawks defenseman Connor Murphy told the Chicago Sun-Times on Thursday. "But I hope that people understand we all support them. Whether it's someone in the gay community or someone in any other community ... we hope that everyone feels welcome in our arenas and watching us and even part of the game and wanting to play. That's the big message we hope can stay true."

Last Saturday, San Jose Sharks goaltender James Reimer sat out warmups when the team held its Pride Night. Reimer also cited his religious beliefs and stated, "I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions which are based on the Bible, the highest authority in my life. I strongly believe that every person has value and worth and the LGTBQIA+ community, like all others, should be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey."

Back in January, Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov didn't participate in pregame skate, also citing his religious beliefs. Provorov said he wanted "to stay true to myself and my religion," which he identified as Russian Orthodox.

The Minnesota Wild and the New York Rangers were also among the teams that indicated they would wear special jerseys for their Pride Nights this season only to then opt out of wearing them before their games. The Wild announced a charity auction for their sweaters, while the Rangers sent an announcement to their season-ticket holders.