Opinion: York Stepped Up Big For Pride, Even When Some Players Didn’t
When York United marched onto the pitch kits specially made for the club’s Pride Night, it did so without five players who had opted out of wearing the symbolic gesture.
“We acknowledge the right for any player to express their individual beliefs by choosing not to wear the jersey,” read a club statement. “They will not be included in tonight’s roster.”
It’s a classy response to a sticky situation that the likes of the NHL or the Blue Jays could only dream of: actually having the stones to drop players who don’t believe in the club’s cornerstone message of unity. The statement continued to say that the club remains committed to supporting the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, with thee pride initiatives set to benefit PFlag York Region, The ArQuives, and The 519.
As an organization, York United gets full credit: the ensured their support for the community would not be tokenism, but rather deep and meaningful discussions and contributions. They curated an entire Pride kit for the night and, when faced by the reality that nearly one fifth of the club’s small roster would not wear it, simply dropped those players in a match against last year’s regular season champions.
They won the match, by the way.
Still, it’s disappointing that the five players who were listed as unavailable rather than injured – Brian Wright, Oussama Alou, Molham Babouli, Brem Soumaoro, and Markiyan Voytsekhovskyy – do not believe that a statement of inclusiveness is something they wanted to do. It is my belief that you either truly respect people or you don’t.
Outside of the CPL, many Christian athletes who have refused to wear a rainbow have released statements saying that while they won’t wear a pride jersey, they also don’t judge the queer community (beyond, evidently, believing they will go to hell). Beyond sounding like an oxymoron, it’s a nothing statement – word spaghetti scrambled together by a PR chef.
Obviously, this isn’t a blanket Christian perspective either – it’s just a good example of a common opt-out.
CPL players don’t have that luxury of a PR specialist, so it’s no surprise that none of absent players – Christian or not- have offered any comment yet. Should one eventually come, they have already casted judgement through purposeful inaction. The real statement was already made.
It is their right to die on this hill – you can’t force a player to dress in a kit if they don’t believe the 2SLGBTQIA+ community is one worth honouring – but I don’t have to cover those players either. If they don’t believe an entire demographic of people are worthy of love and respect just because of who they love, that’s appalling. People who think that are not worth my time. Full stop.
The Canadian Premier League operates on the motto ‘We Are Many, We Are One’, and it’s sad to see that even in 2023 this is a lofty idealism rather than truth. Pride aims to help the self-affirmation, dignity, and equity of the 2SLGBTQ+ community. York United is doing this in spades, even when not all of its playing roster believe that the queer community is worthy of acceptance – that’s admirable of the club.
The league that York United calls home has certainly helped push messages of unity, respect, and recognition without issue before, with Black Lives Matters and Every Child Matters having been spotlighted by pre-match team shirts, flags, and community involvement aplenty. Pride is no stranger to this support either, having featured with league initiatives annually – this was just the first time we’ve seen a pride kit lead to players backing out in the CPL.
Next week will see York United return to action with the five players who sat out for Pride Night, all of whom saw game time in Winnipeg last week. Most of them are good players at this level, and they’ll get plenty of minutes in a York United kit that doesn’t feature a rainbow – and that is okay, too. They’ve worn those kits before.
But now they’ll certainly look different to me.