It’s Not About a Shirt

First Ivan Provorov and now James Reimer. The task was simple: wear a pride jersey during warmups as part of an organizational statement that supports the LGBTQIA+ community and makes them feel welcome within the hockey community, a community that has a track record of less-than-tolerant attitudes up to the present day. I’d argue ice hockey needed to make a statement like this far more than other sports, but that’s a separate point. Today we are focused on Reimer’s decision not to wear the jersey.

And that sets off a firestorm among leftists who think he should wear the jersey and conservatives with their barrage of defences for why he was within his rights not to wear it.

What annoys me the most about the framing of the debate by people on both sides, but especially the conservative side, is that it’s about the shirt. “You can’t force someone to wear a shirt.” I agree. I know that to some people that sounds contrary to my argument that Reimer is wrong, but it’s not about a shirt.

The problem is with the why. After deciding not to wear the jersey, Reimer issued a statement via the San Jose Sharks:

Under the umbrella of the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone initiative, the San Jose Sharks have chosen to wear jerseys in support of the LGBTQIA+ community tonight.
For all 13 years of my NHL career, I have been a Christian. Not just in title, but in how I choose to live my life daily. I have a personal faith in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for my sins and, in response, asks me to love everyone and follow him. I have no hate in my heart for anyone, and I have always strived to treat everyone that I encounter with respect and kindness.
In this specific instance, 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 LGBTQIA+ community, like all others, should be welcomed in all aspects of the game of hockey.

In the second and fourth paragraphs of the statement, Reimer does a terrific job of expression his personal views. The problem is the third paragraph, which contradicts the rest. While he may indeed strive to treat everyone that he encounters with respect and kindness, and will he may indeed believe every person has value and worth and should be welcomed in all aspects of the game, those statements sandwich, “But LGBTQIA+ is not something I can endorse because of the Bible.”

That’s the problem. Not the shirt. What Reimer announces in the third paragraph of his statement is, “I mean, I don’t necessarily have a problem with that community, but I am a Christian and they’ve instructed me to be not okay with it.”

Because here’s another important aspect of this: LGBTQIA+ is not an ideology, not matter how much conservatives like to argue that it is. It’s an identity. One can say, “I’m heterosexual” all day long, but if that person is attracted to people outside the (binary sense) of sex, then they aren’t.

In other words, “I am choosing not to endorse something that is counter to my personal convictions” in the sense makes as much sense as, “Sorry, I cannot endorse people with red hair.” Yes, religious folks can make the argument that homosexual people are fine and deserving of love, but the act of homosexual sex is a sin to try and compartmentalize, but the person is still gay. Reducing everything to sex acts and genitalia is a big part of the problem, especially as that is not something done with heterosexual people.

Case in point, Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation that “only wants to protect children from sexuality indoctrination” – a position that conveniently overlooks that heteronormativity is still being taught. It’s not about removing the concept of sex, gender, and sexuality from a child’s life, it’s about removing certain immutable realities of it from their teaching.

Reimer is completely free to have zero interest in LGBTQIA+ matters. He’s a heterosexual male who finds himself attracted to women and believes marriage is a sacred thing between a man and a woman. All of that is fine. What people cannot do is impose that onto other people.

Is Reimer doing that by not wearing a shirt? Of course not. It’s a piece of fabric. The problem is the why. In being one of the few who opted not to wear the jersey, it invites the question, “Why aren’t you wearing it?” Reimer answered. His answer was, “I cannot endorse something counter to my personal convictions.”

It has nothing to do with his personal convictions. Wearing a rainbow does not make a person gay or “endorse gay” things. The whole point was, “We want to send the unified message (one that Reimer purportedly supports) that LGBTQIA+ people are welcome in all aspects of the game.” While Reimer, in paragraphs two and four says he supports this, his actions and the reasoning behind it, paragraph three, is precisely the opposite message. “Sorry, I cannot endorse this.”

The reactions raised other questions of varying intelligence.

Isn’t it bigotry to slam his Christian ideology?

No, because what is “on trial” here is not his Christian ideology. It’s that he “cannot endorse LGBTQIA+ people” – whatever that actually means. Again, they are people who exist. There is nothing to endorse or not endorse about it. He’s free to be a Christian; he’s not free to cast a group of people as lesser.

What if people were asked to wear MAGA hats as a sign of welcoming to conservatives? You’d all have a fit.

Yes. Because massive parts of that MAGA ideology (that’s a choice, not an identity) are based on bigotry. People have a problem cosigning policies that are actively harmful to entire groups of people.

What about Islam?

This is one of my favourites that came up repeatedly. What about it? I mean, I understand the implication is that Islam can be as harsh or harsher towards the LGBTQIA+ community, but that’s also a problem. The whataboutism means nothing because, again, the problem isn’t the Christian faith here, it’s the bigotry towards the LGBTQIA+ community.

His body, his choice.

This comes up in a lot of debates where conservatives think they are being clever by turning around a pro-choice talking point. Sort of a two birds, one stone approach that completely fails to understand the point of “her body, her choice.” The point is not the shirt. Reimer actually is free to choose not to wear it because it’s his body. We can’t force him into a jersey. The problem is 1) the reason why he chose not to wear it rather than the not wearing it and 2) who the decision affects.

It comes up a lot in COVID vaccination conversations among anti-vaxxers who argue, “No one can force me to get a vaccination I don’t want.” That’s actually absolutely correct. No one can force you to get the vaccine. However, in being unvaccinated one now becomes a risk to everyone around them during a global pandemic, so society can set reasonable restrictions such as, “You cannot come into this space if you are unvaccinated.” One is still free to reject the vaccine, but it will come with consequences in public spaces.

Reimer is free not to wear the jersey. He didn’t wear the jersey. In doing so he sent a message to the LGBTQIA+ community and there are consequences for that.

It falls under this broader umbrella of, “Everyone has to conform to your opinion?” No. Reimer doesn’t share it. Lots of people don’t share it. Absolutely a lot of people would like Reimer to change his opinion just as many people would like Reimer to stand his ground.

What Reimer is seeing in the aftermath of his decision is, “My decision not to wear the jersey because the Bible says I cannot endorse LGBTQIA+” is many people received a clear message that he is not welcoming them. “Be LGBTQIA+, but in your own private space.” We literally cannot stop him from having that opinion. The response back can be, “Well, keep your Christian-motivated bigotry away from us then.” The response is fans saying, “Sorry, but I am choosing not to endorse someone who “can’t endorse” LQBTQIA+.”

Imagine the uproar if a hockey player choose not to wear a camouflage jersey as part of one of the Support for the Military games. People, many of whom are defending Reimer over this, would be furious that someone could put their personal conviction over supporting veterans and troops. What if that player’s reason was, “Sorry, I’m a Christian and that teaches me to be a pacifist. I am choosing not to wear something that I feel endorses violence.”

All of the arguments flip. Suddenly people defending Reimer are saying, “But you’re supporting the troops, not violence!” More to the point, anyone who currently or formerly served in the military might feel distinctly unwelcome by that player.

I would be arguing, in such a case, yes, the player should show support for the soldiers because the fact is that many are not there for violence but for civil service or, quite frankly, for lack of alternative. What is different about these two scenarios is, “Service member” is not an immutable characteristic and not one specifically targeted and disadvantaged by society (as the LGBTQIA+ community is). Yes, we treat veterans poorly in this country, but that’s only because the support for them, like many groups, is largely performative.

What is annoying is that part of the population conveniently lines up behind whichever side of the argument supports their position on the current version of the argument. Pride jersey? One group says, “It’s just a shirt” and the other says, “He’s allowed his personal conviction.” Camo jersey? Those two groups largely flip.

Because it’s not about the shirt. A very loud minority on either side will insist that it is, but it’s not. There is no principle behind the argument, just an opinion that “this group is okay” and “that group is not.” I don’t care if Reimer shows up for his next game wearing a cardigan in net instead of a Sharks jersey. What bothers me is that in making this decision he announced, “I don’t hate LGBTQIA+ folks, but I’m not going to endorse them.” Well, James, you weren’t asked to endorse anything. You were asked to wear a piece of fabric that said to a community, “You are welcome here and I respect you.” And he didn’t just decide not to wear the shirt; in doing so he had to tell them exactly why and the answer was bigotry.

One final thought: I’m not convincing anyone. This is an expression of opinion that people who agree with me will cosign and those who don’t will whine about on Twitter. One of the big ones is a debate about the use of “bigotry” as “anyone who doesn’t agree with me.”

Well, here it is in short:

bigotry /n/: obstinate or unreasonable attachment to a belief, opinion, or faction, in particular prejudice against a person or people on the basis of their membership of a particular group.

I don’t care that Reimer is a Christian when I’m not. I don’t believe in God and he does. That does not make Reimer a bigot. “I cannot endorse the LGBTQIA+” does. Reimer may not feel any hatred towards people in that community, but he has no problem displaying prejudice towards anyone based on their membership in that group.

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