May 24, 2024

The makers of Pride Tape are “extremely disappointed” by the NHL’s decision to ban players from using the rainbow-colored stick tape in support of the LGBTQ+ community this season.

“The league has used language in recent days that would prohibit the tape from any proximity to NHL hockey. We hope the league — and teams — will again show commitment to this important symbol of combating homophobia,” Pride Tape said in a statement.

The NHL announced in June that teams were no longer allowed to wear “specialty” jerseys during warmups, practices or games. The unilateral ban followed a season in which several players refused to take part in warmups when their teams wore Pride night jerseys. Defenseman Ivan Provorov, then of the Philadelphia Flyers, was the first player to opt out in January, citing his Russian Orthodox religion. Because of these objections, individual teams, including the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks, decided not to have any players wear Pride jerseys in warmups.

The ban on “specialty” jerseys goes beyond Pride nights to include those supporting causes such as Hockey Fights Cancer and jerseys commemorating Black and Latino heritage months and military appreciation.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league’s new policy has been “terribly misunderstood and mis-portrayed” and that the NHL still encourages “specialty nights where groups of all different types are honored and consciousness is raised.” The NHL also donates funds to groups involved in the specialty nights.

“What happened last year was that the issue of who wanted to wear a particular uniform on a particular night overshadowed everything that our clubs were doing. So what we said, instead of having that distraction and having our players have to decide whether or not they wanted to do something or not do something and be singled out, we said, ‘Let’s not touch that,'” Bettman told ESPN Radio’s “UnSportsmanLike” on Tuesday.

“Anything around the game, anything off the ice. Our teams and our players are continuously encouraged to give back to the communities and get involved in the causes that they find important,” he continued. “But what I think we did is we took the distraction away. And so now the concentration can be on the causes that we want to highlight.”

Last week, the NHL sent a memo to teams that clarified what players were allowed to do during theme night celebrations this season. Although they can voluntarily participate in themed celebrations off the ice, the updated guidance reaffirmed that on-ice player uniforms and gear worn in warmups, official team practices and games cannot be altered to reflect “specialty” theme nights.

An NHL spokesperson told ESPN that Pride tape had been allowed for years as an exception to its stick tape restrictions, which otherwise would allow players to use only black or white tape. The league said the current ban on Pride tape was to prevent teams and players from using it as an “end around” to violate the new uniform policy.

Stickers and ribbons are also banned from player uniforms, although coaches are allowed to wear ribbons.

Like the game-worn theme night jerseys, NHL players’ sticks wrapped with Pride tape were auctioned off by teams to raise money for charity. Depending on the player, a game-worn autographed jersey could fetch well over $1,500. An autographed Pride tape stick from a player could range anywhere from $600 to $1,000.

Jeff McLean, a co-founder of Pride Tape, said proceeds of the auctions would benefit You Can Play, the NHL’s longtime social activism partner; would help local LGBTQ+ charities in many NHL cities; and would be used to fund the donation of Pride Tape to hockey organizations around the world.

Both McLean and the NHL said their relationship will continue despite the player tape ban. The NHL has helped ship Pride Tape to different hockey teams and leagues. Pride Tape expects to have a presence at Pride night events around the league this season.

McLean, who was informed of the ban last week, praised the league’s role in growing the initiative. “Pride Tape would not exist without the NHL,” he said.

Pride Tape was launched six years ago as a symbolic way for players to show their support of the LGBTQ+ community. NHL stars such as Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers and Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils participated in the effort.

“I’ve expressed disappointment in not being able to wear the various jersey or the tapes … whether that’s Pride tape or pink tape,” McDavid said Tuesday.

“Is it something that I’d like to see back into place one day? Certainly,” McDavid added.

Ironically, McLean said his organization chose stick tape because it “didn’t want to have something that players had to do” as a team mandate to support the LGBTQ+ community.

“We knew it wouldn’t be accepted by everyone, but it was a way for there to be personal expression by players,” said McLean, who has also worked with the Premier Lacrosse League, baseball and softball leagues, and most recently a rugby league on Pride tape initiatives. “What we learned about the tape is that it was a personal choice by players.”

McLean said he has gotten no indication that the NHL might reconsider the ban, which was met with widespread pushback after Outsports broke the story Monday.

“It’s really weird, but I’m actually optimistic about this,” McLean said. “When the Provorov thing happened, we had our biggest 48 hours afterward. There are so many people who care.”

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