TL;DR: The NHL has banned the use of rainbow Pride tape on hockey sticks, citing rules for themed nights; but it’s created a major backlash amongst both NHL fans and players who argue that this marks a step backwards in inclusivity for the league. It marks a broader issue of sports washing and sidelining LGBTQIA+ rights to appease bigoted views.
Last week, a memo was sent to team members in the NHL intended to clarify what can and can’t be used as part of themed celebrations this season - CBC
In it, the NHL announced that on-ice players' uniforms and warm-up gear can no longer reflect theme nights. That means, alongside Pride tape, causes such as Hockey Fights Cancer can no longer be reflected on the ice.
This is not the first time the NHL has made a move like this. In June 2023, Pride jerseys were banned from warm-up sessions, with the argument made that there was too much focus on whether players were or weren’t wearing the jerseys - CBC
Openly gay NHL agent Bayne Pettinger said at the time:
“We talk about growing the game to have a more diverse fan base, and I just have a tough time agreeing that the decision to ban warmup jerseys is a step forward for inclusivity and sending the right message for a non-hockey fan.”
Just as that faced a backlash, so is this ban on Pride Tape, with many players and commentators saying it goes against the inclusivity and diversity the sport has been trying to achieve - NPR
What is Pride Tape?
Pride Tape was adopted seven years ago by the NHL to show solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community, with the tape wrapped around the hockey sticks.
It’s not dissimilar to Stonewall’s Rainbow Laces and Rainbow Armbands campaign used in the UK, mostly in football, but increasingly in other sports too.
Just as Rainbow Laces have become a widespread way of showing inclusion, Rainbow Tape has the same effect in the NHL.
The initiative is spearheaded by the Pride Tape group, which works across a number of stick-based sports, including Baseball and Lacrosse.
Players are not happy with the decision
Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Laughton, is one of many players who have spoken out - Allphly
“It’s not gonna affect the way I go about it. If they want to say something, they can. [...] I’ll use the tape - if I have to buy it myself, I will.”
There’s noise behind the scenes about this decision, too.
Pride Tape employees state there is a groundswell of support through back channels, with multiple players having the same attitude as Laughton. Pride Tape’s co-founder, Dr. Kristopher Wells, believes the NHL may well be forced to reverse this policy. He’s already been reported to have said players have reached out to order Pride Tape, telling the initiative they’re going to look for ways to use it themselves,”. - The Athletic.
Well’s believes there is a distinct generational gap between the NHL figures making this decision in the board-rooms and the younger players on the ice, who have grown up in an era of promoting inclusivity.
Analysis: This sits in a bigger picture of sports washing
At a time when it feels as though sportswashing is on the rise, with previously vocal LGBTQIA+ allies such as footballer Jordan Henderson’s move to the Saudi League, the actions and statements from players in the NHL are a piece of distinct positivity for queer sports fans.
Queer people belong in and should feel included in sports, and the backlash against banning Pride Tape shows that this sentiment is widely felt.
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