NHL players are expressing their opposition to the league’s reactionary and misguided ban on Pride tape.
Now the question is, will actions follow their words?
Prior to the start of the 2023-24 season, which began Tuesday, the NHL sent out a memo clarifying its ban on players wearing speciality jerseys, including rainbow sweaters. Last season, seven players refused to wear Pride jerseys during warmups.
Despite representing a small minority of NHL players, commissioner Gary Bettman bowed to the homophobes.
On top of that, the NHL is barring players from putting Pride tape on their sticks, a practice that’s become fairly commonplace around the league.
Philadelphia Flyers alternate captain Scott Laughton spoke about the ridiculous policy Wednesday, and was the first player to indicate he’ll still put rainbow tape on his stick.
“You’ll probably see me with the Pride tape on that night anyway,” he said. “If they want to say something, they can.”
Tell him this queer fan has raised a fist up in solidarity with him. Well done. I hope he keeps speaking out and being visibly supportive
— x – whisperyvoices (@whisperyvoices) October 11, 2023
One of the league’s biggest stars, Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid, spoke out against the draconian edict this week as well.
“In terms of a league standpoint, is it something that I’d like to see put back into place one day? Certainly,” he told reporters.
McDavid also commented on the Pride jersey ban over the summer.
“I certainly can’t speak for every organization,“ he said. “I know in Edmonton, we were one of the first teams to use the Pride tape. We strongly feel hockey is for everybody, and that includes the Pride nights.”
Oh yes, there’s that slogan: “Hockey is for everyone.” The NHL has slapped the supposed mission statement on merchandise and billboards over the last decade.
But at this point, they’re just empty words. The league is refusing to support its LGBTQ+ fans in the wake of modest blowback.
That’s not nearly good enough.
Legendary executive Brian Burke, whose son Brandon was gay and played a leading role in the NHL’s initial LGBTQ+ outreach efforts, called the league’s bans a “serious and surprising setback.”
Calgary Flames forward Jonathan Huberdeau, the first player to put Pride tape on his stick, told reporters he disagrees with the ban as well.
“I think it’s not our decision. I fully supported it, and still support it,” he said. “If I get the chance to do it, I’ll do it.”
But when asked about whether he plans to defy the league, Huberdeau demurred.
“No, probably won’t. I don’t want to get into trouble,” he said.
And therein lies the next chapter of this story: will NHL players actually take on the league in a meaningful way? Laughton indicates he will. It would be a very powerful symbol if more players — McDavid, Huberdeau, Nashville Predators alternate captain Ryan McDonagh, Edmonton Oilers winger Zach Hyman and others — joined him.
Given how players often band together, that may very well happen. Then the NHL would be put in a really awkward place.
Banning Pride tape via memo is one thing. But would the league really discipline players for supporting LGBTQ+ people?
It’s a question the NHL will likely be forced to answer. Talk about a self-inflicted wound.