“Pride Tape ingrained part of hockey culture, spreading to other sports.” — Headline of 2021 article on NHL.com.
“The NHL has banned Pride Tape, creating its own ‘Don’t Say Gay’ policy on the ice.” — Headline last week on Outsports.
It’s been a week since the NHL announced its idiotic ban on players wrapping their hockey sticks with rainbow-colored Pride Tape to support LGBTQ inclusion in the sport and the league shows no signs of reversing the decision. So much for the 2021 article on the league’s website saying that use of the tape was an “ingrained part of hockey culture.” Homophobia might be more ingrained.
The tape ban came on the heels of the league banning players wearing special warmup jerseys for theme nights, including Pride jerseys for Pride Night.
In June, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said: “I suggested that it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys in warmups because it’s become a distraction and taking away from the fact that all of our clubs, in some form or another, host nights in honor of various groups or causes, and we’d rather those continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction.”
While I disagree with Bettman strongly on this point — Pride uniforms were a distraction for less than 1% of the players — I can at least see the argument. “Uniform” means uniform, so banning all themed jerseys is consistent. Plus, a team can have a kick-ass Pride night (see Toronto Maple Leafs) and never wear a special warmup jersey.
However, the ban on Pride Tape is exclusionary and takes away something that was always voluntary and non-controversial.
It contradicts the league’s message of player choice that it stressed when a few players opted out of wearing Pride practice jerseys. Players who don’t support LGBTQ rights were allowed to claim religion as a reason to not wear a jersey, yet a player who supports LGBTQ rights and wants to put some rainbow tape on his stick is banned. No wonder there has never been an out gay NHL player, active or retired.
“Banning Pride tape is the place where the NHL’s ham-handed backward crisis management crosses firmly into ideology. With the jerseys, you could at least accept that it was an argument that some players involved felt singled out, and that the NHL felt it was a distraction.
“Even if you thought there was room for negotiation, and ideally, for education, you could at least conceive of the errant thinking that led the league to that decision. But keeping Pride tape away from players is where this becomes not just a decision but an anti-LGBTQ lifestyle.”
Since the Pride Tape ban was first reported by Outsports, the story has been picked up by dozens of media outlets and the overwhelming (if not unanimous) response to the decision has been derision, mockery or both.
And far from extinguishing any controversy over Pride Nights, it reignited them, with some players saying they might ignore a ban.
“If anyone does it, what is the league going to do?” Minnesota Wild defenseman Jon Merrill told The Athletic. “Take me off the ice, give me a penalty? Then you look bad as a league. I don’t know. It’s upsetting. Just disappointing.”
Merrill’s comments were echoed by Scott Laughton, an alternate captain with the Philadelphia Flyers, who said, “you’ll probably see me with the Pride Tape on that night anyway. If [league officials] want to say something, they can.”
The controversy has also been good for the bottom line of the Edmonton-based company that makes the tape.
“Like controversy often does, it increases the tension and certainly sales of Pride Tape, including from National Hockey League teams who ordered more tape and NHL players themselves who directly ordered the tape,” Pride Tape co-creator Kris Wells told CBC News.
“And I would not be surprised to see players ignore the ban and use it themselves in games, and perhaps dare the NHL to fine them. We certainly heard from many fans who said they would all chip in to pay any fine that a player might receive because this is so important to them.”
In addition, a petition asking the NHL to rescind its ban is nearing its goal of 7,500 signees.
All this adds up to a mess of the NHL’s own creation and it could get worse. Team Pride Nights won’t start until later this year and it’s certain players will be asked before each one what they think of the Pride Tape ban and whether will they defy it.
The easiest and smartest out for the NHL is to admit it went too far and allow Pride Tape on sticks in pregame warmups for any player who wishes to use them. The alternative is more scrutiny on what is being seen as a slap in the face to LGBTQ people and a strike against inclusion in the sport.