TORONTO, ON - APRIL 14: With pride tape on his stick, Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs prepares to face the Washington Capitals during the first period at the Scotiabank Arena on April 14, 2022 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. | Photo by Andrew Lahodynskyj/NHLI via Getty Images

The NHL’s decree that players and teams are no longer allowed to wear rainbow-colored Pride jerseys to celebrate the LGBTQ community was bad enough.

Now comes word that the league front office has sent all 32 teams a series of memos that include alleged “clarification” on this policy.

On top of this — and most egregious of all — Outsports has learned that the NHL has issued a league-wide ban of Pride Tape on the ice with the players during warm-ups, games and even practices. A league spokesperson has confirmed this change in policy with Outsports.

This is, as far as Outsports is aware, the most stifling, anti-LGBTQ policy any pro sports league in North America has ever issued.

The message the NHL is sending: Hockey is not for everyone.

And people in and outside of hockey are outraged.

In just 10 months, years of important, positive advancements in the NHL and men’s hockey at large have been eclipsed by disastrous choices marginalizing or outright erasing the LGBTQ community.

The only North American league to never have a current or former player or coach come out publicly — the NHL — has, in 2023, decided to change policy to bar what has become an important element of LGBTQ support individual athletes in the league can demonstrate.

To recap, earlier this year seven NHL players reportedly refused to wear a rainbow jersey for game warm-ups, mostly saying it went against their religion. Others — particularly Russian players — reportedly expressed concern about retaliation from the Russian President for wearing a Pride jersey.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, and then the league front office, responded by banning said Pride rainbow jerseys from the NHL ice.

Central to the issues with the league’s recent memos extending these bans is this broad paragraph, below. While reports say the league may have walked this back a bit — “clarified” as they say — that they would send this to all NHL teams in the first place is destructive:

“Players shall not be put in the position of having to demonstrate (or where they may be appearing to demonstrate) personal support for any Special Initiatives. A factor that may be considered in this regard includes, for example, whether a Player (or Players) is required to be in close proximity to any groups or individuals visibly or otherwise clearly associated with such Special Initiative(s).”

Let me clarify: “Players shall not be… required to be in close proximity to any individuals clearly associated with such Special Initiative(s)” like Pride and the LGBTQ community.

This goes way beyond warm-up jerseys.

This tells teams they had better be careful about how they celebrate any community — including the LGBTQ community — what organizations and individuals the team hosts in and around the ice, and that they’d better think twice about having any players around them.

Can a team have a drag queen, or a gay men’s chorus, sing the National Anthem, with players on the ice? Can a team now be barred from requiring players be on the ice for the singing of said National Anthem?

At least one sports writer on X called it a “disgrace”:

Yet the most egregious — even petty — rejection of the LGBTQ community by the NHL this offseason is a new league-wide ban of Pride Tape on the ice.

The league has told the organization behind Pride Tape — the rainbow tape that has been used by several NHL players on their sticks during warm-ups to signify their support for the LGBTQ community — that no player this season will be allowed to use the tape on their stick during warm-ups, games or even practices.

Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers skates with Pride tape during warm ups before the game against the Vegas Golden Knights on March 25, 2023, at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Canada

While the jersey issue is a team-wide concern affecting every player, the use of the Pride Tape has always been an individual choice.

Now the NHL has banned even that.

Disgraceful. Despicable. Outrageous. Petty.

Contributing to that, the NHL was one of only two major pro sports leagues in North America to never change their X avatar to a rainbow during 2023’s Pride Month (the other was the NFL). In addition, Outsports cannot find a single LGBTQ-supportive original tweet from the NHL’s league X account during Pride Month.

The NHL seems to be marking a frankly frightening next chapter in its history.

What if a homophobic teammate of a gay player didn’t want to be seen as supporting the LGBTQ community on the ice by playing with said gay teammate? Can they demand and orchestrate a trade?

What if the gay player is an opponent on the ice? Can they refuse to play, lest they be seen supporting homosexuality by competing against the athlete? We’ve seen athletes refuse to compete against other teams because of the make-up of said team.

The NHL has a strong years-long history of outreach to the LGBTQ community, through Pride Nights, a partnership with the You Can Play project and others. The NHL has a decade of mostly good will to reflect on.

Now, the league is starting a new chapter.

How will LGBTQ fans and organizations react to this news? Don’t be surprised to see calls for boycotts.

I feel for the Burke family, who have worked so hard to build LGBTQ inclusion in hockey.

This new policy didn’t take hold because athletes were publicly condemning Black History Night or Military Appreciation Night. It came about when seven NHL players publicly refused to wear a rainbow in a warm-up.

That’s 1% of the NHL players.

League officials think that 1% represents a far larger portion of their fanbase than LGBTQ people. As NHL TV ratings continue a slow drip — with well under a half-million viewers average in the United States per game — league officials are desperate to keep any eyeballs they can.

It’s basic math.

The truth is, the NHL should have never gotten here. The league should have given better guidance to teams on how to implement Pride warm-up jerseys last season to avoid all of this.

After a 2022 season that saw the Tampa Bay Rays and MLB embroiled in a Pride uniform issue, that is a complete failure by Bettman and his NHL deputies.

Erik Braverman and the Los Angeles Dodgers — in the midst of controversy and a homophobic backlash last spring — were able to convince all their players, all the San Francisco Giants players, and all of the umpires to wear a Pride rainbow cap throughout their Pride game.

They smartly didn’t announce the 2023 rainbow-caps initiative ahead of time and executed it flawlessly.

That Bettman and his NHL front-office team didn’t figure this out a year ago and provide proper guidance about teams wearing Pride jerseys is the root of this entire mess.

And unlike the Dodgers, who realized a mistake last May and corrected it, the NHL isn’t backing down on their mistakes, they’re doubling down on them.

While Pride Nights are permitted at NHL games this season, the league seems to be wagging its finger and warning teams to not go too far.

So what will happen when a player refuses to come out for the National Anthem because it’s a drag queen or a gay men’s choir singing? You can probably guess a league memo is likely forthcoming about banning the LGBTQ community from singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” or “Oh Canada” as well.

NHL officials have now very publicly put their LGBTQ-inclusion efforts in reverse.