Hey, NHL, I Thought Hockey Was For Everyone

Reflecting on the NHL’s pride tape ban

Avery Nowicki // Communities Editor
Jasmin Linton (She/Her) // Illustrator 

Pride tape has existed in the NHL since 2016, though it first sparked controversy in 2022, after some players chose not to wear pride symbols on the ice, due to the league’s decision to ban all symbols for social causes from the ice.

As a result of the ban, the NHL handbook now states: “Player gear cannot be altered to reflect theme nights, including pride, cancer, or military appreciation. Players can voluntarily participate in themed events off the ice.” NHL officials had stated that they would continue to support pride.

As justification for the ban, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly claimed, “players felt uncomfortable supporting certain causes, and we didn’t want our players to be put in that situation going forward.”

When asked about the ban, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman told Sportsnet, “I’ve suggested it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys in warmups because it’s distracting. All of our clubs – in some form or another – host nights in honor for various groups or causes. We’d rather those continue to get appropriate support and not be a distraction”. Though for many this begged the question, a distraction to who? 

During the Toronto Maple Leafs 2023 pride night, pride jerseys were not worn during warmup, though some players wore small pride symbols on their helmets. Russian goalie IIya Samsonov did not wear one. Sansonov gave no official statement on the matter. 

In 2023, The Toronto Star reported that Canadian-born NHL players Eric and Marc Staal chose to sit out for warmups against the Leafs due to the pride controversy. When asked, the brothers stated “after many thoughts, prayers, and discussions we have chosen not to wear a pride jersey tonight” stating that while they believe hockey is for everyone as the NHL’s slogan proclaims, wearing the pride symbols go against their Christianity. 

During the 2023 Vancouver Canucks’ pride night, Andrei Kuzmenko chose not to wear the pride jersey or attend the pre-game warmup. Canucks head coach Rick Tochett said “family reasons were behind Kuzmenko’s choice.” Brennan Roy-Bertin, vice president of The Cutting Edges Hockey Club stated, “there are geopolitical reasons overseas that are starting to infringe on what’s going on here in our own backyards.” He stated that Kuzmenko’s decision was individual and didn’t reflect the views of the Canucks. Last year, when Allison Dunne, co-executive director of Vancouver Pride Society was asked about the circumstances surrounding the Canucks pride night, she said “For Pride night, we are just really looking forward to our presence being there and for us to be able to further celebrate the trans folks that make our community what it is. There is still a lot of work to be done, but I have compassion and empathy for those who aren’t there yet”.

Morgan Riley of the Toronto Maple Leafs stated that “As players and as people, we’re going to need to support those people. Whatever statement that was made is fine, but as players we’re going to continue to offer support and be allies. We want to be a part of this community.”

The co-founder of Pride Tape, Kristopher Wells stated that he found the ban to be “very disappointing from the NHL,” saying, “it was invented for players to signal their support without having to say any words”. 

In regards to the pride tape ban, NHL player Connor McDavid told reporters, “is it something that I’d like to see put back into place one day? Certainly”.

David Palumbo, of You Can Play Project, stated: “Unfortunately, I can’t sit here and tell you that this [ban] is because someone has expressed concern over using camouflage tape to support for military families, or refuses to wear a hockey fights cancer jersey.” 

Brian Burke, former NHL executive and Canucks GM, said in an interview, “When pride sweaters were banned, I didn’t accept that but I understood that some players didn’t want to wear them, but the banning of pride tape to me makes no sense.” When asked about the NHL’s intention, Burke said “To me it’s a fight they didn’t need and didn’t want. Gary Bettman and the NHL have been wonderful supporters of LGBTQ+ causes. Our audience certainly supports this, and our pride events have been met with great enthusiasm. Military appreciation night, and hockey fights cancer night are causes that people generally support, but the disparity here is that no one called them up and said ‘we’ve got to get rid of those military appreciation nights.’”

While the Canucks chose to follow the ban while it was in action, they will continue to host pride night in the 2023/2024 season, with a pride night game on Jan. 18, 2024 against the Arizona Coyotes, a team now infamous for defenseman Travis Dermott’s decision to defy the ban and wear pride tape during a game. This action ultimately led to the ban’s reversal on Oct. 24, 2023. 

The NHL released an official statement saying, “After consultation with the NHL Players Association and the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition, players will now have the option to voluntarily represent social causes with their stick tape throughout the season.” Although stick tape is back in, themed jersey’s are not, meaning that although LGBTQIA+ fans can see their support on the ice, and players who chose not to participate have that freedom, some touchy subjects are still being swept under the rug.

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