After backlash from LGBTQ+ media and advocates earlier this year for walking back on players wearing Pride warmup jerseys, the National Hockey League is going even further. The NHL, which has been pushing a “Hockey is for everyone” campaign, released a memo last week with updates on its popular theme nights, including Pride night.
According to ESPN and other media sources, the memo clarifies that warmups, official uniforms and even sticks cannot be altered to participate along with any speciality theme night. This includes using Pride Tape, the rainbow-colored tape many team members have used for the past six years to show their support for the community.
Pride Tape took to Instagram to share their frustration with the decision. The statement read, “The Pride Tape team is extremely disappointed by the NHL’s decision to eliminate Pride Tape from any league on-ice activities. The league has used language in recent days which would prohibit the tape from any proximity to NHL Hockey. We hope the league – and the teams – will again show commitment to this important symbol of combating homophobia. Many of the players themselves have been exceptional advocates for the tape.”
You Can Play Project, an LGBTQ+ athlete organization that has partnered with the NHL for years, also released a statement today.
“It is now clear that the NHL is stepping back from its longstanding commitment to inclusion, and continuing to unravel all of its one-time industry-leading work on 2SLGBTQ+ belonging,” the statement reads. “We are now at a point where all the progress made, and relationships established with our community, is in jeopardy. Making decisions to eradicate our visibility in hockey — by eliminating symbols like jerseys and now Pride Tape — immediately stunts the impact of bringing in more diverse fans and players into the sport.”
While players can still participate in after-hours Pride celebrations, this new policy strips away any publically professional support for Pride that team members can show. This situation is becoming all too familiar with sports teams and corporations attempting to diffuse conservative backlash to LGBTQ+ support.
In May, the Los Angeles Dodgers invited, then uninvited, then reinvited the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence to be honored at their Pride night. The event then attracted hundreds of protesters. After Target’s Pride collection was accused of grooming children, the company pulled many items from shelves or refused to let people purchase items at the register.
What does this mean for future NHL Pride nights? NHL commissioner Gary Bettman appeared on ESPN Radio’s “UnSportsmanLike” to share his thoughts that this new policy has been misunderstood and that the NHL remains committed to theme nights like Pride night.
“What happened last year was that the issue of who wanted to wear a particular uniform on a particular night overshadowed everything that our clubs were doing,” said Bettman. “So what we said, instead of having that distraction and having our players have to decide whether or not they wanted to do something or not do something and be singled out, we said, ‘Let’s not touch that.”
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