If hockey is supposed to be for everyone, the NHL is doing a poor job of showing it.
In a remarkable step backwards, the league officially prohibited players from using Pride Tape on the ice, doubling down on a previous ban on all specialty warmup jerseys. Though the NHL and NHLPA alike staunchly defended the decisions of players who chose not to wear Pride jerseys last season, that same on-ice freedom to choose will not be granted to players wishing to signal to LGBTQ+ players and fans that they are welcome in the game.
NHL players, as a rule, aren’t known for defying the league’s marching orders. Still, some players from around the league have openly criticized the NHL’s decision and stated their desire to continue wearing the tape.
Flyers alternate captain Scott Laughton went one step further, suggesting that he’d continue to use Pride Tape despite the ban. If the NHL doesn’t back down, more players should follow his lead.
“You’ll probably see me with the Pride Tape on that night anyway,” Laughton said Monday, per PHLY Sports’ Charlier O’Connor. “If they want to say something, they can.”
Minnesota Wild defenseman Jon Merrill could also flout the new ruling, he told The Athletic’s Joe Smith.
“If anyone does it, what is the league going to do?” he said. “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.
“You don’t want to be a distraction for the team, but I can’t see how that would be a distraction for anyone if you wear the tape for 15 minutes of warmups. It just doesn’t make sense to me.”
Since the Edmonton Oilers became the first NHL team to use Pride Tape in a 2016 skills competition, rainbow-wrapped sticks have not only delivered a message of inclusion but also raised significant funds for charity. In 2022 alone, the Capitals raised more than $25,000 for DC LGBTQ+ charity SMYAL, coming in large part from the sale of taped sticks.
An NHL official told ESPN that the league had long allowed Pride Tape as an exception to the rule allowing only black and white tape (though the publicly-available rulebook states that players can use “adhesive tape of any color”).
Still, choosing to break the NHL’s uniform rules wouldn’t be unheard of. Connor Bedard and fellow Blackhawks rookie Kevin Korchinski took their rookie laps without helmets during warmups on Tuesday, something prohibited for all players entering the league since 2019-20. For players making hundreds of thousands of dollars (or more), risking a fine to continue using Pride Tape could both send a valuable message to fans and pressure the NHL to rescind their policies.
At least some teams are pushing back. Pride Tape co-founder Jeff McLean told The Athletic that several clubs have already reached out, with one unnamed franchise purchasing an entire case of tape.
“I don’t think the door is closed. We’ve certainly had players wanting to order Pride Tape and telling us they’re going to look for ways to use it themselves,” said Dr. Kristopher Wells, Pride Tape’s other co-founder. “They’re not going to let the NHL deter them from showing support.”
Obviously, the NHL’s homophobia problem goes deeper than rainbow tape. The league has never had an out player — Nashville Predators prospect Luke Prokop became the first openly gay player under NHL contract in just 2021. Stories like those of former OHL player Brock McGillis show the devastating toll homophobia can take on young players. And public displays of support mean nothing if they’re not followed up by real action.
Still, Pride Tape has served as a valuable, if small, gesture to marginalized fans in a sport that has long excluded them. The NHL sided with a minority of players and a fear that measures meant to include would instead distract. Now, players have the opportunity to make a different choice.
Headline photo: Katie Adler/RMNB
RMNB is not associated with the Washington Capitals; Monumental Sports, the NHL, or its properties. Not even a little bit.
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