The National Hockey League confirmed in a short statement on its website on Oct. 24 that it has reversed a decision earlier this month to prohibit its players from placing tape on their hockey sticks representing social causes, including rainbow-colored Pride tape in support of the LGBTQ community.
The reversal by the NHL came after a groundswell of opposition surfaced opposing the ban from a wide range of LGBTQ and LGBTQ supportive sports organizations, as well as from some NHL team hockey players. The national LGBTQ advocacy organization GLAAD was among the organizations speaking out against the Pride tape ban.
“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,” the NHL said in its statement.
The LGBTQ sports publication Outsports, which was the first to break the story about the NHL ban on the Pride tape and other cause-oriented tape displays used by NHL players, has pointed out that the use of the tape has always been a voluntary decision by the players.
At the time it adopted the ban on Pride tape and tape denoting other social causes, the NHL said it was responding to concerns raised by some players who objected to what they believed was the appearance that they were supporting causes they did not support. Some said they objected to the Pride tape on religious grounds.
Several sports publications, including Hooked On Hockey Magazine and Daily Hockey Dose, reported that Washington Capitals star player Alex Ovechkin was among a few Russian players who raised objections to the display of Pride tape. Ovechkin was also reportedly among the players who objected to players wearing Pride-colored jerseys during practice sessions.
Hooked On Hockey reports that some of the Russian players, who have family members living in Russia, were fearful that their family members could be persecuted, and the players might be detained if they visit their families in Russia under the anti-gay laws adopted under the authoritarian rule of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Earlier this year, the NHL also adopted a policy banning players from wearing the rainbow-colored Pride jerseys during warm-up sessions on the ice. The Pride jerseys were never worn during games.
The NHL did not object to teams continuing to have the Pride jerseys made and sold, with players autographing the jerseys. Some teams have sold the jerseys in auctions to raise money for LGBTQ charities.
Outsports editor and publisher Cyd Zeigler said the NHL’s decision to ban the Pride tape was completely unjustified, calling it “the most stifling, anti-LGBTQ policy any pro sports league in North America has ever issued.”
Zeigler told the Blade the policy was unjustified, among other things, because the players were the ones who decided whether to place the Pride tape on their hockey sticks.
“No one ever complained that someone didn’t do it. So, this is the league just overreacting to a handful of Russian players who didn’t like it,” Zeigler said prior to the NHL decision to reverse the policy. “I think that’s what happened. They kowtowed to Vladimir Putin and to the Russians.”
The NHL said from the start that the ban on Pride jerseys and Pride tape would not change its policy of supporting NHL teams that have been holding annual Pride Night Out games in support of the LGBTQ community. All 32 NHL teams, including the Washington Capitals, have hosted Pride Nights or “Hockey is for Everyone” nights in recent years.
Other media reports had surfaced that several players on different teams had indicated plans to defy the now-rescinded NHL policy by displaying Pride tape on their sticks in upcoming games, a development that would place the NHL in the difficult position of deciding whether to penalize those players with a fine or possible suspension from playing.
CBS News reports that Travis Dermott, a player on the Arizona Coyotes hockey team, became the first player to defy the NHL policy banning Pride tape on Oct. 21 when he placed the tape on the shaft of his stick in his team’s game against the Anaheim Ducks.
In response to a question from the Washington Blade submitted prior to the NHL’s decision to reverse its ban on Pride tape, a spokesperson for the Washington Capitals did not say whether the Capitals would comply with the Pride tape ban or penalize their players for defying the ban. But the spokesperson, Sergey Kocharov, said the Capitals remain strongly supportive of the LGBTQ community.
“The Capitals stand proudly with and support the LGBTQ+ community,” he said in a statement. “We strive to create and cultivate an inclusive atmosphere for all our players, staff, and fans and are committed to fostering an environment that welcomes all."
“Although all players are free to decide on their level of involvement and engagement on Pride Night, and their efforts may vary from season to season, our commitment in this space won’t waiver,” his statement continues. “Everyone is treated with respect and dignity regardless of their sexual orientation or identity, and we will continue to advocate for full LGBTQ+ equality.”
In recent years, the Capitals have entered a small Capitals float in the D.C. Capital Pride Parade. Miguel Ayala, president of Team DC, the local LGBTQ sports organization that helps organize Pride Night Out events with D.C. professional sports teams, said the Capitals have scheduled the next Pride Night Out at the Capitals for March 20.
Ayala told the Blade that while Team DC was disappointed over the NHL decision to ban Pride tape and Pride jerseys, the organization planned to continue to work with the Nationals on the Pride Night Out event.
“The NHL has listened to its loyal fans, hardworking team players, and trusted community members and made the decision to reverse the unnecessary and hurtful policy that banned support of Pride and LGBTQ people,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president and CEO of the LGBTQ advocacy group GLAAD in an Oct. 24 statement.
“The NHL has been a longtime supporter of a number of community causes and inclusion, and this decision is reflective of its values which align with the majority of those who follow hockey,” Ellis added.
Washington Blade courtesy of the National LGBTQ Media Association.