The NHL sent a memo to teams last week clarifying what players can and cannot do as part of theme celebrations this season, including a ban on the use of rainbow-coloured stick tape for the Pride nights that have become a hot-button issue in hockey.
The updated guidance reaffirms on-ice player uniforms and gear for games, warm-ups and official team practices cannot be altered to reflect theme nights, including Pride, Hockey Fights Cancer or military appreciation celebrations. Players can voluntarily participate in themed celebrations off the ice.
Deputy NHL Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed to The Associated Press on Tuesday, a few hours before the season opened with a trio of games, that the league sent the updated memo, which was first reported by ESPN.
The You Can Play Project, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ participation in sports and has partnered with the NHL for the past decade, ripped the league by saying, “If Hockey is for Everyone, this is not the way forward.”
“It is now clear that the NHL is stepping back from its long-standing commitment to inclusion, and continuing to unravel all of its one-time industry-leading work on 2SLGBTQ+ belonging,” the YCP Project said in a statement. “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.”
The NHL decided in June not to allow teams to wear any theme jerseys for warm-ups after a handful of players opted out of those situations during Pride night last season. The league has said players opting out of Pride nights served as a distraction to the work its teams were doing in the community.
“You know what our goals, our values and our intentions are across the league, whether it’s at the league level or at the club level,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said in February during All-Star Weekend festivities. “But we also have to respect some individual choice, and some people are more comfortable embracing themselves in causes than others. And part of being diverse and welcoming is understanding those differences.”
Philadelphia’s Ivan Provorov was the first player to decide not to take part in warm-ups when the Flyers wore rainbow-coloured jerseys before their Pride night game in January, citing his Russian Orthodox religion. Six other players followed for a variety of reasons — fellow Russians Ilya Lyubushkin, Denis Gurianov and Andrei Kuzmenko and Canadians James Reimer and Eric and Marc Staal — and individual teams including the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks decided not to have any players wear Pride jerseys in warm-up.
“The Pride Tape team is extremely disappointed by the NHL’s decision,” the makers of Pride Tape said in a statement. “Despite this setback, we are encouraged for what lies ahead based on our recent conversations from every corner of the sport.”
Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly told reporters in Toronto he wished players had the right to do more and be more involved.
“I’m going to continue to be involved in the community and offer support to those communities and those groups that want that (and) need that,” Rielly said.
Meanwhile, Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and defenceman Josh Morrissey both said they haven’t had the chance to review the changes from the league yet.
“I do know that this organization takes great care in wanting to be inclusive and the theme nights,” Cheveldayoff told reporters in Winnipeg. “What the specifics of the memos are, I really can’t speak to. I don’t really have that yet.
“I’ll have to obviously get briefed on that a little bit more. But I do know that the commitment from an organization standpoint is we’ll do everything we possibly can.”
“It’s always been something that I’ve tried to embrace, the different theme nights and, obviously, the inclusivity around the game of hockey,” Morrissey said. “Try and have everyone feel comfortable to either play or watch or be a part of what I think is the greatest game on earth … So that won’t change, I guess, as a goal personally to try to grow the game, regardless of what the memo says.”