The NHL Decides that Pride Tape is Banned

Oct 11, 2023


The NHLs theme nights are supposed to be to recognize others. On Military theme nights, to thank those who serve and have served, on Hockey Fights Cancer nights, to support the fight against a deadly disease, the Latino nights in California, and Pride nights, something nearly everyone can support. It’s a small gesture, that also provides items for auctions to charities, that could make a new fan or make an existing one more comfortable in attending games or wearing their merchandise. It’s seen as a cynical money grab by some, but there is no denying the impact it has had in making the league seem more inclusive. 


Which is why the Pride Tape ban, seems counter productive 

Last season, the NHL was all about “personal choice”. During a Pride night in Philadelphia, defenseman Ivan Provorov was the only player to not participate citing that that it was his choice “to stay true to myself and my religion,” which he identified as Russian Orthodox. He went on to say “I respect everyone. I respect everybody’s choices”. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with an individual making a choice, Provorov wasn’t the only one, a half-dozen others joined him over the season. Eric Staal was one, his reasoning was also religious, the only problem for him was, he had already worn a Pride jersey before. 


Before the Pride Night game in Philadelphia, the Flyers wore Pride-themed jerseys and used sticks wrapped in rainbow tape, both of which were auctioned off by Flyers Charities, with proceeds going toward their efforts to grow the game in diverse communities. In the aftermath of the outrage over Provorov making his personal choice, the NHL said in a statement to ESPN. 


“Hockey is for Everyone is the umbrella initiative under which the League encourages Clubs to celebrate the diversity that exists in their respective markets, and to work to achieve more welcoming and inclusive environments for all fans, Clubs decide whom to celebrate, when and how — with League counsel and support. Players are free to decide which initiatives to support, and we continue to encourage their voices and perspectives on social and cultural issues.” 


Now, the NHL has stated that it has “banned” the use of Pride Tape. Going from “personal choice” to complete hypocrisy. The NHL sent a memo to teams last week listing 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. One problem however, their own rule book allows players the use of any colour tape they desire. 



The You Can Play Project, an organization that advocates for 2SLGBTQ+ participation in sports, including a decade long partnership with the NHL, didn’t hold back, saying in their statement that  

“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. We are now at a point where all the progress made, and relationships established with our community, is in jeopardy.” 

Had the NHL not had such an overcorrection on their knee-jerk reaction, there would not have been the backlash they face now. For a league that is always trying to stay out of political discussion, while posting support for various nations and causes, they do a terrible job staying out of politics. Being political is fine, the NHL is a conglomerate of corporations, it is not unusual for corporations to make token gestures to groups. The issue is, to some marginalized groups, even a token gesture is one that signals a desire to include them. 


Had the NHL simply allowed for individuals to choose if they should wear a symbol or not, this may have been a small issue, but it instead has grown larger. If it is “illegal” to wear something that says “you’re accepted” what does that say to that marginalized community? Luke Prokop, who came out as gay publically in July 2021, said last season that the league had taken “a step back in inclusion” after some teams and players opted not to wear pride jerseys. 


Brian Burke, who has held positions with multiple NHL teams and the NHL Head Office, has come out and voiced his dissapointment in the direction the league took. As a respected voice in the hockey community, his words carry great value.



There is a fine line today, and especially in sports culture. Players need to balance their own values, but as a contracted employee, they represent their city, the team, and the brand that team is trying to project. For some, they’re relieved they won’t need to make a choice. For others, they will go headfirst into the issue and openly defy the NHL. Oilers captain Connor McDavid was asked about the boycott after practice on Wednesday morning. 

“First and foremost, I think myself and everyone in our room supports those types of initiatives, t“at being said, you know, I can’t really comment on another guy’s decision or another guy’s opinion.” 


It took all of one day, and players are demonstrating their solidarity with the 2SLGBTQ+, some of whom are friends, relatives, children and maybe even teammates. 




There are two good reasons that this “ban” will hurt the NHL. First, it’s getting raked over the coals for their slide backwards, where some are calling it “Bettman’s Don’t say Gay rule”. It cuts off an entire community that was only starting to openly embrace the game. Second, financially. That community isn’t just college kids, its people from blue-collar workers to CEOs, people who could spend hard earned money on games, merchandise and more, but now won’t. The NHL is cutting off its own nose to spite its face, all to placate a few overly conservative players and fans who already had the choice not to participate. If the NHL doesn’t want to be political, don’t be, but picking and choosing causes, and backtracking on others only makes the league look like hypocrites. 



You can buy your own Pride Tape here.

Blain Potvin

Related stories