After being heavily criticized by media and gay rights groups, the NHL has backed away from its controversial ban on players using Pride Tape.
The original decision by the league to prevent its players from making the small gesture of support for the LGBTQ+ community was widely regarded as a self-inflicted wound for the brand itself—and a contradiction of its “Hockey is for everyone” promise to make the game more inclusive and welcoming.
The league announced the abrupt reversal on Tuesday, after consulting with the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition. In a statement, the league said that “players will now have the option to voluntarily represent social causes with their stick tape throughout the season.”
“The cacophony of voices… —players, former players, members of the media, fans, LGBTQ individuals and organizations like You Can Play, Alphabet Sports Collective, GLAAD and Athlete Ally—was not stopping, and it was not going to stop anytime soon.”
The announcement follows subtle signs of revolt against the ban, which took effect at the start of the season. On Saturday, for example, Arizona Coyotes defenceman Travis Dermott openly defied the league’s edict by using Pride Tape on the shaft of his stick during a matinee game against the Anaheim Ducks.
NHL statement on symbolic tape in support of social causes. pic.twitter.com/BJN0hAde2W
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) October 24, 2023
“You want to have everyone feel included and that’s something that I have felt passionate about for a long time in my career,” said Dermott in an interview with PHNX Sports. “It’s not like I just just jumped on this train. It’s something that I’ve felt has been lacking in the hockey community for a while. I feel like we need supporters of a movement like this; to have everyone feel included and really to beat home the idea that hockey is for everyone.”
When asked by The Athletic if Dermott would face disciplinary action for contravening the ban, the NHL said that it would review his use “in due course.”
Other players, including Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman and Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Laughton, had also criticized the ban, with Laughton saying earlier this month that he planned to use Pride Tape in future games.
Meanwhile, one of the NHL’s most important sponsors, Scotiabank, delivered a strong message on Monday when it announced via social media that it plans to give away 5,000 rolls of Rainbow Tape at branches across the country.
In what read like a pointed rebuke of the league’s policy, the post opened with the sentence “Pride always has a place in hockey.” Scotiabank did not immediately respond to interview requests, but the implicit message of the NHL’s pride tape ban did seem contradictory to its two-year-old “Hockey For All” platform.
In a Tuesday post on X headlined “Thank you for sticking up for Pride Tape,” the company said that it was “extremely happy that NHL players will have the ability to voluntarily represent social causes with their stick tape throughout the season.”
Hudson Taylor, founder and executive director of Athlete Ally, an organization that advocates for equality in sports, said in a statement that the organization is “thrilled that the NHL has listened to the voices of hockey players and fans who want to see the sport they deeply love allow them to celebrate who they are, and what they care about.”