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NHL's Decision on Pride Tape, Themed Jerseys Upsets LGBTQ Advocates

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the on-ice use of such items had become a distraction from the game

The National Hockey League’s decision to prohibit the use of certain items as part of Pride celebrations has upset LGBTQ advocates.

The NHL notified teams via email of updated regulations on themed celebrations for this season, including its new prohibition on rainbow-stick tape. 

Pride Tape, the company that makes the rainbow tape and which partnered with the NHL in 2016, said it is “extremely disappointed by the NHL’s decision to eliminate Pride Tape from any league on-ice activities.”

“We hope the league – and the teams – will again show commitment to this important symbol of combating homophobia,” the company wrote in a statement on Instagram. “Seven years ago, Pride Tape was born out of adversity as a grassroots hockey initiative that remains resilient, and optimistic about our plans with hockey clubs, organizations, and their partners at every level.”

Under the NHL’s rules, players cannot wear uniforms, warmups or gear that have been altered to reflect the theme of the evening. This includes special edition jerseys to mark Pride, Hockey Fights Cancer, Black History Night, or military appreciation celebrations. Players are permitted to take part in theme night celebrations provided they take place off the ice.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said during an interview in June that specialty jerseys had become a “distraction.”

“I’ve suggested that it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys and warmups because it’s become a distraction and it’s taking away from the fact that all of our clubs, in some form or another, host nights in honor of various groups or causes,” said Bettman. “We’d rather them continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction.”

Bettman acknowledged that there are “legitimate concerns” about changing the policy but said that “in the final analysis, all of the efforts and emphasis on the importance of these various causes have been undermined by the distraction in terms of which teams, which players” wear the themed items.

“This way we’re keeping the focus on the game,” the commissioner said.

In January, Ivan Provorov of the Philadelphia Flyers did not warm up with his team after he refused to wear a Pride-themed jersey. Provorov cited his Russian Orthodox faith when asked about his decision. 

“I respect everybody and respect everybody’s choices. My choice is to stay true to myself and my religion,” he said. Provorov was allowed to play and the Flyers defeated the Anaheim Ducks 5-2. 

Some NHL-affiliated leaders have voiced their objections to the new policy. 

Former league executive and current president of the PWHL Players Association Brian Burke said the policy “has stripped clubs of a powerful community outreach tool and removed meaningful support for Special Initiatives, all to protect a select few who do not want to answer any questions about their choices.”

“This new league policy strips clubs and players of one of the most important and viable ways of showing support to causes they care about,” Burke, who is known for his LGBTQ advocacy efforts, wrote in a statement on X. “Let’s be clear: this is not inclusion or progress. This decision does not grow the game, and does not make our fans feel welcome.”

The You Can Play Projects, an advocacy organization focused on LGBTQ participation in sports, called the rule evidence that “the NHL is stepping back from its longstanding commitment to inclusion, and continuing to unravel all of its one-time industry-leading work on 2SLGBTQ+ belonging,” per AP News.

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