The NHL’s Controversial Decision: A Step Back for Inclusion

Former NHL executive Brian Burke has expressed his strong disapproval of the league’s recent decision to ban rainbow-colored stick tape, which players had been using to show support for the LGBTQ+ community. In a statement posted on social media, Burke criticized the ban, stating that it eliminates a meaningful way for players to express solidarity and protect those who may face questions about their choices. According to Burke, the directive closes a door that has been open for the last decade, making it a surprising and serious setback for inclusion and progress in the NHL.

Last week, the NHL sent a memo to teams outlining what players can and cannot do regarding theme celebrations during this season. The memo included a ban on the use of rainbow tape for Pride nights, an issue that has sparked controversy within the hockey community. The updated guidelines specify that on-ice player uniforms and gear for games, warmups, and official team practices cannot be altered to reflect theme nights, including those for Pride, Hockey Fights Cancer, or military appreciation. However, players can still voluntarily participate in themed celebrations off the ice.

Despite the NHL’s decision, Pride Tape co-founder Kristopher Wells believes that NHL players will find alternative ways to show their support for the LGBTQ+ community. Wells highlighted that the organization has received calls from several NHL players expressing their disappointment with the league’s ban. He fully expects players to defy the directive and find creative ways to make their statements. The support from individuals across the hockey world remains strong, and they are committed to continuing their efforts to demonstrate inclusivity.

Brian Burke, a prominent advocate for LGBTQ+ rights and president of the PWHL players’ association, voiced his deep disappointment in the NHL’s decision to ban on-ice support for community causes. Having worked in various NHL markets for over three decades, Burke has always prioritized engaging with and supporting local organizations and causes. He criticizes the league for stepping back from its longstanding commitment to inclusion and unraveling the progress made in advocating for 2SLGBTQ+ belonging.

The You Can Play (YCP) Project, an organization that promotes LGBTQ+ participation in sports and has partnered with the NHL for the past decade, strongly condemned the league’s decision. According to the YCP Project, the NHL’s actions undermine its commitment to inclusion and endanger previous progress. By eliminating symbols like jerseys and Pride Tape, the league diminishes the visibility of the LGBTQ+ community in hockey, hindering efforts to bring in more diverse fans and players.

The NHL spokesperson explained that while Pride tape had been permitted as an exception to stick tape restrictions for years, the recent ban was implemented to prevent teams and players from using it as a means to violate the new uniform policy. This ban extends to stickers and ribbons on player uniforms, although coaches are still allowed to wear ribbons. Additionally, in June, the NHL decided against allowing teams to wear theme jerseys for warmups after a few players opted out of participating in Pride night events last season, considering it a distraction from the community-focused work teams were undertaking.

The NHL’s decision to ban rainbow-colored stick tape and restrict theme celebrations has been met with significant criticism from various stakeholders, including former executive Brian Burke and advocacy organizations like the YCP Project. The ban is seen as a step back for LGBTQ+ inclusion and progress within the league. Nonetheless, players are determined to find alternative ways to express their support, ensuring that the community’s visibility remains strong. It remains to be seen how the NHL will respond to the backlash and whether they will reconsider their position on these issues going forward.

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