The NHL has banned players from using Pride colored stick tape as part of its new policies to attempt to keep controversy from its game. (For non-hockey fans, players wrap portions of their hockey sticks in tape to improve their grip and comfort when holding the stick). This is bigotry, pure and simple.
Until last year, the NHL had been taking steps to expand its fan base. It had taken some initiatives after the George Floyd shootings to attempt to be more open to minority players in what is a significantly white league. And it had been more vocal about being open to LGBTQ+ players and fans. All of which was embodied in its “Hockey is For Everyone” catchphrase. Well, last year, it turns out that hockey really wasn’t for everyone.
Less than ten players objected to wearing Pride themed jerseys during warmups on Pride Nights, and a handful of teams backed out of wearing such jerseys, some in part to avoid embarrassing such players, some in part out of overblown concerns over the safety of Russian players given the horrifically anti-LBGTQ+ laws in their native country (It should be noted that league security officials stated that such claims were not credible). Such moves obviously created controversy and the NHL seemed determined to avoid even the hint of controversy this year. As a result, they created perhaps the most bigoted policy of all the major sports.
One could argue that not requiring players to wear Pride themed jerseys — or any themed jerseys — is a reasonable compromise. I would disagree — when you are in an employment situation, you are representing the employer’s point of view, not necessarily your own. But I am open to the argument. But this policy goes far, far beyond that. It is clearly stating that players can show no approval of LGBTQ+ people at all, that doing so runs counter to the values of the league. The NHL so wants to distance itself from the idea that LGBTQ+ people are welcome in the game that it won’t allow players to decorate their sticks during warmups one night a year with LGBTQ+ themed tape.
The league is pretending that this policy is keeping controversy off the ice. But that is nonsense. LGBTQ+ people clearly exist. The idea that supporting the notion that they deserve equal rights is controversial, that acknowledging their existence is controversial, is only supportable if you are a bigot. It is taking the side of people who ban all books dealing with LGBTQ+ and scream “groomer” at LGBTQ+ people for merely existing. Only a league run by bigots, or concerned with the good opinion of bigots, would possibly take such a step.
Fortunately, there has been an enormous amount of push back. The primary producer of the Pride tape has been flooded with orders, including by an NHL team. Players, including stars like Connor McDavid, have spoken out against the move and at least one player has flatly stated that they intend to use the tape on Pride Night. But it should never have gotten to this point in the first place. Hockey, as the joke goes, is the best sport run by the worst league. Instances like this remind you that there is far too much truth in the joke.