The National Hockey League (NHL) has recently announced a comprehensive ban on on-ice theme night gear, prohibiting teams from showcasing rainbow sweaters or using multicolored tape on sticks during Pride Night and similar events. This decision comes in the wake of a few players, including Ivan Provorov and James Reimer, opting out of their respective clubs’ Pride Night celebrations during the 2022-23 season. Outsports, a prominent LGBTQ news source, labeled this new directive as “the most stifling, anti-LGBTQ policy any pro sports league in North America has ever issued.”
Deputy NHL Commissioner Bill Daly confirmed the issuance of a memo to all 32 NHL clubs, providing updated guidance that restricts the inclusion of theme night celebrations in on-ice uniforms or gear used in warm-ups. The move has drawn criticism from various quarters, with Kurt Weaver, the chief operations officer of the You Can Play Project, expressing his disappointment. The You Can Play Project is a partner of the NHL and a supporter of the “Hockey Is for Everyone” campaign, which aims to combat homophobia and expand the game’s reach to underrepresented groups.
Weaver acknowledged the NHL’s past efforts to fight homophobia but lamented the recent memo as a setback. He stated, “It’s hard to reconcile that right now, with decisions like this. But I see too many great things that the clubs do, that hockey in general does. It’s success after success. But that right now is clouded by a really poor decision that’s going to overtake all that good work.”
Pride Tape, a company dedicated to promoting LGBTQ inclusion in hockey, also expressed disappointment over the NHL’s decision. Jeff McLean, a spokesperson for Pride Tape, hopes for a brighter future and believes that the league and teams can continue their commitment to combating homophobia.
Additionally, the NHL’s communication to clubs left room for players to object to being in “close proximity” to individuals or groups associated with causes they do not support. This policy has raised questions and concerns within the LGBTQ community, as it may inadvertently lead to exclusionary practices.
As the 2023-24 NHL regular season kicks off, this decision casts a shadow over the league’s ongoing efforts to promote inclusivity and diversity within the sport, sparking debates over the importance of visible support for the LGBTQ community during theme nights.