By: Adam Floujeh
Just over two weeks after it was implemented, the NHL has rescinded its rule prohibiting the use of stick tape to represent social causes. Arizona Coyotes defenceman Travis Dermott defied the rule by having pride-themed tape on his stick during a game this past Saturday versus the Anaheim Ducks and it was a matter of days before the league buckled.
The rule was first sent out as a memo to NHL teams at the beginning of October and confirmed to the media by Deputy Commissioner Bill Daley on Oct 10. Now, with Dermott’s courageous move as the final straw to heavy criticism, the league walked that decision back.
It begs many questions.
What the league was thinking in the first place?
Was the plan to change their minds the moment a player challenged them?
What was/was there a planned punishment for any offending player?
Did they just assume players would be too scared to challenge the league’s rule in the first place?
Again, what were they thinking?
This is a self-inflicted wound like no other from a league that just can’t get out of its own way. To see why we need to turn back the clock to last year.
The 2022-23 season saw a small number of players choose to not participate in their teams’ Pride nights by refusing to wear Pride-themed jerseys during pregame warmups. But it cannot be forgotten, many more players were not just willing to take part, but glad to.
During NHL All-Star weekend, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman gave the league’s bewildering perspective.
“You know what our goals, our values and our intentions are across the league, whether it’s at the league level or at the club level,” Bettman said. “But we also have to respect some individual choice, and some people are more comfortable embracing themselves in causes than others. And part of being diverse and welcoming is understanding those differences.”
All this snowballed into the league banning specialty warmup jerseys in June. The NHL claimed “players opting out of Pride nights served as a distraction to the work its teams were doing in the community,”
Whether intended or not, the NHL themselves caused the biggest distraction from their game possible. What the NHL did – and this is what’s so frustrating – was surrender to the minority of players refusing to show support for the LGBTQ2S+ community, the minority who refused to tell people “You are WELCOME in our game.” The NHL took the easy way out and couldn’t even stick to their guns. What’s even worse is that they tried to completely stop any on-ice expression/support a player could show.
They only spotlighted the negatives. It’s like they were trying to protect the players who didn’t want to show support as opposed to supporting the players who have been trying to show that hockey is indeed “for everyone.”
So, whether anyone knows the NHL’s goals, values and intentions, as Bettman said, is certainly up in the air. Unless they are telling us they value dropping inclusion at a hint of dissent or “distraction”?
Still, it cannot be forgotten that the league does have good people unafraid of standing up to the league’s senseless decision-making and for their values. Dermott is at the forefront, having stepped up as a player on a one-year, two-way contract to test what the league would do if he did something important to him. Scott Laughton and Jon Merrill also indicated they would use the tape, while many players called the league’s decision terms such as “unfortunate” or flat-out said, “it sucks."
The league showed the utmost insensitivity in banning Pride tape. To withhold players and teams from supporting a variety of causes, including Hockey Fights Cancer or a litany of heritage nights, by wearing jerseys is still baffling.
“Hockey is for everyone” is a phrase that continues to age poorly. The skill and speed of hockey make it objectively one of the most entertaining sports on the planet and despite all the roadblocks that the sport faces – the price of equipment, the availability of ice – those are nothing compared to the lack of emotional intelligence from the highest level of the sport. From The National Hockey League.