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NHL lifts ban on rainbow-colored Pride Tape, after a player defied it

Travis Dermott of the Arizona Coyotes defied an NHL ban on Pride Tape when he used the colorful tape on his stick during his team's home opener at Mullett Arena in Tempe, Ariz. Days later, the league rescinded its ban.
Zac BonDurant
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Travis Dermott of the Arizona Coyotes defied an NHL ban on Pride Tape when he used the colorful tape on his stick during his team's home opener at Mullett Arena in Tempe, Ariz. Days later, the league rescinded its ban.

Pride Tape will be allowed to be part of NHL events this season after all, as the league reversed its ban that had sparked a backlash among many hockey players.

"Players will now have the option to voluntarily represent social causes with their stick tape throughout the season," the NHL said Tuesday as it announced a loosening of its restrictions on theme nights, such as Pride Night.

The decision came days after Arizona Coyotes defenseman Travis Dermott became the first player to defy the ban by using Pride Tape in a game.

Pride Tape was introduced around seven years ago as a way to show inclusion and support for young LGBTQ+ athletes who might otherwise quit playing ice hockey rather than face homophobia and discrimination.

The brightly colored tape was quickly embraced by NHL players, as the rainbow colors joined the standard white or black tape hockey players normally use on their sticks. But after espousing slogans like Hockey Is For Everyone, the league abruptly banned the tape over the summer.

A player recently defied the ban

Pressure against the ban reached new levels in recent days, when Dermott wrapped part of his hockey stick with Pride Tape for his team's home opener, flouting the ban.

Dermott said his action reflected what he has learned about the toxic effects of LGBTQ+ hate on people he is close to. And while his protest was a quiet one, the player spoke eloquently about his reasons.

"I've been blessed to have some of those opportunities put in front of me to really change my view of what being a good person means; what being a good father and a good example and role model means going forward," he said.

"You really see how people are hurting and it's because of a system that maybe no one's intentionally trying to be malicious about, but until you've really had that first-person experience seeing people hurting from it right in front of you, it's tough to kind of take steps."

Dermott talked about the need to spread love and positivity, and especially to show those values to kids who follow pro hockey.

"Like my parents said growing up, 'How awesome would it be to be the guy that people look up to?' That's what really hit home when I was a kid, especially from my mom. You want to grow up and be that guy."

The ban ignited controversy, and then change

The league's ban on Pride Tape had been meant to avoid controversy, as several NHL players made headlines last season for refusing to wear Pride Night themed jerseys, citing religious or other reasons.

But the ban sparked a controversy of its own, casting a shadow over pro hockey as it opened the 2023-2024 regular season earlier this month. Many players spoke out against it.

The makers of Pride Tape thanked people who supported the Stick Up for Pride Tape campaign — and it noted that on the day the ban was lifted, Canada's Scotiabank was giving away 5,000 free rolls of the tape at locations around the country.

Prominent critics of the ban included Brian Burke, a former NHL executive who advocated for pro hockey to include the LGBTQ+ community.

Burke celebrated news that the ban is being lifted, thanking everyone who pushed back on the policy and hailing Dermott for his "courageous" allyship.

The NHL says it rolled back its prohibition after meetings with the NHL Players' Association and members of the the NHL Player Inclusion Coalition.

Pride Tape was frequently seen only during warmups, and at special Pride Night events. The new rule suggests the tape will be used in games throughout the season.

And as former women's hockey player and executive Anya Packer noted, the new policy could have a ripple effect in the NHL.

"This is INCREDIBLY important," Packer said on X, the site former Twitter. "Now ALL CAUSES can be represented in some way."

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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