NHL reverses ban on rainbow ribbons on field hockey sticks… but keeps ban on jerseys

3 min read

After much backlash, the National Hockey League (NHL) has finally revised its decision on the new rule banning rainbow pride ribbons on field hockey sticks during on-ice games, made in early October. These new rules marked an intensification of the homophobic policies already in place by the league.

The rise and fall of a controversial policy

Let’s remember that in June 2023, after criticism and increased pressure from more vocal conservative groups over the past two years, NHL players were banned from wearing Pride jerseys during warm-ups, a practice that had been going smoothly for several years on almost every team in the league, as a sign of support for greater inclusion of sexual diversity in professional sports.

And early last October, the NHL pushed the envelope even further by also adding a ban on the use of rainbow tape on field hockey sticks.

A measure compared to homophobic laws

Some critics have compared the NHL’s “Don’t Say Gay” rainbow ban to unfortunate homophobic laws passed in Florida, which prevent even indirect talk of sexual orientation or gender in elementary and high schools.

A salutary turnaround

In a turn of events, on Tuesday, October 24, the NHL shared a brief press release announcing that it will now be possible to voluntarily represent social causes close to their hearts with tape throughout the season.

This latest decision follows the action of a first player – Travis Dermott of the Arizona Coyotes – who decided to defy the ban, by wrapping his field hockey stick with rainbow Pride tape at last year’s Saturday, October 21 game.

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Players take a stand

Other players who have publicly voiced their opposition to the ban and expressed their intention to defy it include Minnesota Wild defenseman Jon Merrill and Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Laughton.

ESPN reported that representatives of the NHL, the NHL Players Association and the NHL Players Inclusion Coalition met, following the “outrage” of players, participants and activists, provoked by the ban. The first Pride event of the season took place on Friday, October 27. It was hosted by Travis Dermott’s team, the Arizona Coyotes. The NHL has not reacted to the holding of this “special initiative”, which is unclear as to whether it is permitted or not, given the vagueness of the NHL’s current guidelines.

A victory for inclusion

Nevertheless, campaigners for greater inclusion in professional sport applauded the NHL’s U-turn.

Brock McGillis, a gay former professional field hockey player and co-founder of Alphabet Sports Collective (a Canadian queer non-profit working to create safe spaces in field hockey for people of sexual diversity), said he was “very happy” with the change. “I think it’s crucial that we don’t repress free speech and the right of individuals to express themselves,” McGillis said. “I was someone who accepted players not wearing jerseys because it was their right. I don’t want false allies from players or teams. It’s the same with the rainbow Pride ribbon. If they want to, let them. And if they don’t want to, let them not. That’s their right.”

David Palumbo of You Can Play (this social activism organization, founded in 2012 by Patrick Burke, Brian Kitts and Glenn Witman, aims to eliminate homophobia in sport) calls the NHL’s decision “a victory for all of us, even if there is still much work to be done.” “Actively welcoming communities into field hockey is imperative to keeping the sport strong, now and in the future.”

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