SAN JOSE – The president of the San Jose Sharks believes the NHL’s ban on players displaying “cause messaging” on their equipment, including the use of Pride-themed tape on their sticks, will undergo some adjustments, possibly this season.
An NHL memo earlier this month informing clubs what players could no longer do on theme nights, including using the rainbow-colored stick tape – often used during LGBTQ+ Pride celebrations in pregame warmups — was met with both confusion and derision, with some feeling the league was backtracking on its long-running “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign.
“Make no mistake,” former NHL executive Brian Burke wrote on social media earlier this month, “this is a surprising and serious setback.”
Previously, NHL players had the option of putting specialized tape, including lavender tape on Hockey Fights Cancer nights, or camouflage tape on Military Appreciation Nights, on their sticks before the league established its current guidelines.
Perhaps, though, the conversation isn’t over, with Jonathan Becher, president of Sharks Sports & Entertainment, feeling those rules will go through some modifications.
“Is it unfortunate that the league took that out of the player’s hands? For sure,” Becher told this news organization last week. “Do I think it’ll get back? Yes. And I think probably sooner than everyone is expecting.”
A handful of NHL players last season opted out of wearing Pride-themed warmup jerseys when their teams hosted those specific nights. Some, including then-Sharks goalie James Reimer, did so because of their personal religious beliefs. Several Russian players also did not wear Pride-themed jerseys, feeling they or their families would face repercussions from anti-LGBTQ+ officials back home.
Believing the news surrounding those individuals’ choices took away from team initiatives, the NHL in June announced that it would not allow players or clubs to wear themed jerseys in practices or warmups. The Sharks, on Oct. 14, hosted their seventh-annual Los Tiburones Night but did not wear the specifically designed jerseys in warmups that have been associated with the celebration.
Among other theme nights, the Sharks are hosting their Hockey Fights Cancer night on Nov. 16, their Pride Night on Jan. 27, and a Celebration of Black History on Feb. 29.
“I think sometimes when one crisis happens, people overreact and try to clamp down,” Becher said, “and yes, there’s definitely a middle ground and I think it’s going to come quickly, maybe even during the season.”
One possible solution for the NHL, per Sharks forward Nico Sturm, would be to designate a night where players display whatever cause messaging they wanted – be it a jersey, stick tape, or a hat — to support something that’s close to their heart.
“I’m just always a fan of just letting the players do what they want to do,” Sturm said. “Now we’re at the point where the NHL says no warmup jerseys but then let the players — if they want to — let them do the Pride night or let them wear a Hockey Fights Cancer hat or a military hat. I’m always a fan of people doing what they want to do, not because they are mandated to do it.”
Sharks defenseman Kyle Burroughs disagreed with the NHL’s ban on specialized tape in pregame warmups, adding that he wouldn’t be surprised if some players still used it on certain theme nights.
“I’m disappointed,” Burroughs said of the tape ban during pregame warmups. “It is by choice and it was at that point in our night to choose to support anybody in this dressing room or friends, family, and fans. To show our support was something that we could do.
“Honestly, if it’s still possible, we can still get our hands on the tape. I know that the team’s been ordering it and it’s something that I would love to do if I had the opportunity.”
The Arizona Coyotes will be the first NHL team this season to host a Pride night when they play the Los Angeles Kings on Friday. Coyotes defenseman Travis Dermott caused a stir on Saturday when he wrapped the top of his stick that he used in the game with rainbow-colored tape, with the NHL telling The Athletic that the league will review the matter “in due course.”
What happens to Dermott could set the tone for other players who are thinking about defying the “cause messaging” ban.
As for the Sharks, coach David Quinn said last week he would personally support any player who wants to use rainbow-colored tape on their stick. Becher said he wants players to express themselves, just within the confines of the league’s present rules.
“Don’t be surprised if you see a lot of individual expressions this year,” Becher said, “just differently than we’ve seen them in years past.”