NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly joined Halford & Brough Tuesday morning to defend the league’s new policy restricting how teams and players recognize and celebrate special initiatives, including Pride Night, during the 2023-24 season.
“I think the primary point is that nothing’s really going to change in the sense that our clubs will continue to celebrate these special initiatives and these causes and do a lot of cause messaging around those events,” he said. “The only difference this year is we’re asking the clubs not to employ use of the players on the ice during the game. As you know, probably, we had some issues last year with players feeling uncomfortable in supporting certain causes and we didn’t want our players to be put in those situations going forward.”
The NHL’s change in policy, which was communicated to all 32 teams via a memo last week, comes after a handful of players, as well as some teams, opted not to wear Pride Night warmup jerseys during organizations’ designated Pride Nights last season. Philadelphia Flyers defenceman Ivan Provorov (now with the Columbus Blue Jackets) was the first player to sit out warmups when the Flyers took to the ice wearing special-edition rainbow-coloured Pride jerseys. He cited his Russian Orthodox religion for his decision. Six other individuals — Ilya Lyubushkin, Denis Gurianov, Andrei Kuzmenko, James Reimer, Eric Staal and Marc Staal — did not participate in their respective teams’ warmups on Pride night, with some releasing personal statements about their decisions. Additionally, the New York Rangers, Minnesota Wild, and Chicago Blackhawks all decided against having any player wear the special-edition warmup sweaters.
The memo stated players are not to use rainbow-coloured pride tape during warmups, nor are teams permitted to implement special-themed warmup jerseys worn by players to commemorate special events or causes — among them Pride Night, Hockey Fights Cancer, Black History Night, and shows of military appreciation.
These new guidelines follow comments from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made in June that special warmup jerseys had “become a distraction” and as such teams would no longer be implementing them into on-ice activities.
Asked Tuesday specifically about the use of pride tape, and why players would not be permitted to use it on their sticks, Daly cited not wanting to put some players “in a difficult position.”
“These are tough lines to draw here,” Daly said. “We don’t want the situation where some players, or a large majority of players, use a certain cause messaging that other players don’t want to utilize and that puts those other players in a difficult position. We don’t want to put them in that difficult position.”
The makers of Pride Tape released a statement Tuesday expressing their disappointment about the NHL’s prohibitive new policies.
You Can Play, an organization that works to ensure the safety and inclusion of all participants in sport, also released a statement on Tuesday condemning the NHL’s latest stance and calling on allies in and around the game to speak up about it.
Daly said Tuesday he was “sensitive” to fans and other members of the hockey community who feel let down by this new policy.
“I’m certainly sensitive to that feeling. Having said that, as I said off the top, we don’t really think that a lot of things are changing here,” he said. “Everything is going to go forward, clubs are going to support these causes like they’ve always supported them. They’ll probably be throwing more resources behind them, they’ll be more prevalent. We don’t want our players put in difficult positions. We want them to be able to make choices about the causes they are interested in championing and those that they aren’t. But that doesn’t affect the events of our clubs.”
Daly said players will be encouraged to show support for the causes they believe in, “off-the-ice and in non-game situations, non-official practice situations.”
“Players are encouraged, as they always have been, to show support for causes and fight for causes that they feel strongly about,” he said.