PWHLers say NHL’s ban of on-ice support for community causes ‘sets back years of progress’

Players with the new Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) say they’re “disappointed and saddened” by the NHL’s decision to ban on-ice support for community causes.

A statement from the PWHL Players’ Association, released on Wednesday, says the decision by the NHL “sets back years of progress” but the players “remain steadfast in our support of the LGBTQ+ community.”

“To grow the game, we must come together to create an inclusive, supportive environment for all hockey fans, players, and staff,” the statement says.

The players join Brian Burke, a longstanding advocate for LGBTQ+ inclusion in hockey and the executive director of the PWHL Players’ Association, and several NHL players in criticizing the policy, which bans players from using Pride tape during warmup.

The NHL sent teams a memo last week laying out what players can and cannot do to celebrate themes and special causes this season, according to The Canadian Press.

It includes not altering uniforms and gear for warmup and team practices, meaning players also can’t wear specialty jerseys for special themes such as Pride celebrations, military appreciation and Black History Month.

Burke’s statement on Wednesday says the league’s decision “does not grow the game, and does not make our fans feel welcome,” describing it as “a surprising and serious setback.”

“It’s a disappointing turn of events because the NHL has been a great ally, a great supporter,” Burke said in an interview with CBC Sports.

At least one player, Philadelphia Flyers forward Scott Laughton, has suggested he may use Pride tape regardless of what the NHL’s policy says, according to reporting from Charlie O’Connor with PHLY Sports.

WATCH | NHL bans Pride tape:

NHL bans Pride tape on players’ sticks

3 days ago

Duration 1:59

Featured VideoThe NHL is banning the use of rainbow Pride Tape and other themed tape on the ice. The change is a part of an updated uniform policy, which banned themed jerseys for warm-ups in June, after a handful of players opted out of wearing Pride jerseys last season.

The new policy comes at a time when the NHL has lent its support to the PWHL ahead of the launch of its first season.

But the NHL’s stance on Pride tape and warmup jerseys could be “a bit of a downfall for the relationship” with a league made up of the best female hockey players in the world, according to Ann Pegoraro, who is the Lang Chair in Sport Management with the University of Guelph.

“Many of them identify as part of LGBTQ community,” Pegoraro said.

Several pucks sit in crease under stick with rainbow-coloured tape.
The NHL’s new guidelines ban the use of Pride tape and specialty themed jerseys during warmup. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/File)

Susan Cohig, the NHL’s executive vice president of club business affairs, has been working with the PWHL ahead of the expected puck drop in January, with the NHL offering advice on matters ranging from scheduling to planning special events that will feature female players. 

Asked how she would respond to PWHL players or fans from the LGBTQ+ community who feel uneasy about the association with the NHL, given the ban on Pride tape, Cohig told CBC Sports they shouldn’t lose sight of work that’s been done in communities.

“I would say as we look at what our teams are doing in our communities to support a variety of causes including Pride and Hockey Fights Cancer and other things, that we really want to help and support all the great work that’s being done, and focusing on one piece of it doesn’t enable us to do that,” Cohig said in an interview.

Burke said it’s true the league has been a “trailblazer” in this area.

“But that doesn’t change the disappointment about a decision that we think, frankly, doesn’t make sense.”

PWHL to be ‘inclusive as possible’

When asked about the NHL’s decision, PWHL advisory board member Stan Kasten said the PWHL is its own league, one that he said was “conceived in inclusivity.”

He said the league doesn’t have specific policies written yet, but plans to be “as inclusive as possible at all times.”

“Even though I don’t have a statement for you today, we will let our actions demonstrate that,” Kasten said in an interview.

A man in a blue shirt speaks into a microphone.
PWHL board member Stan Kasten says the new league doesn’t have policies on paper yet, but plans to be ‘as inclusive as possible at all times.’ (Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/Pool/The Canadian Press)

Even without policies on paper yet, Pegoraro expects the PWHL will take a totally different stance than the NHL when it comes to Pride celebrations.

“Women athletes have always had to fight for their place in sport so they know that, and they’re used to it, but they’re also used to fighting for other causes as well,” Pegoraro said.

“The WNBA and the [National Women’s Soccer League] are very prominent in social justice causes so I would think that the PWHL is going to have to be very similar … given the fight they already [had] with the PWHPA to get this league.

“They’ve advocated for themselves for pay, for a sustainable league, so that kind of behaviour is not going to stop within the league.”

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