Pride tape ban: Brian Burke ‘deeply disappointed’ in the NHL

Click to play video: 'Vancouver Canucks react to NHL ban on Pride tape'
Vancouver Canucks react to NHL ban on Pride tape
The NHL announced it was banning the use of rainbow coloured Pride tape for all on-ice activities. It follows the NHL banning themed Pride night warm-up jerseys last season. – Oct 11, 2023

Brian Burke is not mincing words when it comes to expressing his disappointment with the NHL’s decision to ban players from using rainbow-coloured stick tape in support of the LGBTQ2 community.

The former NHL executive took to social media Wednesday, saying that the league-wide ban on the Pride symbol removes meaningful support for the queer community and only serves to protect a small group of players who don’t want to be questioned about their lack of support.

In his written statement, Burke called the Pride Tape ban a “surprising and serious setback.”

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“This is not inclusion or progress,” Burke, now president of the PWHL players’ association, wrote. “Fans look to teams and the league to show they are welcome, and this directive closes a door that’s been open for the last decade.”

He also addressed the LGBTQ2 community, writing: “Please know that you are still a valued member of the hockey community. We will not lose the incredible progress we’ve made in inclusion over the last decade.”

In March, while working as president of hockey operations for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Burke chided the small group of hockey players across the NHL who refused to wear Pride warmup jerseys, citing personal and religious reasons.

“To our friends in the LGBTQ+ community, don’t be discouraged,” Burke said. “We’ve had a couple of minor setbacks from a tiny number of players, but we’ve made steady and spectacular progress in this space.”

Buffalo Sabres left wing Victor Olofsson, left, right wing Jack Quinn and right wing JJ Peterka wear special warmup jerseys commemorating Pride Night before an NHL hockey game against the Montreal Canadiens in Buffalo, N.Y., Monday, March 27, 2023. Adrian Kraus / The Associated Press

After much ado over said jerseys, the NHL moved in June to ban Pride and other specialty warmup jerseys. The league has said players opting out of Pride nights served as a distraction to the work its teams were doing in the community.

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In updated guidance issued this month, the league further clarified that players will also be banned from using rainbow-coloured Pride tape for any league on-ice activities. Players can, however, voluntarily participate in themed celebrations off the ice.

The Pride Tape team, supported by You Can Play — of which Burke is a founding member — said Tuesday it was “extremely disappointed by the NHL’s decision to eliminate Pride Tape from any league on-ice activities.”

The advocacy group said many players have been “exceptional advocates for the tape” and it hopes the league — and teams — “will again show commitment to this important symbol of combating homophobia.”

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You Can Play Project was founded in 2011 following the passing of Burke’s son, Brendan. Brendan came out as gay while manager of the Miami University hockey team.

In a statement issued Tuesday, You Can Play said the NHL’s policy decision “is not the way forward.”

“It is now clear that the NHL is stepping back from its longstanding commitment to inclusion, and continuing to unravel all of its one-time industry-leading work on 2SLGBTQ+ belonging,” the group said.

“We are now at a point where all the progress made, and relationships established with our community, is in jeopardy. Making decisions to eradicate our visibility in hockey — by eliminating symbols like jerseys and now Pride Tape — immediately stunts the impact of bringing in more diverse fans and players into the sport.”

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You Can Play board chair David Palumbo told Global News the existence of the LGBTQ2 community “is not a distraction.”

Youth — particularly at the early levels of sports — often quit if they feel they aren’t welcome or can’t be themselves with their teammates.

“It’s simply an existence of a community recognizing that you exist. There is not special treatment,” he said.

“We are not a special cause. This isn’t special considerations or anything like that.”

A handful of NHL players, including Edmonton Oilers’ Zach Hyman and Connor McDavid, also shared their disappointment with the league’s new rules.

“It’s pretty clear where I personally stand on Pride,” Hyman said on Tuesday. “It’s a league-mandated thing. It’s not exclusive to Pride. We can’t really do anything. We can’t put any tape on our stick. All the jerseys, I think, are gone.

“It’s out of our hands. I know personally I enjoyed wearing the Pride jersey, the Pride Tape, the military jersey… Indigenous night, all those great things we support. We’ll be able to support them individually, but collectively, that’s out of the players’ control,” he added.

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McDavid said he enjoys celebrating theme nights, “whether that’s Pride Night or Military Night or Indigenous Night, all the various nights we’ve had… I can’t speak for everybody else or the league or anything like that, but it’s something that I’ve always enjoyed.

“In terms of a league standpoint, is it something that I’d like to see put back into place one day? Certainly. But that’s not the way it is right now.”

Quinn Hughes, captain of the Vancouver Canucks, said his team also remains committed in their support to the community, tape or no tape.

“I’ve preached it before, last year in this locker room, this organization, with Pride we will always support that,” he said.

Global News reached out to the NHL for comment Tuesday, but did not receive a reply.

with files from Global News’ Emily Mertz and Simon Little and The Associated Press


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