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The National Hockey League may be banning the use of Pride Tape during warmups of any team-run Pride Nights this season.
But don’t expect Scott Laughton to adhere to the new restrictions.
“You’ll probably see me with the pride tape on that night,” he said after practice on Wednesday. “I don’t know, I didn’t read really what it said, if it’s a ban or something, but I’ll probably have it on.
“We’ll see what they say, but it’s not gonna affect the way I go about it. If they want to say something, they can.”
Due to the controversy last season which came about after a number of NHL players — with former Flyer Ivan Provorov being the first — chose to skip warmups rather than wear a team-sponsored Pride jersey meant to show support for the LGBTQ+ community, the NHL announced back in June that teams would no longer be permitted to wear special warmup jerseys for any initiatives, in a clear attempt to avoid a recurring of the debate that ultimately extended far beyond hockey and into the general consciousness.
This week, however, it became clear that the new rules went beyond restrictions on jerseys. First reported by OutSports and later confirmed by Deputy NHL Commissioner Bill Daly, players would also not be permitted to wear Pride Tape on their sticks that night, even if they wished to show individual support on the ice for the initiative.
“Players shall not be put in the position of having to demonstrate (or where they may be appearing to demonstrate) personal support for any Special Initiatives,” the relevant rule read. “A factor that may be considered in this regard includes, for example, whether a Player (or Players) is required to be in close proximity to any groups or individuals visibly or otherwise clearly associated with such Special Initiative(s).”
Laughton is the first NHL player to explicitly state that he plans to use the tape anyway for the Flyers’ planned Pride Night on January 10 against the Montreal Canadiens, and deal with any league consequences that might result.
“I’ll use the tape – if I have to buy it myself, I will. Go about it that way,” he said.
Laughton has long been a vocal supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, lifting a Pride flag in front of the Wells Fargo Center back in 2022, and spearheading an initiative with then-teammate James van Riemsdyk last season to donate four tickets across 12 home games to members of the LGBTQ+ community. So it was little surprise that he expressed disappointment with the NHL’s newly-revealed rule clarification.
Laughton was also frustrated with how NHL Pride Nights were politicized last season, on both sides. For him, the nights should be about support, not division.
“It’s a tough situation, and I think it got probably a little too political last year with everything, when you’re just trying to make it easy on people to come to games and feel welcome,” he explained.
Nor did he think it should have been about demonizing those who chose not to wear the jersey during warmups. Laughton acknowledged that due to his upbringing, he was more likely to choose to show open support for the LGBTQ+ community than those who were raised differently.
“Everyone has their own relationship with it, right? So, if I didn’t have (that upbringing), I don’t know where I’d be with Pride,” he admitted. “It just got too political last year with everything, and I think it went too far. And then everyone wants to start talking about it. And that’s not really the point of it. It’s to make people feel welcome at the rink.”
In Laughton’s mind, the fact that players chose to sit out warmups is exactly why Pride Night exists in the first place — to open a dialogue that he hopes leads to changed minds over the long term.
“Yeah, you have a handful of guys (who sat out last year), but that’s why you have those nights,” he said. “It’s the education purpose of it, and it’s their decision. I think that’s another thing, people took it too far of blaming some people. That’s their decision (to not wear the jersey). But that’s why you have nights like that. If everyone wanted to wear it, then we probably wouldn’t have nights like that.”
The NHL wasn’t canceling Pride Nights this season — simply limiting the ability of the players to show obvious on-ice support for the event. But Laughton believes that explicit support is still important. He’s noticed changes in hockey since the start of his career, particularly in terms of the language being used on a daily basis in locker rooms and on the ice. Showing clear-cut support, he contends, furthers that progress — potentially even for a gay player on an NHL club who has yet to come out publicly.
“If you have a closeted gay player in the room and you do some of this stuff, I wonder where it goes from there,” Laughton said.
Laughton suspects he won’t be the only player to wear the tape in defiance of the ban. For him, it’s not about making a political statement, or grandstanding. It’s about showing support.
Even if the NHL won’t necessarily approve.
“That’s kinda where I stand. No politics in it. It’s just making people feel welcome and accepted here,” he noted.