NHL teams have received updated guidance from the league clarifying rules for player participation during theme night celebrations for the 2023-24 season, which begins Tuesday night.
According to the memo, which was first reported by ESPN's Ryan S. Clark, players cannot wear specialty jerseys during games, practices or warmups, nor can their equipment reflect a team's theme night, which includes a ban on rainbow-colored stick tape for Pride nights.
Players are allowed to take part in themed celebrations away from the ice, such as for Hockey Fights Cancer, Black History night, and Military Appreciation night.
In 2016, the NHL partnered with Pride Tape, which has been used by many of the league's players to show support for the LGBTQ+ community.
This updated guidance dates back to a June interview NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman did with Sportsnet where he said players would not be allowed to wear specialty jerseys during warmups because "it's become a distraction."
In January, Ivan Provorov was the first NHL player to not take part in warmups during the Philadelphia Flyers' Pride night. The defenseman cited his Russian Orthodox religion as his reason for not participating. Several other players, including fellow Russians Andrei Kuzmenko, Ilya Lyubushkin, and Denis Gurianov, as well as James Reimer and Eric and Marc Staal, also declined to wear specialty jerseys during their team's respective Pride nights.
The Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers, and Minnesota Wild did not have their players wear specialty jerseys during warmups during their individual Pride nights.
"I've suggested that it would be appropriate for clubs not to change their jerseys in warmups because it's become a distraction and taking away from the fact that all of our clubs in some form or another host nights in honor of various groups or causes," Bettman said in the interview following an NHL board of governors meeting. "And we rather them continue to get the appropriate attention that they deserve and not be a distraction."
Bettman followed that up during February's NHL All-Star Star Weekend in Florida by saying, "[W]e also have to respect some individual choice, and some people are more comfortable embracing themselves in causes than others. And part of being diverse and welcoming is understanding those differences."