Former NHL executive Brian Burke has sharply criticized the league's decision to ban players from using rainbow-colored stick tape in support of the LGBTQ+ community this season.
Burke, who spent six years as the NHL's executive vice president and director of hockey operations, said Wednesday in a statement posted to social media that the leaguewide ban on rainbow tape removes meaningful support to protect a select few who don't want to answer questions about their choices.
"This is not inclusion or progress," Burke, now president of the PWHL players' association, said. "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. Make no mistake, this is a surprising and serious setback."
The NHL sent a memo to teams last week clarifying what players can and cannot do as part of theme celebrations this season, including a ban on the use of rainbow tape for the Pride nights that have become a hot-button issue in hockey.
The updated guidance reaffirms that on-ice player uniforms and gear for games, warmups and official team practices cannot be altered to reflect theme nights, including Pride, Hockey Fights Cancer or military appreciation celebrations. Players can voluntarily participate in themed celebrations off the ice.
Pride Tape co-founder Kristopher Wells told SportsNet that he has received calls from "a number of NHL players" about the league's decision.
"I would not be surprised at all if you saw an NHL player use Pride Tape, regardless of what the NHL said," Wells told SportsNet. "I think the players will find a way to make their own statements.
"We've had people from across the hockey world contact us and express their disappointment with this decision. But they remain undeterred that they're going to continue to find ways to show their support."
Burke, a longtime advocate for the LGBTQ+ community who also worked over two decades in front offices for five teams, said he is "deeply disappointed in the NHL's decision to ban on-ice support for community causes."
"I've worked in a variety of NHL markets over the last 35 years and have always made it a priority for my teams to commit substantial time, energy and resources to engage with and support local organizations and causes," Burke said.
The You Can Play (YCP) Project, an organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ participation in sports and has partnered with the NHL for the past decade, similarly ripped the league by saying, "If Hockey is for Everyone, this 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 YCP Project said in a statement. "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."
An NHL spokesperson told ESPN's Greg Wyshynski earlier this week that Pride tape had been allowed for years as an exception to its stick tape restrictions, which otherwise would allow players to use only black or white tape. The league said the current ban on Pride tape was to prevent teams and players from using it as an "end around" to violate the new uniform policy.
Stickers and ribbons are also banned from player uniforms, although coaches are allowed to wear ribbons.
The NHL decided in June not to allow teams to wear any theme jerseys for warmups after a handful of players opted out of those situations during Pride night last season. The league has said players opting out of Pride nights served as a distraction to the work its teams were doing in the community.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.