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Not Just Pride Bans: NHL Players Now Can't Show Support for Cancer & Native Heritage

Not Just Pride Bans: NHL Players Now Can't Show Support for Cancer & Native Heritage

NHL Pride Nights; Hockey Fights Cancer
Getty Images

After banning Pride nights, the NHL might now fine players who show support for causes like Hockey Fights Cancer and Indigenous Heritage.

First, the National Hockey League (NHL) banned Pride Nights. Now, the sports league is cracking down on support of other causes.

Minnesota Wild goalie Marc-Andre Fleury was the center of attention during the team's 3-2 loss to the Colorado Avalanche Friday, despite not playing in the game.

Fleury, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, drew an outpour of support from fans after he donned a specially-designed helmet for the Wild's Native American Heritage Night, despite the National Hockey League threatening him with hefty fines.

The goalie had collaborated with a local artist, Cole Redhorse Taylor, to design the mask, which features Dakota symbolism and language in honor of the tribe prominent within Minnesota. It was created to be auctioned off for the American Indian Family Center in St. Paul, but also served as a tribute to Fleury's wife, Veronique, who is a member of a First Nations tribe in Canada.

Despite not being slated to play Friday, Fleury was told prior to the game that he would be fined if he wore the mask during warm-ups, according to his agent, Allan Walsh. Walsh said that Fleury indicated he would pay the fine and still wear the helmet, but the NHL then threatened him with an additional "significant fine."

Fleury donned the helmet anyway, receiving praise from fans and activists. His decision also reignited disdain for a new NHL policy, which forbids players from wearing specially-designed gear on themed nights.

National Hockey League teams added LGBTQ+ Pride to their seasonal theme nights in recent years, which also include events such as Black History, military appreciation, and Hockey Fights Cancer. On these nights, players would wear jerseys corresponding with the theme while they warm up, which would later be auctioned off with the proceeds going to related charities.

Only seven players refused to wear pride jerseys last year, citing their own personal beliefs. Some teams responded to the PR backlash by taking the choice away from players and removing Pride jerseys entirely, including the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, and Minnesota Wild.

Watch for More Details About the NHL Pride Tape Ban

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and the league's Board of Governors decided to nix themed jerseys entirely at the end of the 2022-2023 season, with Bettman calling them a "distraction." The NHL then banned players from using rainbow tape during warm-ups at the start of the 2023-2024 season, but the decision was reversed after backlash from players and fans alike.

Players who used pride tape to protest the ban were not fined. Fleury has also not yet been fined, and reports indicate it is unlikely the NHL will hand down a punishment. However, their warnings to the veteran player continue the league's new trend of cracking down on players showing support for causes through their equipment.

Logan Thompson, goalie for reigning Stanley Cup champions the Vegas Golden Knights, was told by the NHL in October that he could not put a cancer ribbon on his helmet for the month, despite the league designating it as Hockey Fights Cancer month. However, Florida Panthers goaltenders were allowed to wear the NHL's trademark purple Hockey Fights Cancer helmets on the team's singular night.

Fleury's helmet is currently going for upwards of $15,000 — significantly more than any other item in the Wild's auction. Redhorse Taylor, the artist who designed the helmet, praised Fleury's decision to wear it in spite of the league's threats, saying it "spoke so much to his character."

"Regardless of what today’s outcome was, this auction will still benefit a charity for native people!" he wrote.

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Ryan Adamczeski