Travis Dermott had every reason to keep his head down and the tape on his hockey stick non-descript.
The Arizona Coyotes defenseman isn’t a “name” or a franchise favorite. He doesn’t have the protection of a monster contract. Dermott is a journeyman, playing for his third team in three years on a two-way contract that pays him more provided he can stay in the NHL.
He had everything to lose by defying the NHL’s ban on Pride tape over the weekend, especially given he didn’t tell anyone in the Coyotes organization he was going to do it. But Dermott went ahead and stuck his neck out anyway, because he knows there are people who’d lose even more if he stayed silent.
“It’s easy to forget that it’s a battle if it’s not in front of you,” Dermott told The Athletic on Monday night. “If you don’t see it every day, if it’s swept under the rug, if it’s just hidden from the naked eye, it’s easy to forget that there’s a group of people that don’t feel like they belong because the majority of people do feel like they belong.
“Once we stop thinking about that, I think that’s when it gets dangerous.”
NHL switches stance, overturns ban on players using rainbow-colored tape on sticks
That’s what being an ally is. It’s recognizing the privilege you have and using it to speak for those who don’t. It’s turning whatever spotlight you have on those whom certain parts of society would rather keep relegated to the shadows. Even when it’s not convenient.
Especially when it’s not convenient.
It’s easy to put on a T-shirt, march in a parade or stick a poster in your front yard proclaiming your support for marginalized people. And don’t get me wrong, those things are meaningful. They’re certainly better than doing nothing at all.
What Dermott did, however, was an act of both resistance and courage. He knew wrapping rainbow-colored Pride tape around his stick for the Coyotes home opener Saturday would get noticed, both by the people who need his support and those in the NHL who’d rather bury their heads in the ice and pretend the LGBTQ community doesn’t exist or who just want the whole issue to go away.
The NHL had banned Pride tape, along with any other tape or warm-up jerseys that showed support for a specific cause, in hopes of ducking the criticism that came when players refused, often citing their “beliefs.” (Just where and when the Christ these “Christians” profess to follow said anything about the LGBTQ community, I’d like to know, but that’s another matter altogether.)
But Dermott, a longtime LGBTQ ally, went ahead and wrapped his stick with Pride tape, just as he’s been doing for most of his career.
“Like my parents said growing up, ‘How awesome would it be to be the guy that people look up to?’” Dermott said. “You want to grow up and be that guy. You want to be the guy that’s having the impact on kids like NHL players had on you.
“With how many eyes are on us, especially with the young kids coming up in the new generation, you want to put as much positive love into their brain as you can,” he added. “You want them to see that it’s not just being taught or coming from maybe their parents at home. They need to see it in the public eye for it to really make an effect.”
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As is often the case with bullies and cowards, the NHL backed down after Dermott’s challenge. It announced Tuesday it would allow players to use stick tape to “represent social causes,” Pride tape included.
Dermott isn’t expected to be fined, either.
“Great news for the hockey community today. Congratulations and thank you to all of you who made your voices heard in support of LGBTQ+ inclusion in hockey — especially the courageous Travis Dermott,” former NHL executive Brian Burke said after the announcement.
Dermott takes his support for the LGBTQ community personally because someone close to him is part of it. But also because, as he’s spent time in the community, he’s seen LGBTQ people are no different than he is. They have similar interests. Similar hopes. Similar fears. Similar lives.
They aren’t a threat, on the ice or anywhere else. Neither is rainbow-colored tape on a hockey stick.
“As athletes, we have such a great platform to spread love,” Dermott told The Athletic, “and I think if we’re not spreading that love then what the hell are we doing?”
It's a question we should all be asking ourselves, and not only when it's easy.