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EDITORIAL: Do not suppress professional athletes' free speech

The NHL did a disservice to its athletes when it tried to ban rainbow Pride tape

While players will be allowed to display pride tape on the ice, the NHL still will not let its players express support for the LGBTQ+ community through their jerseys or other apparel. – Photo by @nypost /

On October 24, the NHL reversed its controversial ban on rainbow-colored pride stick tape. While players are now permitted to use colored stick tape to show their support for social causes in the LGBTQ+ community, they still cannot wear themed jerseys that seek to accomplish the same goal: expressing their solidarity in a very visible way.

While many sports fans may be of the mindset that politics should be left off the field, it is not morally acceptable for sports organizations to silence their players and deliberately limit their free speech.

Activism in athletics has always been scrutinized, whether that be from Colin Kaepernick kneeling during the national anthem in the NFL or LeBron James wearing Black Lives Matter shirts with his teammates in the NBA. But it is not just those who participate in these sorts of movements that receive criticism. It is also experienced by those who choose not to partake.

In the case of the NHL, seven players reportedly did not warm up on the ice when their teammates wore pride jerseys. In the past, players have cited religious reasons for not participating in these sorts of themed nights. This kind of division may have likely contributed to the NHL's decision to ban any sort of pride tape.

While athletes should not be forced to participate in activism, by no means should an athlete not have the ability to or risk facing financial consequences, suspension or even the termination of their contract for doing so.

Spreading hate speech and using offensive language and slurs should undoubtedly warrant consequences from sports organizations, which has occurred in the past. Specifically in the NHL, Chicago Blackhawks player Andrew Shaw was suspended and fined in 2016 for calling someone a homophobic slur while sitting in the penalty box.

But national sports leagues must be careful not to censor their athletes when it comes to sensitive and controversial issues that hit home for them. Both Youcef Atal and Anwar El Ghazi were suspended by their respective soccer clubs after posting pro-Palestinian content on social media that was deemed to be insensitive.

While it is important to monitor hate speech, any form of censorship is a dangerous and immoral road to go down, especially when it comes to sports. Even if professional sports clubs are privately owned with the power to suspend their players if deemed necessary, professional athletes have an invaluable platform to discuss important issues such as racism, homophobia and violence that should not be suppressed by their employer.

Professional athletes should not feel as if they are risking their livelihoods when they utilize their platform to advocate for social causes. While super-star athletes like LeBron James might be on a sort of untouchable level due to their legacy or level of fame and talent, newer athletes risk more when they speak out. If a sports club sees them as replaceable, they may relieve them to avoid controversy.

All athletes, regardless of their level of fame, should feel that they can use their platform without fear of losing their position. Sports organizations should not use fear or intimidation tactics to silence their athletes because the impact goes beyond just the game, whether we would like to admit that or not.

The Daily Targum's editorials represent the views of the majority of the 155th editorial board. Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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