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Travis Dermott knew that he would draw attention with his actions in the Coyotes’ home opener against the Anaheim Ducks at Mullett Arena on Saturday. The Arizona defenseman just hoped that the spotlight might shine on the issue that he was addressing, not on him.
“You don’t really want to go against rules that are put in place by your employer, but there’s some people who took some positive things from it,” Dermott said. “That’s kind of what I’m looking to impact.
“You want to have everyone feel included and that’s something that I have felt passionate about for a long time in my career. It’s not like I just just jumped on this train. It’s something that I’ve felt has been lacking in the hockey community for a while. I feel like we need supporters of a movement like this; to have everyone feel included and really to beat home the idea that hockey is for everyone.”
Dermott wrapped the shaft of his stick with rainbow tape on Saturday. The decision was in violation of the NHL’s guidelines set forth for theme nights by the NHL Board of Governors at a June meeting. Those guidelines banned the use of such tape after Pride Night stirred a great deal of controversy for the league on both sides of the issue. Dermott became the first player to defy the new rules.
“I won’t lie,” said Dermott, who is playing on a one-year, two-way contract. “From the outside, it’s easy to see that I’m putting my career on the line for something. I definitely went through some emotional ups and downs that night, not regretting anything by any means, but I’d love to have maybe done a couple of steps a little different by making sure that everyone was aware of what was going on before I did it.
“I don’t want to put my teammates or my coaches or my GMs or the equipment managers in any kind of bad light when it’s their job to kind of look out for something like this happening. It was definitely something that I did just by myself and was prepared to kind of deal with whatever repercussions the league decides to push towards that. I’m not going to back off and say that this battle is won, but we’re going to find better ways to do it.”
As Dermott noted, LGBTQ+ inclusion is an issue that he has supported for a long time. Without getting into specifics, Dermott said the issue is personal for him because it impacts people close to him.
“I’d be lying if I said I haven’t shed tears about this on multiple occasions,” he said. “So yeah, it’s something I’m definitely very passionate about.
“I’ve met a lot of people that from the outside, it looks like they have everything going right in their life and they have a smile on their face every time they talk to you. But sometimes when we get closer to people and get comfortable enough for them to open up to you, you can see that there’s some pretty dark stuff happening to some good people. It doesn’t take too many times encountering something like that for it to really change someone.
“I’ve been blessed to have some of those opportunities put in front of me to really change my view of what being a good person means; what being a good father and a good example and role model means going forward. You really see how people are hurting and it’s because of a system that maybe no one’s intentionally trying to be malicious about, but until you’ve really had that first-person experience seeing people hurting from it right in front of you, it’s tough to kind of take steps.”
Dermott said he has received an outpouring of support from family, friends, players and media members. Longtime hockey executive Brian Burke is one of those supporters who has been vocal about it.
Dermott said he has also received support from the organization.
“We as an organization, first and foremost, respect and support our players’ rights to express themselves as individuals. Second, I want to be very clear that as an organization, we remain steadfast in our support of the LGBTQ+ community,” Coyotes president and CEO Xavier Gutierrez said. “We will continue with our efforts as an organization to not only support, but to celebrate that community in addition to all the other communities that we have been very focused on embracing, welcoming, extending our hands to and opening our doors.
“The players are very well aware of the rules by which they need to abide, and it is their decision, but we are very supportive of them as individuals doing so. You will see us continue to take organization-wide efforts to express our support for this community within the boundaries set forth by the NHL.”
Last week, Gutierrez joined the PHNX Coyotes show to expand upon the team’s stance in the wake of the league’s new guidelines.
When asked if there was a timeline for the league deciding whether to punish Dermott, here’s what NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said via email:
“No timeline, no,” he said. “Will be handled in due course.”
It would be a surprise if the league handed down any sort of punishment. The optics alone would add to the public relations damage that the original ban created. Even so, Dermott reiterated his desire to bring the entire franchise into the fold before he takes similar actions in the future, but he also made it clear that he will not be silenced on the topic.
“It’s not like I’m shutting up and going away,” he said. “I know more questions are going to be coming. We’re just going to be as prepared as we can be to just spread love. That’s the thing. It’s gay pride that we’re talking about, but it could be men’s health. It could be any war. It’s just wanting world peace. Everyone’s got to love each other a little bit more.
“Like my parents said growing up, ‘How awesome would it be to be the guy that people look up to?’ That’s what really hit home when I was a kid, especially from my mom. 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. If they had been racist or bigoted, that’s going to have an effect 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. 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.”
Top photo via Getty Images
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