Hockey has a new product that hopes will make social changes within the game.
Pride Tape, a rainbow-coloured stick tape, was created to promote the inclusion of LGBTQ athletes in sports.
Development of the tape comes from a collective effort from the University of Alberta’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, the You Can Play Project, a group that is dedicated to promoting respect for all athletes, and communications company Calder Bateman.
According to Dr. Kristopher Wells, an assistant professor at the University of Alberta, the colourful tape is one way for players to demonstrate support.
“Pride Tape is a way for players and coaches to signal that they are allies without having to say any words,” Wells said.
“It shows that they are immediately supportive without having to guess.”
The tape has grown in popularity after the entire Edmonton Oilers roster used it during their annual skills competition in late January. Oilers alternate captain, Andrew Ference, and Brian Burke, Calgary’s president of Hockey Operations, have also endorsed the creation.
“I think this was the right time and the right place for this to happen,” Wells said.
“I don’t know if we launched this two years ago if it would have taken off the same way.”
Professional sports were forever changed in 2013 when NBA veteran Jason Collins became the first openly gay athlete in a major American team sport. Just a year later, NFL draftee
A lot of times, kids throw around ‘gay’ or fag’ without really making the connection that those words have meaning behind them and aren’t just a synonym for stupid
Michael Sam also came out.
The groups chose to focus Pride Tape towards hockey because it is the only major North American sport without an openly gay athlete in the pro levels.
Pride tape is not solely used to bring gay and straight players together. According to Wells, it’s a stepping-stone towards changing hockey forever.
“This has to be more than just putting tape on your stick,” he said.
“It’s got to be about us thinking deeply about the cultural change that needs to happen. That’s not going to happen with a policy or one or two players using pride tape. It changes when a player comes out. It’s really about the process of changing attitudes to pave the way for that next generation.”
This new generation consists of roughly 638,000 hockey players in Canada, roughly 205,000 of those players in Ontario alone.
Former amateur hockey player Matt Horner, creator of the blog Five Minutes For Fighting, personally understands the struggle for acceptance in the game. When he played, Horner said he felt as though he would be shunned by teammates for being gay. The locker room homophobia caused him to walk away from the game he loved.
“A lot of times, kids throw around ‘gay’ or ‘fag’ without really making the connection that those words have meaning behind them and aren’t just a synonym for stupid,” he said.
Due to the use of gay slurs used in lockers rooms, he felt as though he did not belong and actively dreaded what would happen if someone found out he was gay. Horner feels that Pride Tape is a long overdue addition.
“If something like Pride Tape existed and was used by teams when I played, it would have been amazing,” he said.
“Just knowing that my teammates were supportive, whether I was out or not, it would have been a big help to feel included. It’s also a great visual reminder that casual homophobia isn’t cool.”
The backing for Pride Tape has been substantial. Wells routinely receives emails from supporters all over the world. He has even received messages from gay-straight alliances that are holding bake sales to raise money for production. The fundraiser goal of $54,000 through a Kickstarter campaign was surpassed well before the initiative was set to finish. Donations now sit at just over $76,000.
Wells says that after the tape is produced and distributed to kickstarter donators, the group wants to make the product free for interested minor hockey league teams and make it available for public purchase.
The world got a glimpse of progress when countries around the world flew pride flags in protest of Russia’s anti-gay laws ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Wells wants to be able to continue that message of positivity in sports.
“I would say that Canada is known for two things worldwide: hockey and human rights and here we are bringing them together into one roll of tape.”