Time to highlight an intersection of two things I’m keen about, sports and LGBT support. If you’ve ever seen a hockey game, you may notice that players apply a mostly cloth-based tape on their sticks, most noticeably at the top of the handle (the knob) and the blade. There are three main reasons this is done: To improve a player’s grip on the stick; to allow better control of the puck; and to reduce damage to the stick when an opposing player hacks at it.
Almost always, hockey tape is of one or two standard colors, namely this:
Yeah, black or white tape. Not a very inspiring variety, huh? Luckily, however, there’s now more variety in color choice, and for a good cause.
Yes, those are the pride rainbow colors on those sticks. It’s the product of an initiative called, appropriately enough, Pride Tape. It was launched in December 2015 by the Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services (ISMSS) at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The concept is for athletes to show their LGBT support in an individualized, iconic way. And with hockey a national sport in Canada and stick tape a common product in that sport, what better way to show that support than through rainbow-colored tape? It’s unobtrusive yet noticeable — or as the people behind Pride Tape call it on their Kickstarter page, a “badge of support from the hockey world” and a sign of inclusiveness to young LGBTQ hockey players that, yes, you can play the game.
And it’s quite a significant move in hockey, a rough-and-tumble sport where LGBTQ players have been nervous about playing openly. Andrew Ference of the National Hockey League’s Edmonton Oilers, who is lending his personal support to Pride Tape (that’s him sporting it in the photo at right), noted that when he was growing up, a friend quit hockey because, as a gay person, he didn’t feel comfortable being in the locker room. One can say the low comfort level some LGBTs may feel in hockey could be a byproduct of the sport’s manly “buck it up and get back out there” attitude. Ference believes Pride Tape and other outward signs of LGBTQ support can have a “trickle down effect” in influencing younger players — a statement that no matter who you are (gay, straight, whatever), you can still take to the ice and enjoy playing the sport.
Ference isn’t the only member of the Oilers to show support for the Pride Tape project. In fact, last weekend, the Oilers became the first NHL team to use Pride Tape on-ice, sporting the tape on their sticks during their annual Skills Competition, as this tweet verified:
The Oilers franchise has taken it a step further: The team’s charitable arm, which focuses on programs that encourage youth education, health and wellness, has made a donation to become a founding partner in Pride Tape — a contribution big enough to help the project surpass its Kickstarter goal, if not come very, very close to it. (Note to self: Figure out the current conversion rate between the US and Canadian dollars.)
With that monetary goal all set, organizers of Pride Tape will use the funds to create an initial run of 10,000 rolls of the rainbow-hued tape. The next step will be to turn their website into a transactional site, allowing as many teams and players as possible (regardless of level of play) to purchase the tape. They even have a lofty goal of expanding Pride Tape to other products for other sports.
But the good thing about Pride Tape is that proceeds from any future sales will help support UAlberta’s ISMSS and other initiatives that promote LGBTQ outreach and inclusiveness. One such organization is You Can Play, with which the NHL and several of its players have already been involved in the past several years.
This weekend is the NHL’s All-Star Weekend, one of the sport’s biggest stages. And while logistics may prevent Pride Tape from being seen on-ice this weekend (the project is in its infancy after all), it would be so awesome if it were to be used at next year’s all-star event, if not even sooner. (The Stanley Cup playoffs this spring? Maybe next fall’s World Cup of Hockey?) If and when that happens, it would be the clearest sign yet that hockey is moving beyond any reputation (valid or perceived) of being a bunch of unwelcoming brutes, and that those involved in the sport are being standout role models in the cause of LGBTQ inclusiveness.