Imagine yourself sitting in an office with a stack of rolls of white hockey tape and a handful of magic markers, trying your best to colour the rolls so that they make a perfect rainbow on a hockey blade. To be honest it sounds like how I spent my day the last time the office wifi went down, but when Jeff McLean, creative director at Calder Bateman Communications found himself in this very situation, passing idle time was the farthest thing from his mind.
The culmination of McLean's (and a team of Calder Bateman employees) work is Pride Tape, the rainbow coloured hockey tape that's making so much noise these days, adorning the sticks of professional players across the NHL and pushing for awareness of discrimination against LGBTQ people in sports. Unlike other initiatives to stem the use of homophobic and derogatory language used so freely in sports to this day, Pride Tape is not a simple campaign, but an actual product that players can utilize to show their support of inclusion in a physical way.
"We decided to create a badge of support that hockey players could wear, we landed on the tape, which kind of just popped into my head," McLean said. "I said, ‘what a great opportunity with the tape because that’s done on an individual level rather than a team-sanctioned level.”
Players tape their own sticks and therefore can use the rainbow Pride Tape to show their individual support for the LGBTQ community and those in sports who identify as such.
Carolina Panters' Jonathan Huberdeau shows off his rainbow tape on the ice
The idea behind the tape stems from previous initiatives Calder Bateman has worked on in conjunction with the University of Aberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (iSMSS) surrounding the cavalier way that people still use derogatory language, failing to register that, even passively, such talk can be hurtful and damaging to individuals and groups.
The initial project that Calder Bateman and iSMSS collaborated on was a website called NoHomophobes.com, a project that showcases the casual homophobia used on social media by tracking specific slurs and phrases - "dyke," "faggot," "no homo," and "so gay," to name a few - in real time and displaying them as hard numbers to drive the fact home that even in our progressive and 'enlightened' society, this type of language is still used freely and without remorse.
The website, now used as a training tool for athletes to showcase the hostile environment that casual homophobia can create, provided hard evidence to a pervasive problem in professional sports. Far from having their wifi down, the Pride Tape team at Calder Bateman was armed with this information when they set about to create their physical tool of support and inclusion, and the initiative has taken off! While the hope is to curb this issue across the board, the team chose to focus on hockey to start.
Buffalo's Evander Kane took Pride Tape one step further, adorning his name with the rainbow February 7th vs. San Jose (Buffalo won, 5-4...just saying!)
San Jose's Joel Ward elected to tape up, with no obligation as a visiting player against the Sabres
"We chose to talk about the use of homophobic language in sports, specifically hockey, because that’s where we live. Being in Edmonton, working in Edmonton, it was something near and dear to our hearts," McLean said.
With a KickStarter campaign to raise funds and professional hockey player ambassadors like the Oilers Andrew Ference sticking to the project like...well, tape, McLean and his team have made some serious connections in order to push Pride Tape as far as they can.
"The planets seem to have aligned with the timing that we could include Pride Tape in all the plans that the NHL is doing with the You Can Play project,” McLean said.
You Can Play is a social activism campaign that seeks to eliminate stigma about and discrimination towards LGBTQ in sports. The project was co-founded by Patrick Burke, son of legendary ex-Leafs General Manager and current President of Hockey operations for the Calgary Flames, Brian Burke. Patrick, himself a former scout for the Philadelphia flyers and current Director in the NHL's Department of Player Safety, launched You Can Play to honour the memory of his younger brother, Brendan, killed in a car accident in 2010.
Prior to his death, Brendan Burke chose to quit playing hockey in high school for fear of his sexuality being discovered. Burke chose to pursue a career in hockey management and became a student manager at Miami University, where he would come out to his family and teammates, who largely supported him. He has been lauded as the closest thing professional hockey has ever had to a publicly gay player and worked to advocate for other players who might be suffering in the same situation he had.
As such, You Can Play was a perfect fit for Pride Tape and over the course of February - the NHL's "Hockey Is For Everyone Month" - players from every team in the league will join the initiative to support equality by sporting the rainbow on their sticks.
You can check out when your team is going to be repping the rainbow online, and get your own roll of Pride Tape anytime at pridetape.com and all this month at NHL.com as well. McLean says he and his team have seen orders coming in from all over the world - Australia, Africa, Spain, Germany, Norway and all over North America - and people have been getting creative with it!
"If you check out the Instagram feed you’ll see people using it on their crutches, on their curling brooms, their bicycles. We had a hurling team from Ireland order tape for their sport, as well! We’ve had interest from other sports for taping up their feet or other equipment, golfers, and it’s been used in slow pitch leagues in New York City," McLean said. "It’s been making its rounds and it’s a lot of fun to watch.”
Ready to give homophobia the ol' one-two!
Home run tape job!
As for McLean and the rest of the team at Calder Bateman, getting to work on a project that does so much to affect social change so closely tied to a sport they love is the biggest reward of all.
"Regardless of who you are, and what your sexuality is, you should feel welcome on the ice. That’s a message that everyone really grabbed onto and supported," McLean said. "Growing up loving the game, getting to work on a project of this importance and then getting to see your heroes using it is amazing!