The tale of the tape

Canada’s national sport gets a rainbow-colored makeover that unites ‘hockey & human rights’

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Dr. Kristopher Wells

According to Kris Wells, Canada is known for two things: “hockey and human     rights.”

If that’s true, he has reason to be proud. He’s a creator of Pride Tape, a new product that wraps those two things together. And it’s taking his country by storm.

Kris Wells — more formally Dr. Kristopher Wells — is an assistant professor of education at the University of Alberta. The Edmonton native also serves as faculty director of the school’s Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services (ISMSS).

One of the institute’s research projects tracked the use of “casual homophobia” on Twitter. The enormous prevalence of words and phrases like “faggot” and “no homo” led Wells, his colleagues and students to wonder how they could raise awareness of harmful language, and reduce it.

“Schools and sports are the last two areas of institutionalized homophobia and transphobia,” Wells says. “That’s why we’ve partnered with the You Can Play Project,” the organization dedicated to ensuring equality, respect and safety for all athletes, without regard to sexual orientation, co-founded by National Hockey League executive Patrick Burke.

But, Wells continues, “there is still not one out NHL player. They’re role models for so many people. We wanted to find a way to get them involved in the dialogue.”

During the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, the Russian government’s anti-gay propaganda law sparked a backlash by human rights activists. Rainbow flags flew all over the city, in a show of solidarity with LGBT athletes and spectators.

Those six colors — universally recognized as symbols of gay Pride, and support of LGBT issues — also appeared on t-shirts and souvenirs. Now, thanks to Wells and the ISMSS, they’ll be wrapped around hockey sticks all over the country.

Tape is ubiquitous in the sport. Players use it to better grip a stick; to protect the stick from wear and damage, and to impart more spin on shots and passes. For decades, it’s come in only two colors: white and black.

Now there’s also red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.

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Pride Tape

“This is a way for teams to signal support to kids at rinks everywhere,” Wells says. “Research shows that LGBT youth are less likely to participate in team sports, because of the homophobic culture of the locker room. The higher the level of play, the more hypermasculine the environment. Rainbow-colored tape is a badge of support to LGBT youth, which everyone can see. These six colors can change the hockey world.”

Edmonton is a natural birthplace for Pride Tape. Two years ago Andrew Ference — captain of the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins — was traded to the Oilers. He’d been involved with You Can Play, and asked Wells how to stay involved in his new city. That June, when he marched with the Camp fYrefly youth group, he became the first captain of any professional sport to participate in a Gay Pride parade.

Last year, Ference was joined by Oilers’ goaltender Ben Scrivens (traded last month to the Montreal Canadiens), and Scrivens’ wife Jenny, also a professional goaltender.

The tape was created by Calder Bateman, an Edmonton marketing, design and brand management agency. Creative director Jeff McLean says, “Unfortunately, too often sports remains a holdout in creating a welcoming environment for LGBTQ youth.
That’s why I feel strongly about the ongoing relationship we have” with the ISMSS.

Getting Pride Tape to market was not as easy as slapping a rainbow on cloth, however. Professionals demand high-grade tape, and blending six colors proved difficult.

The manufacturer also had a minimum run: 10,000 rolls. The cost is nearly $40,000. (A Kickstarter campaign ended last month, but you can check it out at PrideTape.com.)

Wells is confident the goal will be reached. Five thousand rolls of tape will be given to minor league professional hockey teams (hopefully NHL squads, too). Other rolls will go to backers who contributed $30 or more. The tape will also be sold to the public. Proceeds will be split between ISMSS and You Can Play.

Pride Tape has received strong press coverage. A nationwide multimedia campaign was launched in mid-December. Every major television network provided free spots for a commercial featuring Ference (and produced gratis) by Global. In addition, NewAD contributed space for printed materials in restaurants and bars across the country.

Feedback has been powerful. Email and letter writers say that seeing rainbow tape when they were younger would have made a major difference in their lives. One man wrote, “This could have kept me playing.”

As Wells prepares for a national rollout of Pride Tape, he’s already looking ahead. Tape is used on tennis racquets, baseball bats, lacrosse sticks — even on socks — for nearly every sport. Soon, rainbow tape might be as ubiquitous as the rainbow flag.

— Dan Woog

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 4, 2016.

—  Dallasvoice

Pro hockey players make sport gay-inclusive

The British rugby star Ben Cohen, pictured, has been the most public straight sports superstar to show support for the gay community and end bullying and homophobia in sports. But even Cohen had retired before he dedicated himself to the cause, and he is European. Which might make the You Can Play project a first: active American and Canadian ice hockey players making public service announcements in support of gay inclusion in sports.

The project was inspired after NHL general manager Patrick Burke’s brother came out as gay. When he was killed in a 2010 accident, Burke (now at the Toronto Maple Leafs) co-founded the project, which has as its mission creating a homophobia-free environment to allow gay players to know their straight teammates will accept them.

You can see some of the videos here.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Houston Aeros’ Justin Fontaine suspended for anti-gay tweet

Justin Fontaine

Houston’s American Hockey League team, the Aeros, has suspended player Justin Fontaine for two games after a homophobic tweet from the right winger.

The suspension was handed down from the Aeros’ parent NHL team the Minnesota Wild, who issued a press statement apologizing for Fontaine’s “inappropriate” comment.

Fontaine has since removed the offending tweet and tweeted an apology, saying “Twitter rookie and it came out totally wrong. It was a roommate battle, nothing more.” Missing from Fontaine’s apology was any recognition that it is cruel to use a term for queer people to deride something.

The issue is not that Fontaine used a naughty word, or that he did it in a public venue. The issue is that Fontaine seems to think that words meaning LGBT people are synonyms for “a thing I don’t like.” It’s hard to imagine that that equation does not stem from a dislike for LGBT people.

—  admin

Resource Center Dallas calls for NBA to join NFL in banning anti-gay discrimination

The other day we mentioned that the National Football League recently banned anti-gay discrimination as part of the league’s new collective bargaining agreement.

Now, Resource Center Dallas is calling on the National Basketball Association to follow suit.

Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell provided Instant Tea with a copy of the letter he sent today to NBA Commissioner David Stern and Billy Hunter, executive director of the NBA Players Association, calling for the league to add sexual orientation to its nondiscrimination policy. The NBA is set to resume meetings Friday in an attempt to come up with a new collective bargaining agreement and salvage the upcoming season.

McDonnell says Major League Soccer added sexual orientation protections in 2004, while the National Hockey League did so in 2005.

“I am proud of the steps that the NBA has taken to embrace the LGBT community. Several teams have held LGBT fan nights,” McDonnell’s letter states. “The ‘Wordplay/Think B4 You Speak.com’ PSA that ran during last spring’s NBA playoffs show the league and the players association understand how words can be used to dehumanize LGBT people. Furthermore, recent penalties assessed against players show the league is serious about cracking down on disrespectful language.

“By adding the sexual orientation nondiscrimination language, the NBA not only joins the NFL, NHL and MLS. It joins nine of the Fortune 10 companies and 89% of the Fortune 500. It also sends a strong signal to the league’s LGBT fans that they are supported and affirmed, since professional sports have been described as one of the last bastions of homophobia.”

Read the full letter below.

—  John Wright