Is colored tape a bridge too far in hockey?
Apparently, yes, even if it means supporting the LGBTQ community.
In an interview that went up on Tuesday evening, the Colorado Avalanche’s Colin Wilson had a revealing conversation with Bar Down, the Canadian hockey website, about the use of tape in hockey. Now, for the uninitiated, how players tape their sticks is a deeply personal thing, and involves all manner of ritual and superstition.
During the lengthy chat, Wilson broke down the type of tape he prefers to use, talked about his stick’s “knob” and rated how other players tape their sticks. If you think talking about stick tape for over 50 minutes is dull, well, maybe hockey isn’t the sport for you.
The most revealing bit of Wilson’s interview though, happened around the 12:40 minute mark, where an offhand comment about Pride Tape showed how deep hockey’s insistence on conformity runs.
As first noticed by hockey fan @dunbaerrito on Twitter, Wilson was asked what he thought about colored tape. To be clear, the interviewer is talking about all colored tape, not just Pride Tape.
BD: “I wanna know your opinion on this, what about colored tape?”
Wilson: “Colored tape? I don’t know, not for the NHL, but I think it’s pretty fun to experiment..I mean I get excited for the everyone can play night, where you get to do the rainbow in warm ups, I always just want to keep it for the game, I think it’s a pretty dope style.
BD: “So, why don’t you?”
Wilson: “I just don’t have it in me just, cannot get chirped by my own teammates and the other team and still try to play a game.”
Here’s a clip of the exchange. The entire interview can be found <a href=”
There’s a lot to unpack in this short exchange, and none of it particularly reflects well on the sport.
At its worst, Wilson’s comments sound like he’s backing off from using Pride Tape because he’d get homophobic comments directed at him for using something the NHL and teams expressly are trying to do to promote inclusivity. Pride Tape is the lowest possible bar of things that players are asked to do to show that they care about inviting LGBTQ fans into the league. Wilson is admitting that, even though that’s what those specific colors represent and he is supportive of what they mean, he’s still too afraid of getting chirped at, so he’s not willing to take that particular stand.
There’s the other interpretation of Wilson’s comments, which is that players will chirp anything on the ice, including different colored tape, and the teasing isn’t rooted in homophobia, but in the disdain for anyone who dares to deviate from an established norm, for any reason.
That sounds marginally better, but not without its own problems.
Hockey’s culture is so insidiously homogenous that Wilson admitted using a different type of tape would expose him to teasing that would be bad enough to distract him from a game. Imagine then, what it must be like to gay player in the NHL, or a black player, or heck, even a European player. If tape deviation, not using white or black tape, opens a player up to ridicule from their own team, then how would it be possible to speak openly about any number of issues that plague the NHL and overall hockey culture?
Specifically, Pride Tape is about letting people be themselves. To not expressly support that, to chirp a teammate for choosing to support the LGBTQ community with something as performative as a tape job, shows a breathtaking lack of tolerance. If players can’t put aside their disdain for vibrantly colored tape, even when they know what it represents, how is real inclusivity in the locker room possible?
The NHL has put a lot of resources behind their Hockey Is For Everyone campaign, trying to open up the doors to a sport that often feels unaccepting to the LGBTQ community, women and people of color. Pride Tape seems like such an easy and obvious sign of support that shouldn’t even be controversial, yet it is.
In this particular case, the color of the tape can not be separated from what it represents. If players are chirping a teammate for proudly using primary colors, it’s not just because they hate color. What they are really pushing back against is anything that won’t conform to the rigid, unspoken structures that they already have in place.
Maybe Wilson could stand to take a page from former New Jersey Devils’ player Kurtis Gabriel, who said he would keep Pride Tape on his stick year round. If you really believe in something, have the courage to visibly support it, regardless of what your teammates say.