Colorado Avalanche: Comments About Pride Tape Prompt Wider Discussion

DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 18: Colin Wilson #22 of the Colorado Avalanche heads back to the locker room after warm ups prior to the game against the Edmonton Oilers at the Pepsi Center on February 18, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - FEBRUARY 18: Colin Wilson #22 of the Colorado Avalanche heads back to the locker room after warm ups prior to the game against the Edmonton Oilers at the Pepsi Center on February 18, 2018 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Interview with Colorado Avalanche center Colin Wilson has prompted a wider discussion about inclusivity in the Avs locker room

Last night Colorado Avalanche center Colin Wilson participated in an Instagram Live interview with Jesse Pollock of Bardown. On the surface it’s a fairly innocuous interview where they talk about the growing up in Winnipeg and pass comments on some of the more interesting stick taping styles by some NHL players.

Things get interesting when they open up the questions to fans who are watching, and someone asks about the use of colored tape. Again, on the surface, a seemingly harmless question until the topic of Pride Tape comes up.

As has been mentioned in previous posts, Wilson has been the You Can Play ambassador on the Avalanche for the past two years. Unfortunately, due to injury, he has missed both Hockey is for Everyone nights during his tenure. He did use Pride Tape during warmups for the game in 2018 before he took on the role of ambassador.

During the Bardown interview a fan asks about the use of colored stick tape and what he thinks about it.

“Colored tape?” Wilson asks. “I don’t know. Not for the NHL but I think it’s pretty fun to experiment. I mean I get excited during the ‘Everyone Can Play’ night,” Wilson continues, “where you get to do the rainbow during warmups. I always want to keep it for the game. I think it’s a pretty dope style.”

“So why don’t you?” Pollock asks.

“I just don’t have it in me,” Wilson responds. “I just cannot get chirped by my own teammates, and the other team, and still try to play a game.”

I’m quite sure Wilson intended this to be a throwaway comment, and Pollock doesn’t dwell on his response, but it does raise several questions and observations which I will try and break down.

Hockey is Not for Everyone

It’s concerning that Wilson, someone who knows the Avalanche players better than most, feels that something as simple as using Pride Tape during an actual game would result in members of his team making fun of him. This, more than anything, does not come as a surprise to me however. A lot of the roster don’t even bother to use Pride Tape during warmups on Hockey is for Everyone night. It’s generally just a small handful that do. Even this year, which was a more involved and successful event than previous years, not all of the players used the tape during warmups.

To them it’s an optional extra if they feel like it. Something fun and different that brightens up warmups for one game per year. It’s not mandatory the way the military appreciation or hockey fights cancer jerseys are even though symbolically they are all meant to achieve the same thing — to show support for an area of the community. That, fundamentally, is the crux of the issue. No matter how many soundbites we get about hockey being for everyone, that belief is evidently still a joke to a lot of players.

What does it mean to be an ambassador?

Out of curiosity I looked up what being a Hockey is for Everyone ambassador involves. According to the NHL’s Hockey is for Everyone page

"Each team has designated a Hockey Is for Everyone Player Ambassador to promote the League’s broad diversity and inclusion initiatives. The Ambassador serves as a leader in the locker room, a leader in the community, and a public advocate to speak up and inspire others"

It’s a statement so vague it’s almost meaningless. There’s no tangible responsibilities that come with holding this role. It’s almost as though it’s something the NHL doesn’t take particularly seriously but wants to check a box to say they’ve done something.

Now, I like Colin Wilson. It would be remiss of me to not say that. I don’t think he’s a bad person and, in fact, he’s been very kind to me personally during my time as an Avalanche fan.

However, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I also have to say that his comments indicate a failing in his role as Hockey is for Everyone ambassador. Delving into the vagueness of what the role involves, one thing that stands out is the requirement to be a leader and to speak up. If he’s not prepared to take some teasing or name calling on the chin for the sake of representing a minority group, then perhaps this is not the role for him. I have no idea whether he was assigned this role or if he volunteered. On the surface it seems like a perfect fit for him. He’s openly liberal, kind, and clearly cares about others. Just not enough to risk rocking the boat.

I’m not going to lay everything at his door, however. There are very few players in the NHL who are outspoken enough to be considered true leaders for the LGBTQ+ community. We need more players like Mark Borowiecki who not only made this post but then continued to push back against homophobic and negative replies in the comments. That is a true leader.

There’s no I in team

More from Mile High Sticking

As is generally the case when things like this happen, it’s overall hockey culture that is the main issue rather than individual players. When you’re taught from a young age that team is more important than individuality, and that expressing any sort of diverse opinion could at best disrupt the team dynamic and at worst cost you ice time, it’s no wonder players don’t want to rock the boat. Add in to that the fact that most players at NHL level come from privileged backgrounds, and have the luxury of being able to focus solely on hockey while being able to pick and choose what causes matter to them.

In order for any sort of real, tangible changes to happen it needs to start at a grass roots and youth level. If anything is going to be improved young players need to be taught that diversity is not a joke. It needs to be normalized to the point where if a player says he wants to use Pride Tape during a game that no one cares.

And, the thing is, other leagues have proved that it can work. Looking to my own league here in the UK, a player on my local team came out this season. His teammates were all behind him 100% They were vocally supportive, every single one of them wore a Pride jersey on Pride Night. At the end of the game the day he came out every single player went over to him and gave him a hug.

There is absolutely no reason why this shouldn’t apply in the NHL as well, but it won’t because stepping outside the box and shining a light onto yourself as an individual is discouraged.

What comes next?

With the NHL season currently indefinitely suspended we’re unlikely to see any sort of official response to this. Although, if I’m being honest, we probably wouldn’t even if the season was in full swing. When the issue being brought to light reflects on hockey culture in general, the NHL isn’t known for its reaction unless it’s related to an individual. Wilson could have chosen his words better, but there was no malice or intent to offend or upset anyone.

In fact, he has since issued a clarification to Outsports regarding the comments he made during the interview

"“We were originally talking about whether or not I would ever use light colored tape during the game. So when I responded, I was again thinking about using any colored tape because that would be sticking out as an individual during a team game.”"

So, while he has clarified that it’s not Pride Tape specifically that his teammates would object to, we are still stuck in a place where individuality is not encouraged. This also doesn’t change the fact that on Pride Nights using Pride Tape during warmups is treated as an optional novelty and not given the same respect as other theme nights.

Next. Decision on NHL's Phase 2 May Be Coming Soon. dark

It seems that whenever the Colorado Avalanche make any sort of progress regarding support for the LGBTQ+ community, we end up taking a few steps back. This specific case might have been a misunderstanding, but the underlying issues of conformity are still there. We still have no out LGBTQ+ players in the NHL, and the way diversity is still treated in the league it’s no surprise. It feels like we’re still a long way off from actual inclusivity.