Babcock’s ‘moustache’ for mental health

Former George Brown students collaborate on mental health campaign with the Leafs’ head coach and Movember Foundation

Facial hair has been forbidden on the Toronto Maple Leafs ever since general manager Lou Lamoriello took over the team in 2015. 

So the sight of the Leafs’ head coach Mike Babcock sporting an impressive Freddie Mercury-like moustache, as he does on the special November-edition of the niche sock brand Babsocks, might be alarming to some. 

But don’t sweat it sports fans, hell hasn’t frozen over and Babcock is still the Leafs’ head coach. It’s just that two former George Brown College (GBC) students are collaborating with the the Movember Foundation and Babcock to raise awareness and money to support young athlete’s mental health.

Thomas McCole, a former GBC marketing student and Babsocks co-founder, said that even though coach Babcock won’t be growing a “Movember” moustache himself, the Leafs’ coach has been very generous with his time and dedication towards mental health. 

“I think (Babcock) genuinely trusts what we are doing and the direction we are taking and he appreciates it,” said McCole.

The promotion, which is called Ahead of the Game, has Greater Toronto Hockey League (GTHL) teams selling special Babsocks, with $5 from each sale going to support the Movember Foundation’s programming for minor athletes’ mental health. Babcock has offered to run a practice with his Toronto Maple Leafs coaching staff for the GTHL team that sells the most Babsocks this month.

As of today, an atom A team from the Forest Hill Hockey Association is in the lead with 250 Babsocks sold. But the Don Mills Mustangs AA atom team is not far behind with 234 sales.

Aside from the contest being well-suited for the GTHL’s age group — most players in the league are under 15 years-old — raising awareness on mental health is part of the strategy of the hockey league. 

“We want to be proactive instead of reactive,” said Adrienne Middlebrook, the marketing and communications co-ordinator of the GTHL and a graduate of GBC. “We don’t want to have an incident and then implement something, we want to prevent it before anything happens.”

McCole had his own brush with mental health issues when he was playing NCAA Division 1 soccer at the University of Maine in the United States. When the team’s star rookie Adam Baxter died unexpectedly in 2007, McCole said he lost a teammate and best friend. 

In the aftermath, he said no one really knew how to help him with his friend’s death.

“I mean you go away from home for the first time and for me, a career in athletics was always kind of a obvious choice,” he said. “And then when something like this happens you just kind of, I don’t know, it was just a very difficult time for me.”

Because of his own experience, McCole is hoping that this collaboration will help guide young athletes towards managing their mental health.

For Bryan Fautley, the Movember Foundation’s partnerships manager, the Ahead of the Game campaign can help open sport environments to different conversations, especially because of how young GTHL players are.

“If we introduce the conversation around being literate with mental health at that age demographic, we actually might be able to make an impact when they become leaders in their sport as well as their own social groups,” he said.

Ahead of the Game runs until Nov. 30.

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Babcock’s ‘moustache’ for mental health