Outside voices are needed to influence hockey culture

On Thursday, Hockey Canada announced it would become a full signatory to Abuse-Free Sport, which is Canada’s independent system for preventing and addressing abuse in sport.

By becoming a signatory, all abuse, discrimination and harassment complaints will go directly to the new Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner.

Hockey Canada’s vice-president of sport safety, Natasha Johnson, called the decision “an important step in ending a culture of silence that exists in the corners of our sport.”

The organization that oversees all levels of hockey in Canada has effectively lost the country’s trust thanks to its handling of serious sexual assault allegations brought against eight different players following a Foundation golf and gala event. Hockey Canada 2018 in London, Ont.

The victim alleged that members of the 2018 World Juniors gold-medal team were among the attackers, and at that time all but four players on the roster – Boris Katchouk of the Chicago Blackhawks, Michael McLeod of the New Jersey Devils and Ottawa Senators. players Alex Formenton and Drake Batherson – have made statements ostensibly stating that they were not involved “in any wrongdoing”.

Of these players, only Formenton have yet to make any statements, and as the 23-year-old continues to watch the season unfold without a contract, there have been speculation that the impasse could be related to the investigation.

As more details about the sexual assault and the aftermath became public, attention largely shifted away from the assault itself as Hockey Canada’s response took center stage.

Minor hockey associations across the country were dismayed to learn that in addition to the Canadian government providing six per cent of Hockey Canada’s operating budget, a $3 registration fee paid by each player in minor hockey have helped bolster Hockey Canada’s “National Equity Fund,” which is one of the few funding pools it has used to pay $8.9 million in sexual misconduct settlements since 1989.

In fact, over the years, Hockey Canada has expanded its pool of money dedicated specifically to “cases including, but not limited to, sexual abuse”.

Hockey Canada chief executive Scott Smith, who along with the rest of the board has since resigned after initially resisting calls for a complete management overhaul, said the funds were not not used to “protect our image”. We used the money to meet [to] and support victims.

Hockey Canada’s mishandling of the allegations and other player-based accusations that have sprung up in their wake, including against members of the 2003 World Junior Team, have succeeded in distracting attention from the problematic elements of the hockey culture as a whole.

Justin Davis, a former Kingston Frontenac player turned teacher who recently published a book, Conflicted Scars, which describes experiences in the game of hockey that he realized were unacceptable, says hockey players are so immersed in the culture from an early age, it can be extremely difficult to see any flaws in it.

While the mentality has been confronted in recent years, hockey tends to be a sport that prides itself not on individuality, but on having everyone line up.

“You’re immersed in it from when you’re 5, 6, 7, 8 and it goes all the way up and away from home when you’re 14 and 15, no other sport asks kids to house in such a young age,” Davis said.

“So your teammates are your family, that’s where you kind of learn what you think is normal and how to act…Hockey is a sport where everyone acts the same.”

Justin Davis

In the CHL, this forces young men and boys sometimes as young as 17 or 18 to take on leadership roles for their younger teammates.

The RMC employs a similar tactic where leadership is given to very young men, and in another federal investigation looking at hypersexualization and other issues at another “old school club” institution, Judge Louise Arbor likened the practice to “kids driving kids”.

The OHL has made some changes over the past few years to try to create a more welcoming and inclusive culture, and Kingston Frontenacs general manager Kory Cooper thinks they’re on the right track.

He pointed to mandatory annual courses for players focused on diversity and mental health, as well as the OnSide program focused on respecting women.

Cooper says he thinks with the steps implemented by the OHL and Frontenacs, the team is providing the right education to create a healthy locker room culture and role models in the city of Kingston.

“There’s really no way to monitor everything and be on top of everything,” Cooper said.

“But if you educate your players and you have the right people and they understand, I think you can do a really good job.”

Davis, the former Front, suffers from back problems and concussion stemming mostly from his time playing OHL hockey, one of many leagues that has traditionally carried a ‘play through the pain’ mentality. which some former NHL players have pointed to as the cause of painkiller abuse and the long-term health harms that come with it.

Although her book, originally intended as memoirs for her children, does not focus intensely on the issue of misogyny and sexual abuse of hockey players, Davis said that when the scandal became public, the stories that he said began to gain a lot of traction with some people eager to learn more about the dirty underbelly of the sport.

The way Davis sees it, it’s too hard to acknowledge the flaws of hockey culture while grounded in it, and it’s only by stepping away that you realize how many elements of it don’t are simply not acceptable.

That’s why it fully supports the game using outside voices at all levels to keep things under control.

“It’s until you bring in, like, strangers and people with a different outlook, I think the cycle doesn’t break,” Davis said.

“We’re finally allowing women into the game, into leadership roles…we’re taking the voices of people who may not have played hockey, who are very smart and see things differently.”

As a teacher, Davis interacts with teenagers all the time and says that while hockey players don’t tend to be very different from their peers, the attitudes displayed are “on steroids” due to constant attendance. one another.

Davis spoke about the Chicago Blackhawks’ surprisingly lackluster reaction after learning of Kyle Beach’s sexual assault at the hands of a team employee, and also touched on first-round Montreal draft pick Logan Mailloux after being charged of defamation and offensive photography and has publicly stated that it should not be written.

Davis says hockey teams are fine with the backlash they receive in cases like these because they expect the story to go away or be overshadowed by a new scandal in the sport.

“Everyone was so angry,” Davis said.

“But really, they didn’t have any protocols in place, there were no repercussions other than the firing of the two people…with hockey, things always sort of went away.”

He hopes that this time people will stop forgetting.

The sport has repeatedly shown in recent years its willingness to prioritize winning and preserving its image over doing what is best for those affected.

This was perhaps not better demonstrated than by the reaction of highly respected former Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville, who when informed of the sexual misconduct in the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals , reportedly said the team had worked “too hard” to get where they were, and that now was not the right time to address the issue.

At the OHL level, and more specifically for the Kingston Frontenacs, a more concerted effort has been made to put player well-being ahead of victory.

Cooper says for their team at least, it’s the top priority.

“We never want to take a player’s health, their sanity, any kind of abusive stuff, we never take that lightly,” Cooper said.

“It’s paramount, it’s above all, it’s ahead of the game every day.”

Although it is beginning to be challenged, this all-hockey mindset continues to exist to some degree at all levels of the game.

Greater Kingston Minor Hockey Association president Scott Trueman has acknowledged how Hockey Canada mishandled the 2018 allegations, but as far as the organization goes, the main gripe was getting rid of the Novice AAA .

Regarding the 2018 scandal, while he said the players involved in the sexual assault should definitely know better than to be in that situation, he also said he believed that once the investigation completed, we would probably see that some blame exists on “both sides of the fence”.

“Sometimes things can happen where the victim actually created or caused them,” Trueman said.

“But that doesn’t rule out the defender who actually creates the defense of not knowing better.”

While discussing a perceived increase in homophobic and racist language on the ice, Trueman asserted that while the language is certainly not acceptable, neither are efforts to deter it.

He says ultimately the most important thing is to keep kids on the ice, and he’s worried coaches are alleging hateful language was used to get good players kicked out of the game. .

“Calling someone by name, no that’s not okay, that’s terrible some of the names people use,” Trueman said.

“But at the same time, we as people have to toughen up a bit and ignore what comes out of someone’s mouth.”

Trueman says we can’t use the lazy solution to these allegations, which for him is simply about suspending a player for an incident based solely on someone else’s word – something he could plan to. be legally challenged by a wealthy relative.

There is room for change though, according to Trueman and he says minor hockey organizations would be happy to help instill it, but haven’t been given the proper guidance or course material to implement. of Hockey Canada.

“They certainly haven’t provided a very good example or a leadership role for all levels below them,” Trueman said.

For Davis, he says minor hockey coaches at highly competitive centers can be paid pretty well, but need to focus more on developing good people and not just good players.

Davis says if a healthy culture isn’t instilled at the minor hockey level, it may be too late when players make it to the CHL, college hockey or the pro leagues, but agrees that’s a area in which Hockey Canada must intervene.

“By the time they come to the CHL and the NHL, that’s normal,” Davis said.

“So that’s where the problem needs to be addressed at the local level. That’s the role of Hockey Canada, I think.

With the search for a replacement board ongoing, it remains to be seen if Hockey Canada has what it takes to reverse a concerning trend, or if there will be appetite in the hockey world. to make these changes.

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