Shut Up and Dribble: This Is Only the Beginning
Hockey Culture’s Day of Reckoning Is Here, but Its Toxic Aspect Won’t Go Quietly Into the Night
Don Cherry was just the start. Hockey’s boys’ club ideology has been prevalent since the first puck drop and is still so ingrained in every aspect of the sport that changing it won’t be an overnight task.
That boys’ club is predominantly straight, white, and—obviously—male. For over a century, it’s hung onto the idea that hockey shouldn’t change any facet of its culture.
While the whole Cherry saga and the firing of Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters—after racist behaviour from the past surfaced—are at the forefront of everyone’s attention, it’s far from the only issue. Hockey culture is still very much racist, sexist, and extremely homophobic at every level.
I have literally been raised in hockey culture. My family is still very much three rink rats and a hockey mom. Instances of racism, sexism, and homophobia are not only regular—they’re rampant. I have played with people that have been subjected to racist comments and insults as early as novice—that’s seven and eight-year-olds, by the way—and have become so accustomed to it that it seems like a regular Tuesday.
This is hockey’s version of the #MeToo movement.
Players are coming forward and denouncing all forms of abuse they’ve been subjected to throughout their careers—be it physical or verbal—by coaches and people in positions of power.
Much like every other system with a power structure as imposing and u flinching as hockey, there were also cases of sexual abuse. Most notably the case of National Hockey League player Theo Fleury who—in his book—recalled his sexual abuse by a coach in junior hockey.
While the coach in question was fired and sentenced to prison time, the reinforcing of the notion that coaches, managers, and anyone seen as an authority figure have absolute power over you on the ice—and sometimes off it—is harmful and makes way for all the aforementioned abusers.
Changing that culture will be a massive overhaul and not something that can be solved in a week-long conference. This is a change that is going to take place over the course of decades and will need to be vigorously implemented into every single level, community, and facet of hockey.
It starts right at home, both through local minor hockey organizations and the pro hockey that fans consume. The NHL has made a noticeable push to make their league seem like a more inclusive environment, but if they are really committed to making that environment a reality, then they need to push that onto every level of hockey.
There is a grey area with regards to sports. That the line between being demanding and abusive is entirely subjective plays into the fact that no two people are coached in the same way. That is something that any coach worth their salt should know and be able to apply.
What may be tough love to one player can be abusive to another and actions can be abusive without the victim being aware of it. Not only is that something that should be made evident at every coaching clinic, seminar, and instructional video, but it will also make the game a more tolerable environment and will cause fewer people to drop the sport altogether.
As I previously said, this is going to be a battle that will be waged for decades and there will always be pushback against change. A cultural shift this size is not only necessary to make hockey fun for everyone, but to keep the sport alive and thriving.
The old guard of hockey will argue that you’re just soft and that it was the same way in their day and they “turned out fine.” Well, they didn’t. They may not all be racists or sexists or homophobes or abusers, but they’ve been complicit in a culture that lets those awful things thrive and become the norm.
What’s important is that the old guard is replaced with people who understand how to make hockey a more inclusive and tolerant space that has zero tolerance for some of the shit you see players coming forward about.