by Pauline Kerr
The resignation of top people with Hockey Canada came as the culmination of an ongoing scandal about payoffs to victims of sexual assault.
A huge outcry erupted, calling for changes to the entire culture of organized hockey.
It has raised a lot of questions about local hockey culture in the minds of a good many parents, who wonder exactly what they are exposing their kids to.
Anyone who has spent time around the arenas in this area has seen it all – the good, the bad and the ugly, so to speak. The same is true of any place children gather.
There is bullying at the arena. Any child will agree there is also bullying at school, in the park and elsewhere. However, at the arena, there is a formal policy against bullying and a lot of caring moms and dads, grandparents, coaches and arena staff on the watch for incidents – a built-in monitoring system.
Among the things that monitoring system might have observed around here are “big guys” – Junior C players – going out of their way to fist-bump the little kids gathered outside the dressing room, or even autograph a program (or broken hockey stick) for them.
Many of the older players are well aware the younger kids look on them as celebrities, and take on mentoring roles by helping coach the little guys, and participating in hockey clinics and similar activities.
The monitoring system might have noticed there is a lot more talk about good sportsmanship than destroying the other team. There is an expectation of certain behaviour when representing “the team.” Maintaining composure in the face of a tough loss – or major win – is part of it. There is even a dress code, especially at more competitive levels. That team jacket is something to wear with pride and dignity.
There are local teams that have gone out of their way to raise funds for a charity – a great way to promote team spirit and co-operation off the ice as well as on. Teams ride on floats in local parades, sometimes in full hockey gear except for skates. And players look after each other.
In a small community, “the team” is as much a social group as it is a part of a sports organization. It offers the new kid in town a ready-made bunch of friends as well as an organized support system for the kids and their parents.
Still, parents are concerned, and for good reason. Over the years, there have been abuses. Victims have included players who have gone on to the NHL, as well as girls who were unfortunate enough to date the wrong guy, and even young hockey fans – everything from bullying to sexual assault.
The worst thing a hockey parent, coach or arena staff person could do for young players is think nothing could happen here. It could. It has.
Kids have to feel confident about speaking out about abusive behaviour, whether from a teammate, an older player or coach, or someone else. Adults have to keep their eyes open and speak up if something seems off.
As for behaviour reported in recent news stories, about some of Canada’s national junior hockey team players targeting and raping a young woman – players, their parents and organizers know the difference between a team activity and a criminal act. The former is to be promoted; the latter, prosecuted. An ability to skate fast and shoot a puck accurately can never be a “get out of jail free” card.
For the most part, local hockey culture seems to focus on talent on the rink carrying with it extra responsibility – show up at practice on time and ready to play, and behave in a manner that is a credit to the team – whether the players are five-year-old girls, teenaged boys, kids who can barely skate, the next Wayne Gretzky, or adults who play for the love of the game.
That is the culture that needs to, and will make its way up the various levels of organized hockey.