Hockey, often referred to as “Canada’s game”, is deeply embedded in the country’s cultural fabric. However, like many sports cultures, it faces challenges that need addressing. The recent “Beyond The Boards Summit” held in Calgary by Hockey Canada underscores the sport’s commitment to confronting some of its most pressing issues, especially the pervasive problem of toxic masculinity.
The Underlying Issues in Hockey’s Culture
Toxic masculinity in hockey transcends the mere attitude of players on the ice. It’s a culture that glorifies certain behaviors, often sidelining significant issues like racism, sexism, and homophobia. This deep-seated culture is evident in how masculinity is portrayed – the valorization of toughness and violence, the “bro culture”, and the unwritten “code of the locker room.”
The Need for Cultural Shift
Sheldon Kennedy, an ex-NHL player and an esteemed member of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, has been vocal about the need for change. His personal experiences with sexual abuse in junior hockey have given him a unique perspective on the issues plaguing the sport. Kennedy emphasizes the importance of acknowledging and addressing the problem, stating the essence of change as being both exciting and uncomfortable.
The Wide Spectrum of Stakeholders
The summit wasn’t an isolated event with limited participation. Representatives from provincial and territorial members, the Canadian Junior Hockey League, the Canadian Hockey League, the American Hockey League, the NHL, the International Ice Hockey Federation, and the newly formed Professional Women’s Hockey League all attended. This widespread representation underscores the importance and urgency of the issues being discussed.
Toxic Masculinity and Its Far-Reaching Consequences
Research by Teresa Fowler, an assistant professor at Concordia University, highlights that hockey predominantly benefits white heterosexual males. The culture of hypermasculinity in the sport often overshadows serious concerns. Racism, homophobia, and especially sexism are all by-products of this hypermasculine culture. The players, sadly, often fail to recognize these issues for what they are.
Steps Towards Change
The summit began with a land acknowledgment and elder blessing by Wilton Littlechild. Notably, Hockey Canada board chair Hugh Fraser, who is of Black descent, took center stage as a keynote speaker. While this summit focused on toxic masculinity, Pat McLaughlin, Hockey Canada’s chief operating officer, mentioned that future summits would delve deeper into topics like racism.
The Future of Hockey: A Collective Responsibility
Change in hockey’s culture isn’t the sole responsibility of Hockey Canada. The summit saw contributions from diverse voices, like Bill Proudman, co-founder of White Men As Full Diversity Partners, and Carla Qualtrough, the new federal sports minister. These diverse perspectives are crucial in shaping a more inclusive and accepting future for the sport.
Addressing Past Wrongs
Hockey Canada’s recent history hasn’t been without controversy. Accusations of misconduct against members of the Canadian junior men’s hockey team in 2018 brought the organization under intense scrutiny. The revelations that player registration fees were used to settle such lawsuits led to widespread criticism. This emphasizes the urgency for not only change but accountability.
Sheldon Kennedy’s perspective encapsulates the essence of the path forward. The culture change isn’t just about addressing overt behaviors; it’s about creating an environment where everyone feels psychologically safe. It’s about ensuring that individuals can voice their concerns without fear of retribution.
Hockey, like many other sports, is at a crossroads. The “Beyond The Boards Summit” is a testament to the collective will to address deeply ingrained cultural issues. While the road ahead may be challenging, the commitment to creating a more inclusive, respectful, and safe environment is evident. It’s a journey that requires the collective effort of players, stakeholders, and fans alike. As the sport evolves, these discussions will be instrumental in ensuring that hockey remains not just Canada’s game, but a game for all.