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Hockey Culture can be aided or abated by coverage

After another disgusting example of how toxic hockey culture is when it comes to male athletes, the media controlled the conversation.

NHL: Heritage Classic-Calgary Flames at Winnipeg Jets Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

It sometimes seems like every other week there is another example of what happens when privileged people are treated with reverence and “boys will be boys” allows for toxic culture to fester. That happened again this week when a group of men had a private chat leaked where they were demeaning women and their bodies as well as talking about cocaine and other substances.

First of all, the comments are horrendous and apologies were more in the vein of “I’m sorry I got caught. This was meant to be private” instead of actually understanding what was wrong with the comments. However, if you think that the comments were alright to be said in a private setting, you never really had an issue with them in the first place. It was just that you never wanted others to know this was how you truly felt about people.

The truly shocking thing about this entire affair has been how the local media has responded. Instead of protecting the players involved and icing out the victims, they have shined a spotlight on how some of the women, who were the targets of the racist, sexist, demeaning comments, were reacting and allowing them to have the loudest voices in the room. They did not allow these victims to remain nameless and faceless. Instead, we have been able to see the wonderful women that were being demeaned by some assholes. Two of them, Nicole Zajac and Shannon Birchard decided to speak with Melissa Martin to share their views on what was said about them and other woman in a very thoughtful manner when they would have every right to not be as gracious as they were. Two more spoke with Ted Wyman and were again able to be far more gracious than they needed to be.

But it is not just that the women have been given the opportunity to speak out, it is that the men have not had their comments brushed aside. CTV News Winnipeg covered the story as one of their top stories and once again gave Nicole Zajac a platform to speak out and speak up on. Margaret Atwood once said “a word after a word is power” and by giving the women the last word, they have been given power over the comments said about them. It refocuses the story on those who have been hurt instead of those who have done the hurting.

Finally, the media has not allowed the comments to be swept away which is what usually happens. Instead of being accepted as “locker room talk”, the question of proper consequences for their actions have already started. But if you take this incident as an isolated incident the opportunity for systemic changes is lost. How do people talk about other people like this? How early should we start teaching them how to be respectful to others and ensure that those lessons sink in.

We make all hockey parents go through a Respect In Sport program, but it’s clear players need to start learning some important lessons at a young age. Simply telling them to be careful what they say on social media is not enough. Let’s get to the root of why anyone would think it’s OK to say these sort of things about a fellow human being, in any setting, in the first place. (source)

Respecting others is something that needs to be taught and reinforced from a young age and it has to come from everyone and not just their parents or guardians. Coaches and officials at every level. It also has to come in other environments like school. Behaviours cannot be brushed off because “they like you” or because they are young. Instead, these are valuable teaching moments when children are young on how everyone must be treated. The fact the conversation has been directed to listening to the victims and not brushing aside the words of the men who said them; businesses have closed their doors to those men (and one has offered free drinks to the women), and actual consequences are coming down. Some might not matter much, but others matter more to who these men act like they are then other actions that are or are not taken.

When it comes to hockey culture, the repercussions for the actions are the only thing that will start to change things. Then it will be a bottom-up approach where the youngest athletes are targeted and taught how to respect others and themselves. Until then, this will only keep happening and it is up to those with the loudest voices in the room to handle it by shining a light on those hurt and letting them have the final word on the issues at hand.