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Hockey Needs to Change

As more and more abuse is exposed in the sport, can hockey be saved and should it?

Sheraton Hotels & Resorts Host “Go Beyond” Challenge With NHL Alumni For Local Youth Hockey Players At The Sheraton Grand In Chicago, IL Photo by Jeff Schear/Getty Images

Daniel Carcillo and Garrett Taylor have started a class action lawsuit against the CHL for some truly abhorrent allegations that go far beyond bullying and hazing. It alleges sexual abuse and misconduct that was condoned by coaches and other’s in power.

Hockey has already had a reckoning with sexual abuse when it came to Graham James. But they never actually dealt with the issues that were exposed when the abuse James doled out came to light. They never actually looked at the systems in place and questioned how it was all working and now we are here more than 20 years later. How has nothing changed.

Culture of Compliance

Hockey has a major culture of compliance where players want to cause the least amount of headlines. When someone pushed back against any type of hazing, no matter how inappropriate it is, they because a shit-disturber instead of someone standing up for themselves. Who was seen as a bigger issue when Akim Aliu refused to strip naked and go into a bus washroom with the heat cranked up? It was Aliu for exposing the practice and not Downie for supporting it. The OHL, CHL, and Hockey Canada treated it like it was a rare occurence instead of something that happened regularly when the punished the Windsor Spitfires coach, GM, and owner.

Aliu took a massive blow to his reputation as a 16 year old for not allowing himself to be bullied. He did what students have been taught to do for years: refuse to bend to what the cultural norm is in hockey because he knew it was wrong. Aliu was ostracized for his actions instead of being surrounded by support. He had to watch his bully be supported by the hockey world and lauded for his play at the World Junior Championships.

Nature vs. Nurture

Based on the serious nature of the allegations and the fact that there is evidence that this type of behaviour permeates all of hockey, it is time to just blow it all up in Canada. Daniel Carcillo has been speaking out on how damaging hockey culture is on someone and how it has taken him years of hard work to unlearn all the abusive things hockey taught him.

It is the classic question of are we born a certain way or are we influenced by how we are raised. I would argue that our environments and how we are raised influence the people we become and hockey culture has raised these people to behave a certain way and normalized them to gross and sometimes illegal behaviour. How do you change that when something is so rotten that it goes from the roots to the highest branch?

If you have been nurtured in an environment that condones sexual misconduct, racism, and sexism, can you not participate? If you have been raised in an environment where compliance is more valued that being a good person, can you speak out without being ostracized? Can this system be fixed at all or is it too broken, too rotted in the bad to be worth trying to fix?

The allegations against the CHL are devastating to read. They are devastating because they have been corroborated through other stories shared. Those in touch with the junior hockey world say these types of stories are all too familiar. Is the system worth fixing or is it better to start something new that involves kids staying home with their families for as long as possible and the cost of the sport being lessened so more kids can play? Hockey has a lot of steps they have to take before they can even talk about having a safe and inclusive environment. They have to be willing to do a lot of hard, painful work to actually fix their systemic issues. They might not be able to do it without disbanding leagues and changing governing systems. But it needs to be done. Lives are relying on it.