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Own the Podium — Hockey’s reckoning

It doesn’t take long for a house to crumble when you remove its foundation.

It will crash to the ground in seconds, in fact. In doing so it will likely cause damage – crushing everything that stood below it.

The hockey world is discovering this, presently. It’s not alone. All across the sporting landscape — indeed, the world in general — there has been a re-thinking of what is right and wrong and what we’ve found is that the foundation that was holding everything up was often fundamentally rotten.

Sticking with hockey for now, it’s been a remarkable few weeks. It all started on Nov 9 when the unthinkable happened. Don Cherry – the walking embodiment of OK Boomer, if there ever was one – finally crossed the line for the final time. In the end, his comments weren’t any more inflammatory than at least a dozen similar things that he had said over the years.

Saying Don Cherry is a xenophobic old fool is like saying that you’ll get wet if you jump into Lake Ontario. And for years, the Canadian hockey establishment would brush aside any criticism of Cherry, even after it was clear that he wasn’t really providing much insight into the realities of the modern game. It should be noted that when Cherry decided to coach the OHL’s Mississauga Ice Dog’s – a team he owned – in the 2001-02 season he ended with a .235% winning percentage.

The man’s analytical abilities more or less were restricted to platitudes about trying hard and finishing your checks. No one serious, seriously listened to him as a hockey expert.

Yet he remained a pillar of the game and an illustration to many of what a “proper hockey man” looked like.

That Coach’s Corner remained a fixture in the first intermission of Canada’s most famous television product was deeply symbolic to many that didn’t feel like they were “proper.” If the CBC said he represented what hockey culture was then why would you question it? And, if you didn’t fit the mold then why would you feel welcome in the game?

So, it’s not surprising that once Cherry was ousted that a lot of people started to feel comfortable speaking out against aspects of hockey culture that they felt were problematic. Over the next two weeks we learned about bullying behavior by one of the most famous coaches in the game and then, most troubling of all, outright racist behavior by (now former) Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters.

Make no mistake. If it wasn’t for the firing of Cherry – the removal of the foundation of toxicity at the core of hockey culture — much of this would have likely remained hidden from the public view. The innate conservatism of the sport instinctively crushes voices that dare to challenge the notion that the sport’s culture is anything other than perfect.

Predictably, much of the reaction to the present news has been defensive. Much of the hockey world is trying to close ranks to “defend” the sport against “attacks” from outside. There’s a lot of #NotAllHockey and #WhatAboutThem thoughts being tossed around.

Those who are doing so are missing the point and hurting the sport that they care so deeply about. Of course not all hockey people are toxic, xenophobic or racist. Obviously, these problems exist in other sports too. Hockey has good and bad and everything in between, just like the greater world that surrounds it and those inside the game need to accept that and face up to the reality that there is nothing special about the sport that protects it from the uglier aspects of the world.

Failing to do so will allow that ugliness to fester and spread and the sport will continue to exclude more people than it includes.

If you love the sport it’s time to step off the soapbox that you have controlled for generations and listen to those voices telling you that there are problems.

And, more importantly, you finally need to hear them.

 

You can listen to Around the A podcast covering the AHL here.

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