Opinion: Taking an honest look at hockey culture

The hockey community as a collective has had a tough couple of weeks.

From the Don Cherry comments to Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters’ remarks, and everything former NHLer Dan Carcillo is revealing about mental, verbal and physical abuse at all levels of hockey.

For some, including myself, it has forced a deep look into the inner workings of the sport, our opinions of it and what needs to change moving forward.

The collective wheels of the game have kept on turning, from the teams, players, coaches and parents. The games have gone on. The motor of hockey runs 24-7 in this country, buried deep in the fabric as much as the mountains and the great lakes.

It is tough to talk about the culture of the sport, because we almost all have some stake in it, whether it was yesterday, today or tomorrow.

Hockey, like any sport, has some individuals who have got drunk on the power they got in this country from being successful in it.

Players and coaches alike, at all levels. No one is immune to it. It is easy to judge those folks. They are everywhere because the history of the sport runs so deep in Canada and it continues to be such a big part of our everyday life.

In that same sense, there are people who have been mistreated at all levels of the sport. From teammates, by coaches or parents, there is no use in hockey trying to hide from the fact that this has and will keep happening unless we talk about it.

Plenty of people will say the world’s gone soft or these things help build character. I think it goes deeper than that.

I was on a team as a kid when a parent threatened to kill a coach, if his son didn’t get more playing time.

As an adult, I was physically threatened, called a piece of garbage and a horrible coach, in much worse terms in my first season as a head coach, because a player was removed from my team by the hockey organization for incessant bullying. These are isolated incidents, yet still part of the culture.

I had teammates force others to fight in the locker room. The door was locked, the coach never knew. Nobody snitched, because you’re a teenager and you know what happens if you do. It gets worse. No one ever got hurt. At least physically.

You did it because you wanted to prove you were tough. You wanted to be accepted. But it was hockey, that’s just the way it was.

I had great minor hockey coaches. They yelled, got in your face, and sometimes, that’s what needs to happen to get a message across. They worked us hard, they wanted us to be better, but they never physically or mentally harmed us.

For those wondering where the line is in calling this behaviour out, and when will it end, I implore you to see the difference between the examples I just explained. There is a clear line that hockey people are crossing, and hopefully, we can work to make it better.

Many of us have a story where the game raised us up and made us feel like a hero for a minute. But for some people, those moments are overshadowed by the bad and have had their long-term well-being affected by it.

The sport has become more important than the individuals participating in it, their well-being and their enjoyment of it all. We’ve lost sight of what we intended this game to give.

As I said, hockey and the people involved are not all bad, nor will they ever be. I’ve met some fantastic people in my time around hockey and hope it continues until the day I die.

What we should learn from the past few weeks is that we are not infallible and our actions have consequences. We have strayed from the road that once drove hockey to be a great, all-encompassing game, that helped bring people together and raise people up.

It’s not always that anymore, but with some careful reflection, a look inwards, it could easily be again.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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