An old saying is that actions speak louder than words, which in short means that words are only as good as the actions that follow them. A saying that the NHL and a rotting hockey culture have failed to live up to over the years.
For instance, the NHL has preached over the past few years that hockey is for everyone. That the sport of hockey can be played and welcomes all regardless of nationalities, genders, race, and religious belief. A great sentiment, if the actions by the NHL followed that, but sadly this hasn’t been the case. Instead of being an including sport for everyone, it’s instead an exclusive club, far from welcoming for all and where the old boys club are favored in a way where it’s damaging the development and branding of the sport itself.
This year especially has been a disaster for hockey, where it’s become clearer than ever before that hockey, while fantastic on the ice, is a cursed and disgusting game in terms of its backroom staff. From the Chicago Blackhawks scandal to Logan Mailloux getting drafted in the first round, blatant sexism in hockey media such as Barstool, and the multiple racism incidences around hockey over the past year, the very core of the hockey culture has to change in some key areas if it ever is to regain the trust of its fans and gain a new following.
Before I start the article a quick disclaimer and trigger warning for the following topics: Sexual violence, Sexual assault, Racism.
Lack of Respect Towards Women in Hockey
The first area is simple. Respect women’s hockey and make an effort to end the stigma that women can’t play or belong in the sport. Sounds simple right? And it really should be, but sadly it’s anything but that. From crowds to the IIHF, a lot of actions in hockey go against women being welcomed in hockey in any sort of way. The first way is for hockey to cut ties with sports media, who enables and encourages the behavior of sexism among its viewers.
One of these “media stations” is Barstool and Spitting Chicklets, who in my honest opinion, is a mockery and joke to sports media and journalism. With a CEO like Dave Portnoy, who has been accused of multiple recent cases of sexual harassment against multiple women, and a site that at times can be more focused on the look of a female player rather than her abilities on the ice, it’s easy to see why its viewed that way. Focusing on a female player’s looks rather than abilities instantly objectifies the female player and it’s anything but journalism. On top of that, add the whole debate against the NWHL back in the summer and a comment section that might be one of the most vulgar and despicable online. Something they allow and encourage for the sake of interaction. Personally, a good way to help the world of hockey was for the leagues and players to avoid associations with people who aren’t deserving of it. This would include a media with the history of Barstool and an alleged sexual abuser CEO like Portnoy, who in my opinion, isn’t a worthy associate of the NHL or hockey. With them, the integrity of the sport drops and should be treated as a stain on the profession of sports media and sports as a whole!
Another thing that needs to change to help women feel welcome in the sport happens on the ice. Sadly, we still see instances of players female players becoming a victim of blatant sexism on the ice from opposing players or especially fans. Both young and old. Chirping is fine but calling a player a “whore” or chanting “suck our dicks” is beyond disgraceful. It should never happen and can’t happen in a place of inclusion for all. There need to be some guidelines in place for how to handle situations like this. Both of sexist and racist nature, where someone, either the refs, the players, or the coaches needs to step up and end it. Either end the game as a whole or stop it by other means. To show that this is serious people need to not just ignore it when it happens but take a stand against it right away. Being complicit just means that it’s an okay action in your mind, and the world of hockey and especially the higher-ups sadly are being exactly that at the moment. Complicit in the moments it matters and not react before it’s too late.
Speaking of higher-ups in the world of hockey. The IIHF also has treated women’s hockey like dirt over the last couple of years. From the embarrassment of the camera angles for the Women’s under 18 championships in 2019, where it was next to impossible to watch anything, to the canceled tournament this year. Both of which happened while the men’s World juniors were being showcased with the best production money could buy. Honestly, it is not hard to get the sense that women’s hockey must be as appealing as gum under the shoe for the IIHF.
Some will probably scream “but the WJC makes more money” and sure, but you can’t expect women to feel welcome when they are being treated like the black sheep of the sport by the IIHF who is meant to represent them. For hockey to move forward, there needs to be more respect from the IIHF towards female athletes on the same level as their male counterparts. If things aren’t equal, and possible for both genders to play at a proper level, hockey is doomed to evolve.
Lastly, I want to focus on the NHL and how they completely made the league feel as unwelcoming to female fans as possible. The clearest case is how Mailloux was drafted by the Montreal Canadians in the first round after having committed a sexual crime while playing overseas in Sweden. While both the NHL and Mailloux had said not to pick him, the old boys club of the NHL didn’t care and got him anyway.
Now I’m all for second chances, and Mailloux should get one, however, when it’s earned. While he did pass some education classes after the incident, none are what I would call courses to help him understand the consequences of his actions towards the actual victim. It’s just PR stuff. He has been allowed back in due to his hockey ability similar to Evander Kane, who should be nowhere near an NHL team, after the allegations surrendering him over domestic abuse.
This is an incredibly bad look for the NHL and an action that shows that regardless of the treatment of women, players can still be around if they are able to improve the team on the ice. This is not a welcoming culture at all and it’s plain and simply vile and must change. Second chances are earned from learning and improving on a human level towards females and others who might be a victim of your offenses and until then, they must be outed from hockey.
Winning at Any Cost
I slightly touched on it before that NHL teams and owners value one thing above anything else. Winning. Which in its simplicity makes sense, since all sports are about winning games and championships. That’s what the sport boils down to. However, winning at any cost should never be the goal. There are human values that go above and beyond the game of hockey. Instances like racism, sexism, sexual assaults, or other crimes should never get hidden away for the sake of winning. Sadly, this was exactly what happened in 2010 with the eventual Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks team.
We all know the story about Kyle Beach at this point, and we all know what happened to Beach and the other John Doe’s in the case. The reports are horrifying and after it, actions were made for a moment, with the resignation of Stan Bowman and eventually Joel Quenneville. However, all this happened too late and wasn’t exactly prompt actions from the league, who also since has tried to silence all talks about Beach since, including a settlement to stop the lawsuits the Blackhawks were actively trying to dismiss.
This desire from the NHL owners to run away from it and never speak or really learn from it became very clear during the very recent Town Hall press conference with Rocky Wirtz. When a question about Beach and how to prevent a similar incident from ever happening, Wirtz responded with pure anger and arrogance. His response: “We’re not going to talk about Kyle Beach. We’re not going to talk about 2010”, is nothing short of terrifying as a listener. Clearly, Wirtz hasn’t learned from this and for him, winning is all that matters. The players are the modern-day gladiators and are here to entertain and win. Who cares what happens to them in the long term? All that matters is winning. Human life and mental health be dammed.
Clearly, this mentality needs to become better. There needs to be a focus on the mental health of the players and a way to help those who need it. There also needs to be a way of holding people accountable. Sexual crimes like what happened to Beach, need to be stopped when it happens and for the people, regardless of Importance to the team and timing, being held accountable. This can only happen with a plan for it and right now the plan of just pretending it was a one-off incident is a disgrace from the NHL.
The Racist Nature of Hockey
The last part that desperately needs to change in hockey is for the leagues around the world to actively try and combat racism in the sport. Hockey has always been known as a white person sport, but recently more and more people of color have joined the NHL. Sadly it also comes with a bunch of racism from different angles. From Bill Peters to Krystof Hrabik and NHLs’ treatment of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, it’s been disastrous to see how awfully the hockey culture has treated the people of color, who the NHL loves to say belong in the sport.
But again, actions speak louder than words, and the actions of the NHL and its teams have been awful, to say the least. From the New York Rangers’ pitiful responses to the racism K’Andre Miller experienced on a live Instagram, to the NHL’s outright shameful behavior and lack of support of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. This shows that the NHL just doesn’t take the issue of racism seriously enough. Too many times it’s cast aside with a small PR message and then silence on the topic which is heartbreaking to see.
How do you change this and showcase actual actions that can help tap out hate? Firstly work with the Hockey Diversity Alliance rather than against it. Secondly, treat cases of racism with severe consequences for the bigots who are being racist. Thirdly support organizations that are doing a massive amount of work to combat racism. One is the Black Girls Hockey Club. Take the pledge and follow the pledge every single day! The NHL should also support and work together with them. We are far stronger together and that is the way to deal with racism and sexism in the sport and help the sport change for the better.
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