Hockey’s Toxic Culture Alive And Unwell In Chatham
There has been much debate on hockey’s toxic culture in recent weeks.
Having grown up in hockey, I’ve witnessed countless events in minor hockey and Junior that mimic claims that have come out recently. Rampant misogyny, chauvinism, drug and alcohol abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, profanity, homophobia, toxic masculinity in all forms, and racism.
It’s there. But where does it start?
I’ve been struggling with this, because I love the game of hockey, but I hate the environment, and I hate what it does to youth.
This weekend, I attended the annual Silverstick in Chatham, hoping to take some photos, and enjoy a day at the rink. Within five minutes of being at a Kent Cobras Minor Peewee game, the topic of toxic culture in hockey was at the forefront of my mind, because my ears were being filled by screaming, profane parents.
“You’re a f%$king joke,” yelled the first, what I assumed to be dad at the referee after a simple penalty call.
That was the start. Five adult men – wearing Kent Cobras jackets and one wearing a Chatham-Kent Crush jacket – all of whom I assumed were parents, and unfortunately, one young child, who I assumed was a younger sibling of these 11-year-old children playing hockey. Let that part sink in as well, these were 11-year-olds on the ice.
“Are you f$%king kidding me, get your head out of your a$$,” another voice followed, this time directed at the coach due to the players he’d chosen to play the penalty kill.
“F$%king terrible,” this time loudly discussing an 11-year-old on the ice. Followed by a rather comprehensive breakdown of why this young player didn’t deserve to step on the ice, and how utterly unworthy this child was of playing the game.
Every minute that ticked by, more profanity, more insults – toxic. Directed at kids, directed at coaches, directed at officials, all within ear shot of the bench, all within earshot of the child standing among them.
Finally, the buzzer rang on the first period; here I hoped these men would take their leave, relax, retreat to wherever they couldn’t be heard. But it progressed.
“You’re a f$%king retard” (We’re so sorry for including this word). “Why don’t you coach the team instead of just running lines.”
This he was yelling at the bench, at the coach, while the 11-year-olds huddled around during intermission.
I was actually pleased the coaching staff was not participating in this toxic behaviour. But then the game started to slip (even though Kent came back to win), and even the adults charged with caring for these youth on the bench slipped with it.
Another penalty, “God da%&it you guys, come on,” yelled one coach at the bench.
A few minutes later, the opposing Windsor team scored.
“F%$k!!!” screamed another coach as he paced the bench, at no one in particular, but directly over the heads of this team of 11-year-olds.
The vitriol to my right in the corner from the five adult men was worse, the space surrounding me was completely filled with profanity and yelling. All I could think of at this point was the young child standing between them, and the seventeen 11-year-olds on the bench.
I thought, ‘how do they have a chance to not be impacted by hockey’s toxic culture?’ This was what I was hearing in public, out in the open, for all ears to hear. What did they hear at home? On car rides? In the lobby? Even if it was overheard. This was one day of a season, of many seasons gone by and to come. This is why the wonderful game of hockey has problems that need to be fixed.
Hockey is toxic – not the game itself, but the people in it – and these kids will grow up, not all of them of course, but many or most, to act like their fathers, and coaches. To mistreat others. To spew hate, and insults at people. It’s a cycle. They now think this is acceptable behaviour. Yelling at people. Calling names. Swearing at anyone. Belittling kids. Using terms that make fun of people because of their differences or exceptionalities.
It is a game. Played on ice. With pads on shoulders, blades on feet, and a stick hitting a rubber disk into a net. It is not the be all and end all, and I pray it’s not their identity.
This is not a condemnation of our local organization, or the volunteers or youth, it’s what I witnessed, and a cautionary of why we can’t let comments and actions of parents, coaches, and commentators go, because they soon become the comments and actions of the players, who someday become parents, coaches, and commentators, and the toxic cycle continues.
I wish this was an isolated incident. But I lived through it (survived through it may be a better way to say it if you know me as a person). And I do not accept that this is the way we do things. These adults are poisoning our youth, spoiling a beautiful game, and raising another generation who will carry on this toxic culture.
I know this article will get me called names, and criticised, possibly threatened. I’m prepared for the “snowflake” moniker. The inability for people to see that a situation like this, which is not isolated, but repeated every week in our hometown, is wrong and dangerous for our youth. This is the exact reason action has to happen. Change has to come. For the love of the game, it needs to stop.