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    AvatarAaron Coulter

    Has anyone been following the recent revelations about Mike Babcock and Bill Peters? First of all, it came out that Babcock humiliated Marner in his rookie year by exposing a list he made him write. And then it came out about Bill Peters allegedly using racist language towards Akim Aliu.

    It’s all pretty horrible stuff, but my issue is that people must have known about this long before now. Why was nothing said? I think it points to the issues around hockey culture and how people are made to feel once they speak out.


    AvatarKyle Coey

    Basically, this has been around since hockey became a pro sport. I think you have hit the nail on the head with issues within the culture of hockey, particularly as you note on speaking out. I’ll expand here on what I think those issues are.

    Toughness. Hockey is considered a sport that is tougher than all others, to the point where it actually becomes a little embarrassing. The concept of being ‘hockey tough’ is probably the one aspect of the game that everyone with a stake in it is at fault for. Players, fans, coaches, GM’s, owners all like to put physical and mental ‘toughness’ at the heart of the game. Full disclosure, I’ve bought into it myself in the past and historically my favourite players have often been those that play the most hard-nosed style on the ice. I think where I kind of rethought a little bit of my attitude was when Rich Peverley collapsed on the bench. It was gut wrenching. Soon after it came out that he’d woken up and asked to be put back in the game, there was an avalanche of memes about how tough he was and the age old comparisons with LeBron James having a sprained ankle or something. It was dumb, false machismo. It’s an extreme case, and I know that I’m something of a hypocrite when I say someone like Keeeeiiith Yandle is such a ‘hockey guy’ after having 9 teeth knocked out and returning to the gamete continue the iron man streak, but it’s ingrained in the fabric, the culture, of the game. But culture can change, it isn’t a static constant. When it comes to physical toughness we just need to determine what constitutes on ice heroics and what constitutes idiocy. I think moves are being made to address that.

    Mental toughness. Second only because it’s unseen, this is huge in the locker room. You don’t want to be seen as the most infuriating word in pro sports; a distraction (Pick any major player shipped out of T-town in the last 10 years). In the case of a market like Toronto, if a player dares show something that looks like a personality, that’s what they are. You can also substitute that for ‘a cancer’ or other derisory term. The good thing about this is that there ARE shifts in attitudes that have seen players really speak up and acknowledge that problems can and should be talked about. Jordin Tootoo, Theo Fleury and Sheldon Souray all come to mind as examples here. Daniel Carcillo has done some great work in drawing attention to issues of abuse and head injuries, even though sometimes he takes a sledgehammer to walnut approach. All said though, it’s largely similar to physical injury. Try and hold yourself together and power through. Coaches like Babcock have long been known for their tendency to play mind games and a belief that the psychology of a team can mean the difference between winning or losing. What Babcock doesn’t/didn’t realise in Toronto is that this kind of approach to the contemporary game stands only to lose you the room.

    Now that I’ve got through that essay, I’ll directly tackle the question as to why nothing was said until now. Simply put, the dynamics are VERY similar to what we’ve seen in cases of institutional abuse, or perhaps even more pertinent, the #MeToo movement. It’s about power. Both Babcock and Peters hold the power in the coach/player relationship. They knew it and they chose to abuse it. Who’s going to say anything to them when their career is on the line? I’m not going to go into too much depth here as I run the risk of creating a hierarchy of victims, but ultimately, the root cause here is the abuse of power that in a nutshell amounts to player putting up with someone’s s**t to allow them to have a career. What happens if a player, let’s say a veteran who doesn’t really have as much reason to worry about their job security speaks up? See Mike Commodore.

    What will be interesting is how the conversation goes from here. Either the ranks close and this goes away quietly with the NHL making a few statements and empty promises about player welfare, or this snowballs and we see some active coaches sent to the scrapheap and some legendary coaches have their legacies tarnished. I’ll just be interested to see what people would constitute as ‘abuse’ from a coach as in fairness, they aren’t there to be your friend either, and often abrasive coaches can get results. For me though, Babcock was being a duplicitous snake and Bill Peters is just a grade A sack of s**t.

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