Lawsuit reveals the awful nature of Hockey Canada culture

Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney

Hockey Canada CEO Tom Renney
image: Getty Images

Sporting higher-ups being brought in front of a government hearing isn’t restricted to these borders, as yesterday the CEO, president, and chief of the board of governors of Hockey Canada were questioned by Canadian MPs over a settled lawsuit by a woman claiming she was gang-raped by eight players who were part of a Hockey Canada golf outing, including some on the World Junior team of 2018. The lawsuit named the eight players, as well as the Canadian Hockey League (the governing body of junior hockey), and Hockey Canada. Hockey Canada ended up settling the lawsuit on behalf of the other groups of defendants, without ever bothering to find out who the players were. Because Hockey Canada gets funding from the Canadian government, the hearing was based in finding out if public funds were used to essentially pay hush money, but became a wider study of just how balloon-handed Hockey Canada, and hockey in general, is at handling sexual assault. For a better look at that overall, check out this story on The Athletic.

Of course, Hockey Canada execs Tom Renney, Scott Smith, and Dave Andrews didn’t have a whole lot of answers. They said that there was an investigation conducted by Hockey Canada mere days after the incident, but that players weren’t compelled to cooperate and a fair few didn’t. Which makes their whole code of conduct a farce, as was pointed out to them. Smith also let it slip that Hockey Canada had received one or two accusations of sexual assault about players under their purview, per year, for the past five or six years, which is one or two per year too many. And it also makes you wonder how many they don’t hear about per year, and this kind of handling of the situations wouldn’t make anyone more eager to report assaults.

There was, as there always is, when officials are completely unequipped to deal with this kind of thing, some laughable horseshit put forth if it wasn’t so dispiriting. Smith, again, said that Hockey Canada was “probably behind” on education matters thanks to the pandemic. The problem being this incident took place a full two years before the pandemic.

And it seemed the players involved were educated enough to cover their tracks, if you read the horrifying and disgusting details of the case. They forced the victim to declare her sobriety on camera even though she was far from sober enough to consent, and forced her into the shower after in a clear attempt to erase as much “evidence” as they could. They knew where the outs were on this. This wasn’t clueless boys taking things too far on a drunken evening. This was calculated. This is about more than education efforts.

As the story linked above by Ian Mendes, Dan Robson, and Katie Strang details, the problems in junior hockey run deep and are layered and will take a true effort and time to root out, if anyone has the patience or time. While a high school and college settings for sports like football, basketball, and baseball hasn’t exactly put a stop to sexual assault on campuses, a big problem for junior hockey is that the only social interaction teenage hockey players get is in a hockey environment around other hockey players, either on the ice or in the dressing room.. They never see anyone else until it’s time to head to the bar. The amount of players walking around with nothing more than a 7th grade education isn’t helping matters.

Hockey culture needs a cleanse in a lot of areas, and most of it springs from its completely insular nature. It’s unaware of societal issues because it’s tucked into itself so heavily, which only produces coaches and execs later down the line who have come from that upbringing in the sport. Where are the ideas and checks going to come from?

Hockey Canada clearly thought it could get this to go all away by settling this lawsuit at the first checkpoint, without an investigation that contained any teeth. Don’t worry about the NHL one containing any more teeth either. But, if there’s any kind of silver lining, just like the Blackhawks who thought the heads-in-the-sand approach would save them, these days these kinds of things with this much of an odor on them don’t stay hidden.

They can bleat on about education and programs all they like, but the only things these kids have are their hockey careers (they don’t have an education to fall back on), and future junior players knowing that their hockey career will end is the only thing that will get them to pay attention to whatever programs and guidelines Hockey Canada wants to switch to, or pretends it wants to switch to while under the spotlight. They know nothing else. Getting these names out and future ones, and getting them out of hockey is the only way to get the majority of players in hockey to notice. It’s the only language they speak, as depressing as that might be. Hockey Canada stepping in at first chance to cover for everyone is only going to make every junior player feel more invincible than they already do. And that’s the problem.

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