How To Fix Junior Hockey’s Rape Problem

Tuesday 10th, March 2015 / 21:14 Written by
How To Fix Junior Hockey’s Rape Problem

If you hate yourself enough to have a Google alert set for junior hockey sexual assault, then this week has provided you with a lot of reading material. Between the Cobourg Cougars, the Gatineau Olympiques, and a truly excellent article by VICE Magazine’s Ben Makuch on rape culture in junior hockey, example after example has been put forward of the toxic nature of high-level boys’ sports teams. (Note: this is not just a hockey problem – but hockey, unlike most other sports, has this idea of itself as somehow better than football and basketball, coded both in the upper-middle class nature of many successful hockey players and, to some extent, race.)

Mazuch’s article details horrifying exploits which are immortalized in the so-called Junior Hockey Bible. The behaviors he describes are recognizable, with a slight change in terminology, to anyone who has had the great misfortune to spend time around teenage boys whose egos have been overinflated by wealth, talent, family connection, or a poisonous combination thereof. Hockey, however, amplifies these attitudes by taking its most talented boys out of the homes of their families and telling them, implicitly or explicitly, that the success of their team is the most important thing. Instead of their job being growing as people, learning how to function in a society that is blessedly no longer stuck in the 1950s, their job is to function as a unit and concentrate on building athletic skill.

Anyone who has ever been a part of a well-coached team could tell you that a coach is in an incredibly powerful position. I’ve been blessed to have a coach who I genuinely consider like a father to me, and the members of the team that he coached will always be my sisters. A coach who knows his power and treats it as the heavy responsibility that it is can both lead a team to victory and help his players grow as people.

Clearly, that is not what is happening in many cases in junior hockey.

There are several solutions – none of which are easy, none of which will be popular. When a toxic culture spanning years and miles is revealed, it shows a deficiency of character among the adults in charge. If winning is the only priority that the team officials care about, then it must cost teams their victories when groups of players commit crimes. If the message a coach has sold these boys is we live or die as a team, that message has to have teeth.

Will it cost talented hockey players their chance at a career in the NHL? Maybe. Do you want to cheer for a team made up of talented rapists? I don’t.

Beyond changes at the coaching level, though, there needs to be a shift in how parents think about their sons. Parenting long-distance is only possible when boundaries have been set and lines of communication have been established from birth, and even then it’s difficult. When sons are sent to go be talented somewhere hundreds or thousands of miles away from their homes, parents have to know the messages that the proxy parents – billet families, coaches, teachers – are sending to their kids. Logical, clear rules have to be established and followed consistently. Teenagers are still children, and all children flourish when consistent boundaries are maintained. Life skills beyond hockey have to be taught, from dealing with conflict to understanding finances.

Some people may be saying, “We’re already doing that!” While I’m sure you may think you’re doing that already, children listen to your actions more than your words. If the boys on your team are treating the people in their lives like objects to be broken at a whim, what you’re doing isn’t working. Boys like this, with a twisted sense of their own importance and a misunderstanding of what their lives are for, are a danger to others and to themselves. You’re putting them and the people around them in harm’s way by burying your head in the sand and telling yourself that what you’re doing is adequate.

Teams have to understand that for every NHL Superstar their team produces, they will put out into the world hundreds more who will never make it to the show. They cannot just aim to produce players with talent, they also have to produce men of character.

If your son’s coaches don’t understand this distinction – pull him out. If your son’s teammates don’t share your values – pull him out. Put him somewhere else. You’re the parent. You have this power.

You may at some point be forced to choose between raising a good person and raising a great hockey player.

Choose wisely.

Eliza Eaton-Stern
Eliza is co-owner and Editor-in-Chief of The Other Half. She did her undergrad at the University of St. Andrews, where she once played air guitar with Prince William, and her Masters at the London School of Economics, where she wrote her dissertation on the history of military veterans in the Paralympic Movement. Despite the amount of time spent in Great Britain, she remains staunchly Midwestern in her feelings about how much cheese should accompany any given meal (lots). She lives in Colorado with her Hockey Hating Husband, where she plays rugby and yells at the TV about a wide variety of sports, including hockey, football, and other football.

9 comments on “How To Fix Junior Hockey’s Rape Problem”

  1. Chad Croal says:

    Hi Eliza,
    I saw this post on Twitter and had to respond – was hoping to send you a direct message but I can’t seem to find your email. First off, this is an extremely complex discussion with many different angles – saying to change the culture to me, is a cop out because as we know, cultures do not change very easily. I wanted to bring one perspective as to WHY these Junior hockey players have invincibility complexes as you state. I have been witness to this first hand as I played Junior hockey and I remember the line up of girls standing in the arena lobby after a try out practice pointing and openly discussing which hockey player(s) they were going to sleep with. Without having a following, hockey players would have nothing. I’ve attended many parties where the girls come because we played hockey, and they wanted to hook up with hockey players because they identify themselves as “puck bunnies” and think it’s a cool story. I am not saying this is the case 100% of the time, but I am not grouping every situation in the same category and I feel like you grouping all hockey boys together is incorrect. There is no Junior hockey rape culture, there are isolated incidents of young people behaving poorly and making bad judgments (both male and female). I am by no means letting the Cobourg Cougars off the hook, or any other case where it has been proven that they did act criminally, what I am trying to say is that it’s not just all hockey guys are like this and there certainly is no rape culture in Junior hockey. What there is, are young men and young women partying together at a young age with booze and drugs mixed, and often times poor decisions made. The day after, there are stories for the guys on the team, and for the female, if they regret their decision, it’s shame they have to live with and if that information gets out, taking legal action is an option. Again, I am not advocating or justifying any incident, I am just trying to present a perspective from myself that I saw playing Junior hockey. Not all Junior hockey players are the same, and there is no rape culture in Junior hockey.

    • Roger Roger says:

      “I am not saying this is the case 100% of the time, but I am not grouping every situation in the same category and I feel like you grouping all hockey boys together is incorrect.” – Admiration is not consent, and blaming victims for being raped (as you do in your ‘puck bunnies are asking for it’ anecdote above) doesn’t make it less of a crime.

      Ignoring it, pretending it’s all isolated incidents, and equating it to ‘kids being kids’ are all examples of a pervasive rape culture- whether you want to admit it or not.

    • Joseph says:

      Well if Chad, who played junior hockey mind you, says there’s no rape culture in junior hockey, then I guess that settles it! Pack it up folks, case closed.

      Boy it’s a good thing Chad (he did play junior hockey after all) with his one anecdote was here to clear that up. Things could have gotten messy!

    • Sheila Lane Sheila Lane says:

      If there’s no junior hockey rape culture, it’s only because it’s indistinguishable from the rape culture that exists in greater society.

      You can have girls falling all over you and still chose not to rape someone.
      You can be at a party and still choose not to rape anyone there.
      You can be with someone who’s too drunk to consent and choose not to rape them.
      You can realize that you make bad choices when you drink and choose not to drink so that you won’t choose to rape someone.

      Boys are not animals incapable of knowing wrong from right when their hormones flare, and girls are not stupid sluts who think crying rape (and opening themselves up to precisely the shaming you’re trying to hand out) is the answer to bad sex. I believe better of both.

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