It’s not so surprising that hockey could step on a few rakes before its season even starts. It’s just surprising how not surprising it is. It would have been bad enough for the sport to deal with Robin Lehner’s accusations of NFL-like painkiller distribution among its teams, trainers, and players. You are more than entitled to doubt the messenger, as Lehner has been a self-celebratory bullhorn for years. But it’s hardly a huge leap to think that hockey players have had painkillers pushed upon them and subsequently ended up addicted to them, given the nature of the sport. That’s how these things tend to go. That’s enough of a mess on its own.
The fact that Lehner’s Twitter thread came just hours after a racism row in Canadian junior leagues is just... well, it’s hockey. The Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League unveiled their third jerseys for the upcoming season yesterday, and to say they were a problem would be giving them the best of it.
They were a throwback to a jersey and logo the Raiders used in the early ’90s, which isn’t so far in the distant past to give them a wave as we didn’t know better even then. We just didn’t do much about it, and it’s even less likely that a team in the trading post of Prince Albert would have felt the pressure at that time to do anything about it.
But to bring these back now and think there wouldn’t have been an issue is a rarely-reached level of asinine. This logo might as well come with the “HASSAN CHOP!” sound from the Bugs Bunny cartoon. It’s no surprise that the league pulled these jerseys and logo from use a mere eight hours after they were unveiled. It’s just disheartening that the issue came up at all.
It’s something of a juxtaposition from another WHL team, the Portland Winter Hawks, who did away with their Blackhawks-copy logo for this season and went to an actual hawk this year, getting away from the racist caricature that the NHL club can’t bring themselves to distance themselves from. It felt like a step forward in hockey, although now one the Raiders wiped off the board.
It’s yet another sign of how far hockey has to go, because this is happening in the developmental level where the stakes aren’t as high and running from racist or insulting logos don’t carry the marketing and merchandise risks, even those shouldn’t be a consideration. It’s little wonder that players and fans raised in these places with logos like this can’t conceive of racism problems at their and higher levels of the sport.
It’s yet another example where picturing the amount of levels and people who had to okay that Raiders throwback jersey for it to be announced is just bewildering. Did no one say, “This isn’t the best idea?” It takes more than one person giving the go ahead, and however many numbers it takes the Raiders went 0-fer.