You would think that after the year they’ve had — after the past couple of weeks they’ve had — USA Hockey would want to steer clear of anything remotely controversial. The organization could cynically circle the wagons or engage in some reflection about its place in the sport’s toxic culture, but USA Hockey needed a moment out of the spotlight after all this.
There’s the Thomas “Chico” Adrahtas case. There’s USA Hockey’s role in the Brad Aldrich scandal, including Stan Bowman being allowed to resign as GM of the 2022 Olympic team rather than being fired, plus Bill Guerin being Bowman’s most likely successor. And there’s still the fact that USA Hockey’s assistant executive director for hockey operations is John Vanbiesbrouck, the former goalie and noted racial slur user.
And, of course, it was just last month when USA Hockey announced the first three players for the men’s Olympic team: accused rapist Patrick Kane, public creepazoid Auston Matthews, and Candace Owens fan Seth Jones. Kane was never charged and denied any wrongdoing. A hat trick of yikes.
Could USA Hockey have known on Wednesday, when it announced a sponsorship deal with Pink Whitney vodka, that the libation’s namesake, Ryan Whitney, would go on Twitter on Thursday and defend Dave Portnoy amid the Barstool Sports founder being accused by multiple women of sexual assault? (And to be clear, even if the women aren’t pressing charges or phrasing it as such, the nonconsensual acts they’ve alleged would constitute sexual assault.) Portnoy has denied any wrongdoing.
Surely not, but all of Barstool’s misogynist and racist past was there already, as well as the sleazy site’s affiliation with Whitney and his gimmick booze. At best, doing a sponsorship deal with Pink Whitney would have been a signal that USA Hockey seemingly continues not to care about any of the concerns of anyone who’s not a cisgender heterosexual white man. At worst, there’s the face of the national hockey team’s new sponsor not only proclaiming what a great guy Portnoy is, but having a laugh about his height in that moment.
You might not have been able to see it playing out that way, but it was absolutely a case of playing with fire and getting burned. USA Hockey already spends enough time undercutting any kind of positive social messaging it might want to put out through its actions… or rather, inactions, like waiting for Bowman to resign and continuing to keep Vanbiesbrouck in power. What benefit was there, other than a few bucks that could have been secured with any other company’s sponsorship, in positioning USA Hockey with a Barstool podcaster?
It’s not even like there’s some kind of great record of success here that could make someone say, well, USA Hockey is repugnant socially, but they do get results. They suck off the ice and they suck on the ice. Since winning gold at Lake Placid in 1980, the United States men’s hockey team has as many eighth-place finishes, and as many five-goal capitulations in bronze medal games at the Olympics, as it does Olympic medals: two of each.
This is not the leadership that American hockey needs, in any way, shape, or form. USA Hockey has shown repeatedly that it is rotten to the core, and now it has shown it has no real interest in doing anything about it. It might be just a couple of months until the Olympics, but it’s time to burn it all down and start from scratch. You could hardly do any worse than the trash pile that currently represents this country in the sport.