Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Hockey Culture Continues Its Destructive Path

Illustration for article titled Hockey Culture Continues Its Destructive Path
Photo: On July 10, the NHL will enter Phase 3 of its return to play plan. (Getty Images)

It becomes harder and infinitely more tiring to pick out particular bits of shit as we crawl through this sewer of history, whether that’s sports or society in general. The next thing you see is hardly more surprising or shocking than the last. So Sportsnet’s Eric Engels’s thread today on how NHL players actually feel about returning doesn’t cause that much of a spike in the meter, at least until you consider it for a few seconds.

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It is not going to raise too many eyebrows that players are apprehensive, at best, about returning to play. One has to think that it’s not only NHL players that are feeling that way. The decisions not to play are going from a trickle to more in both baseball and basketball, and barring an unforeseen turn in fortunes and logic in the country, that’s going to continue. And yet we haven’t seen that in hockey, at least not yet, and the return to training camp is imminent.

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The real kicker in Engels’s thread is this:

Again, it’s not much of a surprise until you really start to think about it. Hockey culture has always held itself above other sports, even when it’s meant behavior and thinking that is decidedly below other sports. There is no individualism, the team is everything, we play through anything, and causing any kind of “distraction” is something on the level of being prosecuted by The Hague. They consider themselves merely parts of a whole.

The main tenets of this are, for the most part, complete horseshit. Hockey players aren’t really different from any other group of athletes, they’re only more sheltered from media attention. They have just as many tattoos, they’re just as misogynistic, racist, drunk, and greedy as anyone else. The latter has been evidenced by recent complaints about escrow, which we went down yesterday. The cry of hockey players being different is merely cover for that.

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And if there ever was a time for someone to stand up, it’s now. It’s not that hockey culture hasn’t destroyed lives before. We know it has from just the past couple weeks from Akim Aliu’s story or Daniel Carcillo’s class-action lawsuit. These are hardly isolated incidents or stories. In addition, it doesn’t even appear to be that big of a stand, if indeed 75% of players don’t want to play as Engel suggests. It would hardly be rebellious to say that out loud for anyone.

And now someone is going to get very ill and have their career ended and life altered. Maybe more than a few. The chance that someone will die is very real. It’s not abstract. And yet hockey players can’t bring themselves to stand apart from the crowd simply because “it’s not the way.”

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In fairness, the issue is not that black and white. It’s not as simple as you or I would like to pretend to simply leave millions on the table. A non-return for hockey means years of financial damage that players will bear the brunt of. They only have short windows to play at the top level as it is, and each day in “The Show” is sacred.

But what does it take to finally decide that it’s not worth it? If actual sickness and death aren’t it, what’s left?

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Hockey culture needs a complete tear-down and has for a long time. Even the aversion to individual expression, perhaps its least urgent problem, is one of the factors that has kept the sport from being more popular. We’ve seen in baseball the backlash to the backlash against bat-flips and celebration and expression (front-lash? Reverse-lash? Not sure). People enjoy that and want that. They want fun. Hockey has treated fun like The Plague.

And now, The Plague is actually here. And yet hockey culture won’t allow for players to stop and say, “This isn’t a good idea and we’re not doing it.” What’s perhaps even scarier is just how many players are totally in the dark about the protocols and planning for their safety. If such things are even finalized or close to it. They’re heading into the abyss without a parachute or safety net (I don’t know what you’d need in the abyss) and still don’t feel like they can suggest that this particular march is a bad idea.

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One would have to believe the owners want the players to focus only on financial issues, as Engels’ sources suggest they are. Because if they spend any time really pondering the danger they’re about to put themselves in, they would be much more likely to not play and cost the owners far more money than the players will lose. Where is the union on this? Aren’t they supposed to protect all the players’ interests? Health, both short- and long-term is one of those, right? Based on how they’ve handled head injuries and the hits that cause those, it definitely feels like it’s not.

And yet players still feel like they can’t stand out. Even if it’ll cost them everything. 

Have you ever looked at a dollar bill, man?

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