“Do you want to play hockey, Dan?”
I remember the way that question was delivered nearly 20 years ago and I know how dumbfounded I was before answering.
I had never played ice hockey before. Roller hockey, running around a parking lot in tennis shoes with a half-assed taped stick doesn’t count. It was terrifying to think about. What if I suck? What then?!
I agreed to play high school hockey shortly after that gasp of a thought. Brentwood didn’t get school funding, so we had to scrap together a team, jerseys, practice spots, and pretty much everything. Dave Douglas was our head coach, Ryan Douglas was our stud, and Andy Hundley was our big guy that you didn’t want to piss off. Brad Holmes was the guy shooting slap shots off the boards. I was the guy who had no idea what he was doing.
I wouldn’t call us a group of bullies, I can assure you of that.
This week, when talking about the Don Cherry comments on a program called The Social on CTV, Jessica Allen, one of the host, made a broad comment about hockey and its individual admirers and participants. Here’s what she said:
“I don’t worship at the alter of hockey. A certain type of person in my mind, in my experience, who does … and they all tend to be white boys who were, let’s say, not very nice.”
Wrong, Jessica. Very wrong.
That’s a narrow-minded comment about a large population of players, fans, coaches, and all-around lovers of the game. It’s a pure hot take moment for a talk show host to ignite a fire about some other hot take speaker like Cherry, with the hopes of coming off as different and bold. It was plain dumb. Speaking in absolutes on National television isn’t a good stance.
I have known few bullies around hockey off the ice. On the ice, there is a ruggedly physical and overwhelming aspect to the game, but that goes hand in hand with the sport that was created many, many years ago. While the sport started out as a white-male dominated sport, it has evolved over the years and into today’s sports arena.
Race, though, has little to do with this. It has to do with calling hockey people bullies.
After my playing days were over-it lasted a single season-I have gotten the chance to meet a wide community of hockey players and coaches. People like Jeff Wear, David Scott, Jonathan Keller, Joshua Dortch, and Adam Duke. I wouldn’t call either of them outright bullies or mean people. Some of them are former players and current coaches/instructors. People who are passing the game onto others.
One of the kids Wear coached and befriended, Adam Cheung, lost a battle with cancer. Ask any of his teammates and I’ll assure you the collective won’t label Adam a bully. For many, he was a bright light.
I can’t tell you how many young players there are in St. Louis, but the number is growing every year. Young boys and girls wanting to know about and play the game. If Allen made this statement 40-50 years ago, there may be a tiny shred of a point-but not now. The game is growing to people of all ages and sizes. It’s starting young and reaching the old as well. The game, for many, is a saving grace in a hardened world. Or just a great distraction to the rigors of life.
Look at the amazing Laila Anderson story here in St. Louis with the Blues. She was battling a very rare yet very threatening autoimmune disease at a far too young age, and Blues hockey sure helped lift her up. She met the team, rode the Stanley Cup ride with them, and had her life elevated by the sport. Colton Parayko and others were bullies to Laila.
I know Jess issued an apology, saying she was talking about a select few when making the comments. That’s nice and all, and will help her keep the job-but it doesn’t erase the shortsightedness of her original comments. If you are speaking a large audience about something, double down before you speak. Make sure it’s relevant and accurate. I love the response she got on Twitter, all the pictures of young kids strapping up their skates. Parents wondering if their kids are instant bullies when they touched the ice. Allen addressed that and said sorry, but that doesn’t take all the blame away.
You see, deep down, I think she meant it. When we say something, a sliver of it is true. Later on, we will say it was a joke or not meant that way, but in reality, it was. A painful fact of everyday life and honesty of being human.
I hope Allen watches more hockey, learns about the game, goes around to some rinks, meets and talks to a few parents and coaches.
There’s a few bad eggs in any sport, job, or city. It’s unavoidable. But there’s a legion of good souls in said sport, profession, or area code.
There’s a lot of good in hockey and I hope Jess Allen finds it. The season just started.