The hazing of rookie players has been banned by Hockey Canada and its provincial affiliates for years, but that has not stopped senior players and even coaches and administration staff from continuing this extraordinarily sick ritual.
Almost by the hour more details are emerging about the sexual, physical and emotional abuse suffered, allegedly, by five first-year players on the Neepawa Natives team of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
Who could think up "games" that involve young males stripping to music while older players watched and rated them through "scores" about how well they did? Those who didn't perform up to standard get to do push-ups with their genitals dipping into ice water. If that isn't enough, how about having a rookie strip, tying a water bottle rack to his scrotum, and forcing him to walk around the room a few times while towels are thrown on to increase the weight?
The reason the senior players knew what the next step in the ritual abuse would be is because these "games" were most likely performed on their bodies when they were rookies. They were taught, as so many sex abuse victims are, to keep it all a secret. The very brave 15-year-old who spoke out was forced to apologize to his team for making the incident public. He still has not skated with an MJHL team, while teammates who received meaningless suspensions are back on the ice.
Hockey Canada's Regulation R4 states, "Any player, team official, executive member of a team, club or association, or any other CHA member, having participated in or condoned any incident of hazing, shall be subject to a suspension of not less than one (1) year. Notwithstanding the prescribed minimum suspension of one (1) year, in the event that the Branch would consider that such suspension would create undue hardship, given the circumstances, it may impose a lesser penalty, if it has received approval from the CHA Officers."
Did the MJHL receive Hockey Canada's approval of suspensions that lasted from two to five games? If so both organizations need to explain why suspending these players for a year — not a couple of days — is undue hardship. Wasn't the undue hardship experienced by the player who broke the silence and spoke out? The players involved must be suspended for at least this season and if it is true that assistant coach Brad Biggers was in the room at the time, he should be banned from coaching and organized sport for life.
This abhorrent behaviour runs deep. In 1992, I started investigating the "rape culture" of junior hockey after the uncle of a girl who had alleged a gang rape by the Swift Current Broncos in 1989 told me her story.
When I arrived in Swift Current in January 1993, she was just getting out of counselling. Not coincidentally, at the same time this girl was victimized, coach Graham James was sexually abusing the players. We know that males who have been sexually abused are at risk of becoming sex abusers. The perverse sexual culture James taught his players was re-enacted on girls. Over the next six years, a number of girls came forward to tell me about the abuse they or others suffered at the hands of Broncos players.
It was not difficult to find similar stories in Canada, which resulted in my book, Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada's National Sport. Players are deeply scarred by the sexual abuse they endure in hazing, and learn this vicious, humiliating style of sexual relationships is a norm. But this is only the beginning of a complex socio-psychological story. Ottawa athlete Jamie Hubley, 15, was an excellent figure-skater; he was also gay and paid dearly for his sexual orientation and the fact that he chose to glide and dance over ice instead of pick fights on it. His father said some of the bullying he endured at school had to do with his choice of figure-skating over hockey. Hubley committed suicide last week.
Some of what has happened in Manitoba and Ottawa has to do with the complexity of the homophobic yet homoerotic nature of male team sport, which pervades hockey's subculture even when boys don't play hockey.
Hubley's schoolmates received messages all their life — they didn't have to play hockey — they just needed to watch it. Any guy who chooses figure-skating over the "national religion" is a traitor to all that is male in Canadian hockey.
Why did all of the seemingly hyper-heterosexual young male hockey players in Neepawa want to watch other young males strip and dance? Why did they focus on genitalia? They would have had to touch another male's genitalia in order to tie the water bottle rack on. When I did my research, it was common for senior players to tell the rookie players they were their "bitch" for the week. Rookies are the "designated female" in the locker-room food chain. What could be more humiliating in the all-male locker-room than being "reduced" to a fag/girl? Hockey has much to answer for.
Laura Robinson is the author of Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada's National Sport.