Welcome to Wicked Angles, a column where I take a look at all things PHF and tangentially – on and off the ice. Opinions are unfiltered, unaffiliated and without excuse. To be read responsibly.
It has been an interesting few weeks in hockey, and the PHF was no exception. With a new name, a new inclusion policy and a new commitment to be bigger than ever, it’s time to see this league also be better than it has been in previous years.
The PHF recently made the âGet Uncomfortableâ pledge with Black Girl Hockey Club, a campaign designed to disrupt the culture of racism within hockey at all levels. So with that kind of commitment surely comes a certain level of commitment … but we haven’t seen or heard a lot since the start of the season. In fact, we’ve seen more of what the league seems to think is a suitable match and what they don’t feel responsible for than what they are doing to change their line of thinking.
So what does âgetting uncomfortableâ really mean for hockey in general and in a professional hockey league in particular?
Having difficult conversations with problematic people.
It is not enough to say you do not endorse someone’s behavior, beliefs or words. Without any sort of follow-up, these statements ring hollow, and I think we are well past the point of realizing that speaking badly about minority groups is wrong.
It is therefore important to have these discussions with the people who need them most, to make them understand the impact and to reflect on their previous actions or statements. Maybe it’s them who are honestly brought up without knowing any better. Maybe it’s an intention / impact situation, where they never saw it as a problem. Or maybe it’s a more deeply ingrained mindset issue – in which case, if they aren’t willing to change at the root, you might have to ask yourself if they have. ultimately their place in your organization. (More on that in a moment.)
Take responsibility for the acts of all, not the actions of one.
We’ve seen several examples now within the PHF and elsewhere of prominent faces (and voices) in the league saying they can’t control someone else’s actions, who they associate with or what. they identify with each other. And all of this is obviously true; however, this does not exempt you from going to the root of the problem and explaining to that person what the problem is doing to the people around them. A captain, general manager, coach and steward all have an obligation to lead by example and lead in more than one respect. This means that in the locker room they have to speak out just as much about bad behavior as they are about a bad check or a stray pass.
Everyone in your league, cashing your checks and wearing your jersey, is representative of YOU as a brand. As such, they and you both have a much greater responsibility and far beyond you as an individual. Anyone who doesn’t understand this, or who doesn’t necessarily feel inclined to share this responsibility, shouldn’t carry a letter or have that kind of attraction within the league. If a league is committed to being “for everyone” or wants to “get uncomfortable”, it has to stick to it. Otherwise, why bother unless it’s for good public relations?
Develop action plans to resolve cultural or systemic issues within the league.
There is nuance to everything. One bad deed, or even an association with bad actors, doesn’t necessarily mean someone is beyond hope. And we’re all at a point where we know the difference between an individual’s mistake and something that needs to be highlighted below the surface. We have all seen the serious shortcomings when it comes to pinning decades of abuse, bigotry, or any other evil on one person or even a group of people. It’s easy to think that you’ve accomplished a lot by getting rid of just one tumor, but when it metastasizes, more work needs to be done, and faster.
It is therefore important not to focus on one person, a team or even a league. The issues that hockey faces today – those of misogyny, hypermasculinity, homophobia, racism – are all painted directly into the ice these players skate on. It’s not enough to cover it up and hope it doesn’t bleed through; no, we have to scratch all the way to the base and start over.
Bring in marginalized voices and address the intersections of those marginalizations to provide expertise where yours is lacking.
Nobody knows everything. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black woman or a trans person. I’m not about to act like I am. If I want to fight anti-black racism in hockey, I’m sure I won’t do it myself – no, I’m going to have a black person do it for me. There is clearly a balance in this and we have to remember the importance of not treating marginalized people like our living wikis, but at the same time the answer to that is to not take it all on ourselves.
So yes, include those voices, not as a token or for a day or a month. Always include them, in every conversation, at every table. No one puts aside their race, gender, orientation or beliefs when putting on their hockey skates. These angles should always be taken into account, and if you’ve never thought about them, this is an area of ââopportunity for you to grow.
Appropriate apologies – not necessarily a public relations apology.
Mess is coming. Yes, we are all human. Yes, we are all learning and growing. Yes. We. All. Know. This. We don’t think you are a robot or that you will never change. After all, we all started out from somewhere and we’re all part of the same shitty company. So enough of those warnings that sound like nothing more than a way to dodge responsibility faster than a MacDougall fall escape. We are not going to absolve you from the curse of âhumanityâ. Those days are over.
Public relations is such an important tool when it comes to those with this type of platform, and as someone who has studied journalism and public relations, I understand that there are standards and specifics regarding the language of a press release or apology. But those standards were also created in a very, very different era – an era that didn’t have the Notes app or a greater desire for honesty than drama. We need to evolve those standards, and we need to approach every mistake with sincerity, without apologies, gossip, or passive voices.
The worst type of “excuse” is one that hesitates to be admitted and turns into failure. Own your actions. Make your words your own. Own it yourself.
Take action when necessary to give examples of bad behavior, regardless of someone’s name, position, stature or skill level.
Like personal responsibility, organizational responsibility is paramount. It boils down to the idea that anyone with your chest patch is putting your brand at risk. Anyone at any level should be held accountable by the league if they are part of it. No hand or finger gesture will change that, so you can put your Spider-Man costume away.
Also, it doesn’t matter how talented a person is or how many likes they get on the Tiktok team – if they don’t have the right principles, that should be a problem. Your star player should have the same level of integrity as the new signing on the team. End of the story. If you’re more concerned with the product on ice, or you’re too scared to stand up to a star, then what do we do here? And what are those âvaluesâ that you talk about when it comes to what hockey can do for the individual?
It’s hard. It’s difficult. It’s uncomfortable. That’s the point.
We cannot watch any other sport, or even outside of sport in general, without seriously considering how the sport of hockey allows bigotry and lets it fester under the guise of “team first” mentality. It’s time we let go of that fatigued ass phrase and embrace responsibility – REAL responsibility, in all its forms and in every sense of the word.
Let’s start squirming, all of you.