Shannon Coady is a little person who has been involved in hockey in Newfoundland for almost every one of his 42 years. When he was forced to quit playing hockey at the age of 14 because the local association and his parents wouldn’t allow it, he became a stick boy for the AHL's St. John’s Maple Leafs after winning a contest in the local newspaper. During his interview when he was told to grab a pair of shin pads off the top of a player’s stall, he jumped on the seat and grabbed them. The team called and offered him a job the next day.
Coady went on to work his way up to assistant equipment manager with the Baby Leafs, and came to Toronto to work a couple of playoff rounds. He held the same posts with the QMJHL's St. John’s Fog Devils and later the AHL's St. John’s IceCaps when the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens had their affiliate there.
The 1991-92 Baby Leafs, coached by Marc Crawford and with a playing assistant coach by the name of Joel Quenneville, had a couple of Francophone and European players who couldn’t pronounce his name properly, so they just used ‘Shaq’, in deference to 7-foot-1 Shaquille O’Neal, who was in his final year at the Louisiana State University en route to a Hall of Fame career in the NBA. The nickname stuck and people still refer to Coady by that name. It never bothered him. In fact, for a couple of years he even operated his own business called Shaq’s Skate Sharpening.
You may have heard earlier this week that Hockey Canada has changed the names of its divisions to reflect age groupings, starting with Under-7 and going right up to Under-21. You may have also heard some of the chatter, likely from some of the same people who think Redskins is an acceptable thing to label someone, that as a society we’ve become a bunch of easily offended snowflakes obsessed with political correctness. (One thing that has always intrigued: The fact that when people criticize that term, they always seem to focus on the political part and never the correct part.)
Coady never got too worked up that one of the divisions was referred to as Midget, even though that word has become taboo in society. In fact, it’s pretty much the equivalent of the ‘N’ word for those with achondroplasia, or dwarfism. But it never quite sat right with him. “I never liked it,” Coady said. “I’m 42 and it’s been around for as long as I can remember. As I got older, I don’t have a word for it…I just didn’t think it was right. And I don’t think it would ever fly in different sports.”
As much as anyone, Coady realizes it’s the name of an age division in hockey and those who have used it have nothing against him and there is no intention to offend anyone. But words do matter and when you accept them you tacitly accept the negative connotation that comes with them and the power imbalance it creates. But more than anything, the name changes to reflect the age of players just makes sense on so many levels. It’s the way the rest of the world has gone when it comes to hockey and it’s about time Canada followed suit.
When it comes down to it, none of the names of minor hockey’s divisions makes sense. Do you have any idea what a Bantam really is? It’s a small, aggressive chicken. What on Earth does that have to do with teenaged hockey players? Do you know where the word tyke originates? It comes from an old Norse term for a female dog and was later used in Middle English to describe a lazy man. Again, not a lot of parallels to young hockey players. Atom, Squirt, Peewee – not sure who came up with these names all those years ago, but there seems to be a real obsession with lack of size here.
Good on Hockey Canada for refusing to remain stuck in the past. The age changes come into effect for next season and it will take a while for them to stick. For example, the world-famous Quebec Pee-Wee Tournament has no intention of changing its name, which is fine. But if, as a national governing body, you can eliminate confusion and make the game more inclusive at the same time, all the better.
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