Today is a holiday in many parts of Canada – in a number of provinces, it’s “Family Day”, a day in which we’re asked to take time to reflect on the most important people in our lives. That got me thinking about the Hockey Family, and the community we’re part of. The Hockey Family is terrific in so many ways, but we’re an imperfect group, like any family.
Certainly, we’re interacting with one another on the base level that we love the sport. We’re in internet clubs and in-rink get-togethers because we see the beauty of the game – the brilliant white platform; the sound of metal slicing through ice; the seemingly impossible becoming possible because of athlete brilliance; the overcoming of bear-hug defense strategies to find ways to win.
They say it a lot, because it's true: when you attend a hockey game, you become a fan. There are many magical elements that lure people in and keep them watching for life.
Of course, there are many ways we can be a better Hockey Family. We can start by recognizing there are members of our tribe who don’t like equal members. We can acknowledge that, for financial and racial reasons, the sport isn’t where it needs to be, to be a truly egalitarian community. That means more outreach programs to non-traditional hockey cultures, and harsher actions against those who would disinclude people from the /Hockey Family because of the color of their skin. It is truly unfathomable to believe that, in 2022, we have people who feel comfortable being bigots in the public sphere, like those awful people in Prince Edward Island, or the professional players who thought it appropriate to make racist gestures at players of color. Programs such as The Hockey Diversity Alliance must be supported. We have to take real stands to make real change.
We can be a better Hockey Family by accepting and encouraging the LGBTQ community to put down roots in hockey. People like Brock McGillis are pioneers in this field, just scratching the surface of promoting gay people who aren’t just hockey fans, but participants at the highest echelons of the sport. For years, and for good reason, there have been few activists like McGillis; for a long time, anti-gay slurs were an often-used part of the hockey vernacular. Now, they appear as they actually are: sad, pathetic attempts to ostracize an innocent group of human beings.
We can also be a better Hockey Family by understanding and supporting people who were harmed and abused by predators. As we’ve seen in Chicago, we’re no safer from sexual misconduct, and from our elite members sweeping the issue under the rug, than any other community. We need to redouble our efforts to make the hockey experience predator-proof, at all levels of the sport.
Don’t take all of this to be a negative commentary on the Hockey Family. Sometimes it takes a tragedy to see the best of us. We all reached out to the players and people who were devastated by a 2018 bus crash in Humboldt, Saskatchewan. That terrible incident took the lives of 16 of 30 people on the bus. They were part of the Hockey Family, too, and we all felt it in our hearts to have so many bright lights snuffed out so easily. We felt the same deep sadness when a plane crash in Russia in 2011 killed 44 people. The Hockey Family’s heart is big, but the point here is, the Hockey Family’s heart can be bigger.
So go ahead, celebrate Family Day in your own way. Just don’t forget that you’re a part of a collection of people who love a particular sport as much as you do. We may not always get along. We may not always see eye-to-eye on every issue. If we all felt the same about every element of the sport, it would feel like more of a cult than a culture. And culture needs dissidents and disagreers for it to grow and improve.
Whatever happens, we have to know we’re all together here in the Hockey Family, for better and worse. We could and should recognize that more often. We’ll be better for it.