The IceDogs scandal tops the iceberg in problems with hockey culture

Head Coach Billy Burke of Niagara IceDogs.  (Photo by Graig Abel / Getty Images)

Niagara IceDogs head coach Billy Burke was suspended in the wake of the team’s scandal. (Photo by Graig Abel / Getty Images)

When a hockey player or employee at the NHL or Major Junior level is involved in an offense on or off the ice, the first step for most organizations is to release a statement. Although these PR steps are meant to mitigate the impact on the team, they often fall short in acknowledging the victim or condemning the actions.

This week, the Ontario Hockey League’s Niagara IceDogs released a statement in response to profane, homophobic and misogynistic messages from their general manager, Joey Burke, and head coach, Billy Burke, written in a WhatsApp group chat on the team.

While the messages were clearly bigotte, IceDogs tried to validate their comments, saying they only “aired” in a private forum. While the comments were profane, IceDogs claimed that the chat was “not racial in any way, nor was it abusive.”

While most team-issued statements receive a mixed response, Niagara’s speaks to something more profound – the continued protection and denial of hockey’s cultural problems.

“The Burkes implement a classic patriarchal version of hegemonic masculinity. They also very clearly devalue women’s work and efforts as ‘less than’. This means that women, women and other gender formations are coded as being inferior,” explained Dr. Marc A. Ouellette.

An assistant professor of English and cultural studies at Old Dominion University, Ouellette, believes, after examining the statement, that it is a sign that Burkes and other hockey groups issuing similar statements show that the problems are “institutionalized” and systemic, and that their harmful words are likely to be implemented in a variety of settings in addition to their claims.

The portrayal of this situation as unique within the Niagara organization or within hockey itself is a lie. In the wake of IceDogs’ comments, people started talking about similar incidents related to Burkes.

“When I met with Joey & Billy to do some work for them in 2019 – they did not respond kindly to me and said I would not work for free,” tweeted Rachel Doerrie, an analyst at Vancouver Canucks Hockey Analytics. after the comments of Joey and Billy Burke. “Joey, specifically, called me ‘the dy * e’. They’re who they are.”

Tony Ferrari, author of The hockey news repeated Doerrie’s statement in a separate tweet on past issues with Burkes and IceDogs.

“This is also a couple of people who were willing to ignore racism and xenophobia last year because the person was not an essential part of the organization … The Burkes are bad for hockey,” he wrote.

Racism in hockey has come to the fore this year with racism on the ice in the ECHL and AHL and problems arising in junior hockey leagues across North America.

Last year, two members of the Seattle Thunderbird committed racist acts and used racist slander against a teammate. The Thunderbirds’ statement claimed that the players were suspended for “communicating inappropriate racist comments and actions.”

The Thunderbirds, who play in the Western Hockey League, another branch of the CHL next to the OHL, issued their statement using vague language that, according to critics, similarly failed to resolve the situation.

As Shireen Ahmed, a senior contributor to CBC Sports, said, it’s crucial for hockey teams to “use proper language.” Speaking on the subject as part of a Carnegie Initiative panel, Ahmed moderated and urged organizations to “say ‘racism’ and ‘anti-blackness, not fluffy words like’ inclusion ‘or’ diversity ‘.”

While racism and racist acts remain at the forefront of the discussion in hockey, IceDogs’ situation makes it clear that in hockey, a hierarchy is formed in which some believe that one topic is more important or more relevant than another.

As LGBTQ + activist and former professional hockey goalkeeper Brock McGillis stated over the phone, hockey’s approach to equality, as highlighted by IceDogs staff’s attacks on women and the LGBTQ + community, is not holistic. McGillis knows the prevalence and importance of fighting racism and anti-blackness in hockey, but also sees teams and leagues jump from problem to problem as problems arise.

“Their statement is a testament to where the culture is in hockey,” McGillis said. “In not understanding that diversity is all-encompassing for so many different groups, and it is the lack of humanization and education of all these groups that makes us believe that some things are bad to say and some things are ok, and justify it in a statement by saying that it was not the one bad thing, in this case racism, it was this other thing which in their minds is not so bad. “

IceDogs defended homophobia and misogyny by clearly claiming that their words were “not racial in any way”, highlighting the inconsistency in hockey’s attempts to correct a ruined culture.

“We are not doing enough to change the culture and behavior of the locker room,” McGillis said. “It’s a story in the sport; this is not new. “

Whether it is racism, homophobia or misogyny, the hockey culture has been in full swing this season. No matter how harmful the incidents are, statements from team to defense plague players and staff, or in an attempt to mitigate the organizational impact without taking into account the victims or the community, those who are fighting for change.

“It’s a ball lost by the sport and those leagues that do not,” McGillis said of the need for education and humanization of issues beyond reactionary statements. “[Niagara] should have owned it, but honestly, I do not know what they can say. If you are willing to speak openly in such a derogatory way that is so misogynistic and homophobic in these private group chats … then how do you speak when you are really angry? ”

According to several sources who have obtained screenshots of IceDog’s WhatsApp chat, what has been released is only the “tip of the iceberg” related to the organization, and it can be seen as a sign of hockey culture as a whole, not as a single incident.

According to Dr. Ouellette is these teams’ attempts to paint incidents as isolated fakes.

“It is not an individual,” Ouellette wrote in an email. “The concern I have is that the OHL individualizes and pathologizes this one event as a singularity, an exception rather than considering its institutionalized dimension. But that’s exactly what sports leagues do.”

As stated in a recent independent review of the Ontario Hockey League, a “‘code of silence’, lack of trust, fear, loyalty and a belief in insufficient consequences” exists in the league, allowing these problems to continue. Clearly, the problems of the OHL and hockey exist beyond the reported events. How deep, however, will only be seen when more players and staff step forward.

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