The tweet that sent the hockey world on fire yesterday evening came mid-way through the first to top Flames brass. In it, allegations that Bill Peters is a racist.

I have a few thoughts on this, as a Flames fan, hockey player, and person of colour. First, just a quick primer for context.

Racism is often reduced to individual acts. The thinking goes, Canadian identity couldn’t itself be racist, only individuals can. Of course, that’s a false narrative. It’s only possible to believe racism is isolated, or that we’ve progressed past racism as a society if you’re not the victim of it. If you’re white then the assumption is the way you see the world must be the same as everyone else. That your worldview is the standard and dominant view of what Canadian culture IS.

Yet Canada is a colonized land, and the legacy of colonial rule still runs deep today. This part is crucial. Whether you can see it or not, racist DNA remains trapped in the ‘system’ of our country. Hockey is a part of that culture too. This doesn’t mean everything in culture is bad, far from, but it does mean there are racist roots still in play today. Hockey has a special role in this reality too. It’s in hockey where “worldview” is normalized. That certain ways of thinking are celebrated, even if they don’t represent most Canadians.

So with that in mind, and with the idea that although we can’t see it, racism still permeates every facet of the country, here are a few pointers to help folks understand how best to reply to racist allegations.

  • Timeframe doesn’t matter. “Why did he wait ten years,” is irrelevant. It deflects responsibility from the perpetrator and unto the accused. It’s form a gaslighting that seeks to discredit the validity of the claim. The fact palyers are coming out now, and together when it’s safer or when their careers are over shows how toxic hockey culture is. Also, this is why it was stupid for the Flames to parade around Oliver Kylington for a post-practice media scrum.
  • Don’t participate in gaslighting. Ways to discredit the character of the victim in an effort to second guess the story.
  • It’s OK to hold disgust and disappointment. It’s also important to reflect how YOU might embody pieces of the same culture that’s being picked apart. When we can see how complicit we are, we can start to make some changes.
  • “Peters didn’t call him a N, he referenced the music…..” Which makes a difference how? Still racist.
  • There’s no “but“. Racism is bad, “BUT”, is what white people are saying in another attempt to deflect attention from the initial claim. Stay focussed. There’s a statement, and now the right people are digging to find out the context. We don’t get to do that, we just hold our breathe without trying to diminish. We also keep the foot on the gas so that the “investigation” is done well. This part is always problematic as you can find innumerable instances where racist accusations are swept under the rug.

When the story broke I actually said there was only one way to get out of this–apologize immediately and say he regrets the things he said and has been learning to be better ever since. Of course, he hasn’t, because he’s only disappointed because he got caught, but that was his one out, and one I still hope he takes.

Bill Peters is done. And I’m happy to hear about it. I want to see hockey change it’s approach and become what it wants to be–a beautiful game that welcomes all.

On Hockey Culture

After the Don Cherry fiasco (long overdue in my opinion), hockey is going through a painful shift surrounding its legendary culture and status as the pinnacle of national pride. What is finally coming to light is how toxic and unhealthy the culture really is. Case in point, Mike Babock getting fired, fans rejoice, players say what a terrible coach he was, and then more players calling out other coaches for their crap too.

In comes Akim, who played for the Flames late in March one year. He wasn’t half bad. His allegations are damning. All of the follow up is damning. And it’s signalling a much needed shift.

The denigration of black skin in a white man’s game is the same tired song found in every white institution in this country. Hopefully this is a wake up call that our once impenetrable fascination with hockey needs an overhaul. One can only hope that the results from the fallout will be positive, namely, the improvement of the game towards becoming welcoming to all. Although in Canada, Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday and now Sunday are regarded as cultural icons, they ability to truly bring Canadians of all colours together is questionable. When the ugly emerges it’s really doing the opposite, reminding those who aren’t white that they don’t belong in the game. I mean, for a while there, we only thought poor people weren’t welcome, but it runs deeper than that.

Luckily, I think culture is changing. There’s enough outrage forcing the NHL has to cleanup their act now. And they will. After all, bad press means money through the lack of advertising dollars. Being the racist league (and let’s admit, hockey is for white boys), doesn’t endear you to many corporations vying for exposure.

I’m digging how other players are coming out in support of Akim. Too bad his career was mothballed in the process. Akim’s reports are being confirmed and also throw shade at a other coaches. Hockey culture is bad to the bone and it runs deep. Although Mike Babcock was the catalyst that burst the damn, he, along with Bill Peters and Jeff Perry are on the hot seat.

What About the Flames?

Which leaves us with the matter of the Flames. What are they going to do? First, Bill Peters has got to go. I actually thought he could get out of it if he apologized immediately and should a contrite heart. But it’s too late now.

Second, this is perhaps the last straw for Brad Treliving. He’s gone through 3 coaches now, and you don’t generally survive so many moves as a GM. It also brings up the issue of his judgement when he essentially sole sourced the Flames coaching gig two years ago. Replaced was Glen Gulutzan, who arguably was a “players coach”, in favour of Mike Keenan 2.0 (or Hartley 2.0). We didn’t know it at the time, but the no-nonsense style lasted a year and a bit before the top players started tuning out. That’s of course not the coaches fault.

Thirdly, there are only so many different approaches to the game before the players are solely to blame, which I think they mostly are. Million dollar professional athletes have to find ways to win, not complain and shutdown. No word on whether this is going to negatively or positively impact the play on-ice, but if it does, it shows what a weight a single person can have on a pro sports team.

Ultimately, if the players don’t respond, it will be the end of this core as we know it, and perhaps the end of the GM. But hopefully hockey will be better because of the Flames’ losses over the past few days. Right now, the crappy on-ice product can really only improve, can’t it?