There’s been a lot of conversation in Canada over the past month. Most of it negative. Problems in the NHL came to light when the oft criticized TV personality, Don Cherry, made anti-immigrant remarks on his National segment, Coach’s Corner on Hockey Night in Canada. In it, Cherry decried immigrants and their seeming unwillingness to wear Remembrance Day poppies to his liking. Then a couple week’s later, spurred by the firing of an NHL coach in Toronto, the now ex-Calgary Flames head coach, Bill Peters, was outed for racial slurs directed to a player 10 years ago.
Both of these events combined for an explosion of conversation surrounding not only the game of hockey, but its place in defining Canadian culture. Is hockey really welcoming to all?
Many new immigrants have discovered one way to integrate into Canadian society, and understand pieces of Canadian culture, is by learning and participating in the game of hockey. It’s often touted as a game where everyone belongs and one that unites the country. It certainly achieves that around significant events like the Winter Olympics. But when it comes to tying the country together, whose country are we talking about? Hockey is reflection of dominant cultural trends in our country and not all of it is healthy. Racism and various forms of abuse are still prevalent in the hockey at a competitive and even amateur level. But more importantly we need to ask how is hockey defining what it means to be Canadian. Canadian heroes and the heroes that capture the gaze of the average Canadian is defined through a lens of hockey. But it doesn’t include everyone. As we have seen in the past month, what has always been boiling underneath the surface but finally coming to light, hockey is a privilege sport for the few and has deeply racist issues. Although new immigrants try their best to become a part of it, and frankly it is fun to be a part of the energy during Olympics or playoff hockey, it’s also a cultural barriers. If you don’t fit within the cultural barriers of hockey then you are considered an outsider.
In this sense hockey has long defined Canadian culture, but it also does so by creating a hierarchy of belonging. It’s something that the game could do without if it is to truly become a sport that unites our nation rather than divide.