HEIMPEL: Hockey Canada must act — or be no more

Article originally published in Toronto Sun

It has been called an “extinction-level” event for Hockey Canada.

The Sun‘s own Steve Simmons suggested in a recent column that it was time to “collapse” Hockey Canada. So badly has Hockey Canada managed the current scandals before it, that it is now drawing comparisons to the Catholic Church. The recent revelation of a long-time secret fund to pay damages to victims assaulted by players suggests that it has both known it has a problem for a long time, and decided that it’s only a problem if other people know about it. And, by the way, the rest of hockey should not pretend this is isolated to Hockey Canada. One need only look at the Chicago Blackhawks.

It is by no means an understatement to suggest that the institution that is hockey in this country is undergoing the single greatest existential crisis it has faced in the sport’s history. Current minor hockey enrollment is already down 200,000 skaters from its peak. Expensive equipment, more expensive ice time and even more expensive registration fees have already battered the national game. The fact that Hockey Canada does not seem to appreciate either the damage its players have done to victims, or that its current timid inaction is doing to the future of the game, is baffling.

What is clear is that for Hockey Canada to have any future at all, more drastic action is needed.

First, the government, as one of its principal sources of funding, needs to go over the organization with a fine-tooth comb. I would even make any future funding for Hockey Canada contingent on new management. This new management needs to broom the entirety of Hockey Canada’s bureaucracy. All of it.

No sport has a good record of dealing with sex crimes. Whole volumes could be written on the NFL’s inability to deal with intimate partner violence, starting with Greg Hardy and Ray Rice. But baseball, of all sports, does have a history of understanding itself as an institution and making attempts to protect that institution. Now, baseball from gambling to steroids, has had more major scandals to deal with than most — and there have been times when it has come up short in a big way (see: Astros, Houston) — but baseball has always taken the view that playing the game is a privilege that the fans give the players by showing up.

That privilege is revocable, and baseball has revoked it. It didn’t matter that Joe Jackson hit .375 in the World Series at the centre of the Black Sox scandal, or that no one could ever prove he threw a game. He knew about the scheme, and faced the same fate as the others. Permanent ineligibility. Banned from the sport. It does not matter that Pete Rose is the all-time leader in hits in baseball history. He bet on baseball. That same punishment was handed down to Roberto Alomar for sexual assault just last year.

Young people in this country grow up dreaming of playing for Team Canada — including thousands of young women. That crest has to mean something. It is important to know what an institution like Hockey Canada stands for. It is just as important to know what it will absolutely not tolerate. After firing the entirety of its current management, taking the organization down to the studs and bringing in hockey outsiders — and that part is key — to rebuild it. Hockey Canada needs to set an example. The eight players implicated in the 2018 incident, and players subsequently implicated in any other assaults, have to publicly be made permanently ineligible to participate in anything funded by, organized by, or affiliated with, Hockey Canada. It doesn’t matter what accolades they may receive, or have received in their NHL careers — if the NHL allows them to continue. They can never play or coach or manage for Team Canada ever again.

“But this one,” commissioner Giamatti said of baseball on banning Pete Rose, “because it is so much a part of our history as a people and because it has such a purchase on our national soul, has an obligation to the people for whom it is played — to its fans and well-wishers — to strive for excellence in all things and to promote the highest ideals.” If Hockey Canada cannot live up to that, then it should be no more.

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