On Beliveau, Masculinity and “Class”

Image courtesy of the Guardian

Upon hearing the news of Jean Beliveau’s passing a few days ago, I was immediately taken back to my most enduring and endearing memory of Le Gros Bill. In a past life, a time when I thought a career spent toiling away in academia was for suckers (and yet here I am), I worked in numerous capacities at the Hockey Hall of Fame – some glamourous, some not so glamourous. One of my jobs at the annual Hall of Fame Induction ceremonies was to patrol the front of the hotel at which most honoured members in town for the event would stay. I was responsible for escorting the various Hall of Famers and their families through the crowd of (often aggressive, almost always professional) autograph seekers to the limo bus that would then take them to the red carpet at Yonge and Front.

One of the people I had to guide through this organized chaos each year was Jean Beliveau. As the flood of tributes after his death demonstrate, he is revered as a hockey legend and beloved by most with a knowledge of the sport’s history. This well-deserved respect and public veneration makes memorabilia featuring his likeness or signature worth a pretty penny (and like an artistic masterpiece, the value of this type of merchandise has undoubtedly increased after his passing). For me on Induction night, this meant the assembled horde of “fans” carrying unsigned pieces of memorabilia were especially eager for a moment of Mr. Beliveau’s time.

One year, I met him at the top of the hotel ramp, (re-)introduced myself, and began leading him and his wife toward the curb where the bus was waiting. With the help of a co-worker, I attempted to shield them from the hungry mob gathered in front of the hotel. He stopped a couple times and politely signed some autographs; meanwhile my co-worker and I absorbed more than a few shoves, jabs and insults from members of the crowd who were less than pleased with our efforts to keep them from obtaining their big ticket item (that would almost always be up for sale on eBay the next morning). We finally got Jean and Elise to the doors of the bus and we wished them a pleasant evening. But before the doors closed, Beliveau lightly grabbed my shoulder and asked, “Are you okay?” After I assured him that I was just fine, he patted me on the back and said “Great. You’re doing a great job. Thank you.” On a night entirely organized around treating these “honoured members” like unparalleled VIPs, he cared enough to stop for a second and ask how I was doing. This was certainly not a heroic or courageous deed; but it was an example of a genuine act of kindness and gratitude from a man who by all accounts was chalk full of them.

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Hockey Research at the 2014 “Putting it on Ice” Conference

Starting tomorrow in London, ON, hockey researchers and academics will gather at Western University for the fourth Putting it on Ice Conference. This conference, which was last held in Halifax, NS in 2012, is exclusively focused on scholarship related to hockey, whether that be sociological, political, historical, media, literary or economic research. Not surprisingly, there are lots and lots of fascinating papers being presented this year that align with the interests and focus of this blog – and I am happy to say that I will be in attendance to hear them all. While I don’t have space to summarize every paper that will be on the program, after the jump I have copied and pasted the titles and abstracts of just some of the papers I am particularly interested in – but I am sure that many other papers will also catch my interest and stimulate my intellect! You can check out the full program here and the abstracts here.

Full disclosure: I am co-presenting a paper, with Tobias Stark from Linnaeus University in Sweden, which for the sake of interest I am including in the selection of abstracts below.

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Drop-In Ball Hockey at the YMCA: An Ethnographic Study

“It’s fun to stay at the Y-M-C-A” goes the refrain of the famous Village People disco song. As someone studying sport policy, I decided to see if it’s true.

What is the experience of a new visitor to a Toronto-area YMCA drop-in ball hockey program? Some students at an English language centre where I occasionally teach have memberships at this particular YMCA location, which allows them to participate in drop-in ball hockey alongside other fitness programs. None of them (to my knowledge) has tried this sport, though some have considered participating especially after being “inspired” from watching hockey during the recent Winter Olympics.

I have played ball hockey extensively at various different settings. Some friends at one location would affectionately call me “Captain” because I would be the most outspoken in terms of enforcing fair play. To be honest, my understanding of “sportsmanlike conduct” was inspired by years of watching Don Cherry in his Coach’s Corner segment every Saturday night: “humble” but “vicious competitors” that exemplify the spirit of being “good ol’ Canadian boys” (Allain, 2011). Other times, particularly when I play drop-in hockey with complete strangers as a younger, smaller, and less-skilled participant, I want to blend in as seamlessly as possible without questioning the “old boy’s club” culture of playing hard and leaving non-hockey topics out of the conversation.

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The KHL as Cartel Buster? Ilya Kovalchuk, the Kontinental Hockey League, and the Challenge to the NHL’s Control of Labour Conditions

The (North American) hockey world was shocked yesterday to learn that superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk was retiring from the National Hockey League and, according to subsequent reports, planning to sign with SKA St. Petersburg of the Kontinental Hockey League. Today, it was announced that he has signed with the KHL club for four years. Kovalchuk’s decision is of interest to hockey fans for numerous reasons, including obviously fans of his now-former NHL team the New Jersey Devils, SKA St. Petersburg, and the KHL. However, it is also a fascinating development in the labour rights of hockey players – particularly concerning the binding nature of contracts and the right to labour mobility.

This post examines Kovalchuk’s NHL career and retirement, explores notable criticisms of the player’s actions by Don Cherry and Jeremy Roenick, and finally discusses whether the competition between the KHL and NHL poses a threat to the NHL’s ability to control the labour conditions of its athletes.

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Roundtable: The NHL and NHLPA Partner with the You Can Play Project

Roundtables are an occasional feature on Hockey in Society. Roundtables will present brief commentaries from Hockey in Society contributors on pressing or timely issues within hockey and its culture, with the aim of presenting a diverse range of critical viewpoints on the topic under discussion.

On April 11, the NHL and NHL Player’s Association announced a joint partnership with the You Can Play Project, an anti-homophobia initiative started by NHL scout Patrick Burke. The partnership will aim to create a welcoming environment for hockey players of all sexual orientations and to provide educational resources to incoming and current players. From You Can Play’s press release:

The official partnership with You Can Play includes a significant commitment to education and training for teams, players, media and fans plus the production and broadcast of more public service announcements.  The NHL becomes the first major American professional sports league to officially partner with an LGBT advocacy group on this scale. . . .

You Can Play will conduct seminars at the NHL’s rookie symposium to educate young prospects on LGBT issues. In addition, You Can Play will make its resources and personnel available to each individual team as desired. The NHLPA and NHL also will work with You Can Play to integrate the project into their Behavioral Health Program, enabling players to confidentially seek counseling or simply ask questions regarding matters of sexual orientation.

Regular readers of Hockey in Society will know that issues of homophobia in or related to hockey cultures have been a prominent feature on this blog – from the notable recent changes to hockey’s traditionally homophobic culture, to Brian Burke’s strident and public anti-homophobia stance, to the Canadian Conservative government’s downplaying of Canada’s support of gay marriage in favour of publicizing famous hockey victories, to, of course, the emergence of the You Can Play project in 2012. Given this history of critical treatment of LGBTQ issues in hockey and the significance of the newly formed partnership, Hockey in Society is proud to present its second Roundtable on this topic. After the jump, you will find commentary from three Hockey in Society contributors: Courtney Szto, Matt Ventresca, and Alvin Ma. Hopefully these differing views shed valuable light on the issue of homophobia in hockey cultures and spark important debate and discussion on this subject and related issues.

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Teaching a sociocultural course on hockey at the undergraduate level: Thoughts on course content and critically engaging students

Starting next week, I will be teaching a third year course to undergraduates in University of Toronto’s Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education. The course is called “Hockey in Canadian Society” – and yes, I realize that the title is incredibly similar to the name of this blog! I am extremely excited, if a little nervous, about starting the course. I do not have nerves about public speaking or about the course preparation – I have been excited to teach this course for months and so have already spent quite a lot of time on its design – but rather whether I can successfully impart the complexities of hockey’s social construction in Canadian society to undergraduate students.

This post simply offers an overview of the course, my thoughts about engaging students critically with a sport many of them love, and presents a list of sources that students will read. I hope that it may provide a useful resource for other scholars teaching about hockey and more generally provide a useful list of some good academic and online sources about the sport. If you have any comments, feedback, or suggestions please let me know!

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Steve Bernier and the Policing of Masculinity

Photo from ESPN.

Last night, Steve Bernier hit Rob Scuderi from behind in the first period of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Bernier received a five minute major and was ejected from the game for his hit.  Scuderi left the ice and returned at the start of the second period.  During the Kings five minute power play they scored three goals against Martin Brodeur. I think almost everyone could read the writing on the wall at that point.  Sure there was a lot of hockey left to be played but on the road against the frugal Kings, the Devils had a very tall task ahead of them.

While Bernier was probably in the locker room lamenting his actions “hockey fans” hopped on their computers and decided to channel their frustration through Wikipedia changing Bernier’s write-up.  Puck Daddy provides some of the examples as:

Steve Bernier (born March 31, 1985) is a Bitch ass.

On June 11th, 2012, Steve Bernier became the first NHL player to get his name on the Stanley Cup as the loser in the Stanley Cup Finals.  Bernier is a douche who pees sitting down and cost the Devils a chance at winning the Stanley Cup.

Steve Bernier (born March 31, 1985) is a flaming homosexual that is the sole reason why the Devils lost the Stanley Cup in 2012.  He is notorious for liking Mandingo up his a$$.

Sorry to tell you clever blokes that Bernier did not cost you the Cup. He cost you 3 goals, but he didn’t lose the first 3 games that put the Devils in the hole.  Regardless, pointing fingers is not the topic of discussion.  The issue at hand is how Bernier’s stupid, yes I will say stupid, hit becomes not about his poor decision-making as a player but about his masculinity.  I think there is plenty of room for insults directed at Bernier for being an idiot but neither his intelligence nor his dedication to the team are questioned.

Every single comment feminizes Bernier: bitch, douche, pees sitting down, flaming homosexual (P.S. how could Bernier be homosexual if gays don’t exist in the NHL?). Bernier had his man-card confiscated from him last night, which I find ironic because it was for a pretty stereotypically male action – physically intimidating and potentially injuring someone.  Isn’t that what all men are taught? Be physical. Be tough.  Be aggressive.  Bernier did all of those things.  He did it at the wrong time and under the wrong circumstances but he was behaving in a manner consistent with the connotation of MAN, was he not? I could see if he shied away from a fight or took a dive. These are actions that have already been labelled as unmanly, but since when has being overly aggressive been equated with women or being gay? Or are we just saying that stupidity is equated with women and gay men?

It saddens me to see comments like these. For one, they are hurtful to all women and homosexuals; but mostly, it is hurtful to other men.  What this example should say to all men is that your masculinity has the ability to be questioned and challenged at any time for any reason.  There is no rhyme or reason needed.  These types of comments just make the already tiny box you inhabit so much smaller.  We constantly talk about the women’s movement taking steps backwards, but during game 6 men, as a collective, took a step in the wrong direction.  As the list of what it means to be a woman continues to grow, the list of what it means to be a man shrinks.  Consequently, your odds of being on the outside are increasing.  Are you okay with this?