Podcast Review: “Changing on the Fly” Offers Timely and Critical Insights into Sociopolitical Issues in Hockey

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By Mark Norman

This is the first of what I hope will be a handful of reviews of hockey podcasts that focus or touch on themes of interest to Hockey in Society. I begin by reviewing the hockey podcast which most obviously aligns with many of this blog’s various interests: Changing on the Fly. This podcast, which is produced and hosted by Aaron Lakoff (@aaronlakoff), “aims to explore social justice issues in hockey, looking at themes such as colonialism, sexism, and racism on the ice.” Overall, this is a high-quality podcast that explores vital intersections of social and political issues with hockey, often deeply exploring topics that receive little attention elsewhere in the hockey media or blogosphere.

Since launching the podcast in October, 2018, Lakoff has produced 12 episodes. Having listened to each episode, I believe that Changing on the Fly is largely living up to its mandate. The 12 episodes have covered topics that are both very familiar to critical thinkers and scholars of hockey (on- and off-ice racism, the marginalization and under-resourcing of women’s hockey, toxic masculinity and homophobia, and the public subsidization of hockey arenas) while also delving into some less widely-discussed, yet still socially and politically significant, areas (the cultural significance of hockey riots, the intersections of hockey and punk music, and the surprising adoption of Philadelphia Flyers’ mascot Gritty by the American antifascist movement). Personally, I have found the latter episodes to be among the more compelling, but this is primarily because they are topics with which I am less familiar – for an audience not familiar with the critical body of academic research or critical journalism/blogging on hockey, the other episodes offer important entry points to crucial issues within the sport.

I have also been particularly pleased with the podcast’s ongoing discussion of Indigenous experiences and issues with hockey. Given the significance of hockey in the social control and punishment of Indigenous students at residential schools, and the explicit discussion of sport within the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Calls to Action, this is particularly timely and important. Two of the 12 episodes specifically have this focus: Episode 1 (“This Game We Love, On Stolen Native Land”), which discusses the history of hockey in residential schools, the use of Indigenous mascots and imagery, and the experiences of notable Indigenous players; and Episode 6 (“McGill Redman: Change the Name”), which focuses specifically on the (now successful) campaign to have McGill University drop the “Redmen” nickname for its men’s Varsity teams. However, Lakoff and his guests skillfully weave discussions about Indigenous experiences and issues related to hockey into other broader conversations, such as the politics of the publicly-subsidized Edmonton Oilers new stadium, Rogers Place (Episode 8: “Arenas on Stolen Land: Edmonton’s Rogers Place and Gentrification”).

This speaks to a broader strength of the podcast: that it adopts a critical intersectional perspective, recognizing how various forms of privileged or marginalized identities (race, gender, class, sexuality, etc.) and sociopolitical issues intersect in unique ways within different hockey contexts. Thus, an interview with a member of Manitoba punk band Propagandhi (Episode 12: “Pucks, Punks and Politics”) is not simply about the relationship between the sport and the band’s music – rather, it is a wide-ranging conversation that touches on environmental destruction, militarism, and capitalism. Similarly, a discussion of the 2011 Stanley Cup Riot in Vancouver moves beyond clichés about fan violence to consider issues of socioeconomic inequality and race in the city and the role of alcohol in the marketing and consumption of hockey.

A further strength of the show is the diversity of guests and perspectives for which Lakoff provides a platform. Guests have included academics, hockey players, musicians, political activists, and journalists. These guests provide an excellent array of view on the sport and offer critical insight from their own unique perspectives. Many of the scholars Lakoff interviews (who include Kristi Allain, Braden Te Hiwi, Jay Scherer, Rylan Kafara, Jenny Ellison, and Hockey in Society contributor Cheryl Macdonald) are among the most prominent hockey researchers in Canada, and all do a masterful job of communicating their research for a non-academic audience. As such, the podcast does an excellent job of presenting scholarly research in a manner that is easily-digestible and understandable to those outside of sport studies.

I have only two minor quibbles with the podcast thus far. One is that, because the episode format largely consists of an interview with one or two guests, conversations can sometimes become unfocused or tangential. This is certainly not uncommon in podcasts, and in the big picture is not a major detriment to the listening experience. Further, Lakoff largely does a good job of balancing the need to give guests space to speak while bringing them back on track when the conversation moves too far afield. The other is not really fair, as the podcast is in its relative infancy – but I would love to see a wider range of topics addressed as the podcast continues. Lakoff’s critical orientation and impressive array of guests makes Changing on the Fly an ideal venue for more deeply explore topics such as the connection between hockey and militarism in Canada, the strategic deployment of hockey to achieve particular partisan political aims, hockey and the environment, the social and political impacts of globalization on hockey, various forms of hockey violence, and the cultural meanings of hockey in diverse social contexts both in Canada and around the world (among many other potential topics!). I realize that this is more of a wish list than a criticism, and I have no doubt that Changing on the Fly will at least touch upon, if not deeply explore, many of these topics in future episodes.

Overall, I highly recommend Changing on the Fly. If you are a reader of Hockey in Society, you will find that it aligns extremely well with this blog’s areas of interest and critical orientation toward analyzing the social and political significance of hockey. The podcast can be downloaded through major podcast apps or streamed directly from its website (http://changingonthefly.ca). Happy listening!

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