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For the last five days, a group of self-proclaimed patriots have occupied the streets around Parliament Hill in Ottawa (and at the Coutts border crossing in Southern Alberta) under the title of a “Freedom Convoy.” The expectation is that the convoy will grow in size over the weekend and there is not an immediate plan to remove the convoy for fear that “policing may not bring the protest to an end.” The demands of the convoy vary from rolling back vaccine mandates to demanding that the Liberal Party relinquish its power. Participants of the convoy range from truckers to not truckers, neo-Nazis, Trump supporters, some racialized people, and some questionable “Indigenous drummers”. It’s really as “inclusive” a group as one could put together, I suppose. They are exercising their constitutional and human rights to gather and protest, and no one denies that this is their right. Then, on February 1, 2022, Rebel News posted a video of some convoy folks playing street hockey.
Many have already written about how different the treatment is for the convoy versus Black Lives Matter protesters and Indigenous land defenders, so I won’t go into great detail here. Suffice it to say that once you have seen how quickly the military grade weapons and handcuffs come out when Indigenous groups try to defend their sovereignty and the land that we all benefit from, compared to how the convoy has been treated for defending imaginary rights that have not been taken away, it makes the idea of attaining racial justice laughable. Then add the visual of white men playing street hockey as part of their “protest” under the shadow of Nazi flags and it becomes blatantly clear that white supremacy and hockey have become too comfortable bedfellows. To be clear, I’m not saying that these men playing street hockey necessarily support neo-Nazi groups or ideology but their ability to play street hockey as part of their political statement is made possible by the institutionalization of white supremacy (i.e., the white privilege to claim space in a way that others cannot). And, if those few who are waving their Trump and Nazi flags seem comfortable around you while you play hockey, your silence (or indifference) is pretty much all the support they need.
We know that hockey is a historically white dominated sport. Yet, when we venture into the closeness of white supremacy and hockey, people tend to get a lot more defensive. What do I mean by white supremacy? I mean a system that privileges whiteness and is designed in a way that congregates power in white hands. Sometimes white supremacy exists in “innocuous” ways, such as in our food production and distribution systems, which results in Black, Indigenous, and other people of colour as disproportionately affected by food insecurity. Other times, it means the actual white supremacist groups who believe they are entitled to power over others. Hockey is entwined with both of these versions.
A few years ago, these posters started circulating around Toronto to promote “Students for Western Civilization.” The poster reads “If everyone is Canadian, then to be Canadian means nothing.” The imagery they chose to accompany their message of xenophobia? A white man holding a hockey stick. When the NFL, NBA, WNBA, and NWSL had whole teams of players kneeling for Black Lives Matter, Eric Trump thanked NHL players for standing during the anthem. It was NHL fans who took a knee on behalf of the players who refused to make the symbolic gesture. Canadian broadcasting allowed Don Cherry to spew his xenophobic takes for over 40 years until “You people” was a little too on the nose. After the murder of George Floyd, Kim Davis (NHL Executive VP of Social Impact), said that the NHL would “have to interrogate and investigate how we ensure that those relationships [with police appreciation nights] are continued to be perceived as positive in the way that we illuminate them, is perceived as positive as relative to these fans that are feeling compromised by police brutality.” Hemal Jhaveri pointed out the contradiction in Davis’ statement: “there is no way to hold both sides of this issue. Supporting Black Lives Matter, as so many NHL player have said that they do, also means supporting aggressive police reforms.” There cannot be a balance between police appreciation nights and Black Lives Matter as policing currently operates. The LA Kings have one of the most progressive Inclusion Policies in the league and they still had a Law Enforcement appreciation night a couple of weeks ago. This is not a discussion about a few bad apples; this about the fact that the FBI has identified “white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement,” and that far-right groups “make a special point of recruiting members from law enforcement and military.” The Toronto Star recently noted that Canadian law enforcement is in no way immune from this recruitment strategy. It is a strategic alignment to gain access to power, weapons, and training, but also with the knowledge that there is sympathy for a certain view of justice within its ranks. There have also been few consequences for officers who have been found with connections to white supremacist organizations.
All this to say that white supremacist views seem to feel as comfortable in hockey spaces as they do in law enforcement because they have been allowed to do so. Hockey has been too inclusive.
When Kelly Loeffler, former owner of the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream and Senator for Georgia, said that she didn’t support any political statements on the basketball court including Black Lives Matter, her own players ran her out of town. They actively worked to get her Senate seat turned in favour of the democratic candidate Raphael Warnock, and they replaced her seat at the owners table with people who supported their vision of equality and justice. They edited racism out of the system. They didn’t hire a Black woman to “balance” Loeffler’s presence — they got rid of the problem. And, have no fear, because Loeffler’s combined spousal worth is still approximately $800 million. She was not cancelled. Hockey’s problem is that it rarely self-edits. It only edits people out when poop hits the fan. Hence, we now have a game desperately trying to grow by including groups who have historically been excluded or unwelcome, but mixing them in with racists and xenophobes who feel like hockey is a great space to be themselves is a form of violence.
As Dr. Mary Louise Adams wrote in 2006 with words that seem to ring truer with each passing day, “If hockey is life in Canada, then life in Canada remains decidedly masculine and white” (p.71). The image of convoy “protesters” playing street hockey trumpets this reality when in the past few months (1) a Junior B player in Prince Edward Island (PEI) was indefinitely suspended for voicing concern about how his league handled an incident of racism (The suspension was eventually overturned but the knee jerk reaction of hockey has consistently been to play devil’s advocate instead of coming down hard on racism.); (2) Mark Connors was subjected to a racist slur at a tournament in PEI; and (3) Jordan Subban was the target of racist behaviour in the ECHL. Hockey has tried to tow the “very fine people on both sides” line for too long, so if those in power are uncomfortable seeing this great sport sidled up next to Trump flags, Nazi imagery, and disdain for journalists, it has to be a lot less inclusive in order to grow the game. My fear is that the powers that be find it more inconvenient than uncomfortable.