The focus of expanding and diversifying the game of hockey should be on creating a welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone.
With a story coming out on Monday about players on the ice and parents in the stands hurling racial slurs at a 16-year-old Indigenous player, it’s hard to believe the slogan that tries to tell us “Hockey is for Everyone”.
The exorbitant costs to put a child in organized minor hockey already keeps many kids off the ice, but imagine being one of those kids whose single parent put together the funds needed to allow you to play hockey only to be subject to harassment, bullying, and taunts, all stemming from the way you look.
To hear people tell you repeatedly you shouldn’t be playing the game certainly takes a mental toll on a player, especially a young player still trying to find out who they are going to be in the world, let alone the hockey world.
When Akim Aliu came out and told his story of racial discrimination at the hands of Bill Peters, it encouraged many others to share stories of their own. Stories of abuse, both physical and mental, began to come to light, and it’s become clear to all that leagues across North America won’t tolerate that kind of behaviour.
As for the BCHL, Executive Director Steven Cocker says the league has a zero-tolerance policy on discrimination. “One of the league’s mandates is player safety, this encompasses many different aspects broken down by on-ice and off-ice safety.”
“Although this is my first year working with the league office at this capacity, we are striving to continue to make the BCHL a safe league for our players in all areas, which includes not having to deal with any sort of discrimination whether racial, sexual orientation or other. We will continue to look at avenues to educate our players and staff.”
Although 19-year-old Coquitlam Express’ forward Adam Trotman hasn’t experienced it in the BCHL this season, hearing about racism in the game he loves is nothing new to him. Trotman is half black and half white and has been playing hockey for 16 years. He first experienced racism on the ice at the age of 12 years old.
“We were playing a team from the States in a tournament and the game was getting a little chippy for that age,” Trotman recalled. “Late in the game, after finishing a check along the boards, as I started to skate back towards the play, my opponent made a racist remark saying “F— you n—–“.
Trotman said the encounter caught him off guard and he didn’t know how to react. “I played the game as if nothing had happened.”
“One of my teammates who had been kicked out of the game happened to be standing right along the glass where it occurred and he heard everything. I think there was also a parent or two in the area who overhead it, because after the game when my coach came into the dressing room, the first thing he did was ask me if it was true, so I assume a parent told him.”
“When I told him, he went to go speak with the opposing team’s coaches and tournament officials to handle the situation. The kid got suspended for whatever amount of games it is for a racial or homophobic slur if I remember correctly.”
Trotman recognizes that he can’t speak on the experiences of others, but that he feels racism in the game is becoming less prevalent as the years go by.
“Ethnicities that were originally outside of the norm are slowly becoming the norm and people are a lot more accepting of this than in the past. People are more conscious today of the possible repercussions their words may hold. As a community, we have realized our words have consequences, whether we are the ones they effect or not.”
“The hockey world is a constantly adapting place, trying to be a safe haven for everyone. Through all of my struggles, I have received nothing but love and support from the game and community. Even you reaching out to me for this piece shows that people care and want to continue to make a change in the right direction.”
Trotman believes that hockey is indeed a game for everyone. “Many people use it as an escape from the world whether they’re a player, coach, or fan. It’s the best sport in the world and has one of the best communities in the world.”
“It’s full of inclusion, support, friendship, character, love, and much more. Although like anything, there’s a small portion that doesn’t share the same thoughts, they do not represent the community as a whole.”
Adam Trotman is a junior hockey player hoping to receive a college scholarship. He is also mixed race.
This is his story about his love for the game of hockey and how he deals with not fitting the stereotype of a hockey player. pic.twitter.com/prRQtfiVCM
— The Unity Project (@UnityProjectYVR) December 3, 2019
“I just want to send a message to anyone who feels they’re being discriminated against and treated unfairly in the game because of their race, gender, etc. You’re not alone. Stay strong and be brave. Don’t let it ruin your passion for the game and take away all the joy that hockey has to offer.”
“Hockey is one of the greatest teachers in the world, it will test you time and time again but will build characteristics in you that last a lifetime. Keep on playing the game you love and the game that loves you.”