This article was written by Kirsten Staple, who’s a part of the Professional Hockey Writers Association x To Hockey With Love Mentorship Program. This program pairs aspiring writers with established members of the affiliation throughout North America to create alternatives for marginalized individuals who don’t historically get revealed on bigger platforms masking hockey. 

To Hockey With Love  is a weekly e-newsletter masking a variety of subjects in hockey – from the scandals of the week to offering a important evaluation of the game. 


As a Black lady, I’ve heard my fair proportion of feedback about my love of hockey. “Really? You watch hockey?”; “Hockey is such a white sport”; “Black people don’t like hockey.” 

Despite what individuals say, hockey isn’t a one-size-fits-all sport, and the identical may be stated for the fan base. Hockey followers (and gamers too) come from many various backgrounds, and our love for the sport transcends all boundaries. As the gamers and followers proceed to diversify, we should revisit the uncomfortable actuality of hockey tradition. It is rooted in many various social and financial points with a protracted historical past of baked-in prejudices. In order for hockey to proceed to develop, particularly amongst those that are marginalized, these issues should be acknowledged and addressed.

In the spirit of (and my private pursuit of) altering hockey tradition, I sat down with Brock McGills, the primary skilled males’s hockey participant to publicly come out as homosexual, and Kurtis Gabriel, a just lately retired NHL participant and ally to those that are from marginalized communities, to debate what altering hockey tradition seems like from a participant’s perspective.

Note: Some questions and solutions has been edited for size, readability and redundancy.

Do you suppose the present state of hockey tradition is trending in a optimistic course? Why or why not?

Brock McGillis: “There are issues in hockey tradition that give me hope. For occasion, the uproar that we noticed in Canada over the 2018 World Junior staff and the alleged actions of gamers on that membership led to Canada saying, ‘We don’t tolerate this.’ In the previous, that wasn’t essentially the case. We hadn’t seen that occur earlier than. There are individuals on this tradition that give me hope, packages like this (To Hockey With Love, the PHWA Writing Mentorship Program) to have interaction marginalized people to write down concerning the sport and share the game by way of a distinct lens. The proven fact that groups and leagues name me to go in provides me hope.

“But every time I get hopeful, I see things like Mitchell Miller signing, and it makes me think, ‘What is happening?’ And I experienced in my own life gatekeeping and different things where I’m like, ‘Are we headed in the right direction or do we have people spouting out what they have to say in bad faith?’ This is across hockey culture, not necessarily any particular league or team. And then, I start questioning where we’re actually at. I have no doubt in my mind that things are going to get progressively worse before it gets better. I think it needs to. I think we need to see it; we need to look at it, the good, bad and the ugly.

“After we stare it in its eyes, we have to make a conscious effort to say that this isn’t OK. I think there are people out there willing and who want to do that. There’s a lot of people who are scared of change who are holding it back and gatekeeping. There’s so many different factors at play. Whether it’s better today or not, I don’t know. I think more stuff is coming to light, so it seems worse, but the fact that it’s coming to light, is that a blessing? Does that mean that we’re getting somewhere? I think the answer is nuanced and can be looked at through a number of different lenses, but ultimately I think progress is happening in incremental steps and at a slow pace.”

Kurtis Gabriel: “Brock hit on a lot of it there. I agree 100 percent. To add from a recent player’s perspective, being in the locker room, I was very outspoken about what I do. There wasn’t language to the point where I had to make a big fuss about it. If a guy said something he looked at me and apologized right away if I was in the vicinity. I explained to them really quickly why that’s not OK, and guys were accepting of that. That’s positive.

“I think the politics and politicization of all these things, human rights, the right, the left…A lot of hockey players as we know, come from conservative backgrounds, white families with money. I think it’s almost to the point now where a lot of guys know that a lot of their beliefs are questionable. They know they and their families see the world through a different lens than the way society is going. I think because of how people with conservative views talk about cancel culture, not only is it misplaced, but it stops them from having conversations about it. Out of fear. It stagnates change. I just wish we could finally realize for once that these issues should NEVER be political, and religious beliefs should NEVER hold any weight and govern how others live their lives. Nobody says you can’t be religious. Knock yourself out, but stop thinking you can tell others how to live and thinking you are doing your god’s work. You are not supposed to judge anyone else. So damn hypocritical.”

Brock, I do know you do some work with junior groups, however would you ever do a coaching/workshop on combating homophobia for NHL gamers or athletes from completely different sports activities (i.e.. NBA)?

McGillis: “Yes. I would like these doorways (opened) so dangerous. …Hockey is predominantly white with each gamers and workers, so there isn’t a powerful comprehension of racism, there isn’t a powerful comprehension that the issues that they are saying could possibly be dangerous, sexist, misogynistic and so on. You take a look at basketball, they most likely have a larger comprehension of racism as a lived expertise for the overwhelming majority of gamers, whereas they is likely to be on the similar stage of comprehension of homophobia and misogyny and sexism…When you haven’t lived it, it’s important to have it humanized so that you can get a greater grasp of it.

“If everybody in our circle is rather like us, like in hockey, they’re all assumed to be straight, cis gender, majority white males. How are they purported to have this comprehension, in the event that they’re collectively each day, of the affect of this language and behaviors on a homosexual individual in that house?  It’s no completely different than basketball gamers who’ve comparable assumptions about being straight, cis gender, in baseball, in soccer too.

“The vast majority of people are good by nature. I think if we humanize issues, they’ll see it and rally around it. Like with Kurtis, things were humanized for him and he became a vocal supporter and advocate and ally to communities because he heard people’s lived experiences. So, if we recognize that and if I could get in those doors, I would love to reach people and follow up with education; I think that (education) matters and can change language, behaviors, and attitudes. The impact of influencing younger players would matter and then when they retire and they’re running teams, coaching teams and they’re influencing others, it will matter. I would love to get to every sport. I would love to share my story. I’ll go anywhere, anytime to speak and share.”

Do you suppose that the expose of Hockey Canada is the catalyst for main modifications inside hockey tradition?

McGillis: “I feel it may be. I feel it’s the primary time we’ve seen individuals incensed to this magnitude. Most individuals suppose that they’re good by nature and I feel most individuals are, however they see individuals round them do dangerous issues and go, ‘Well that’s not me, that’s (not) my son’s good friend, (not) my daughter’s good friend and so on. I’ve nothing to do with that.’ It wasn’t till they acknowledged that their {dollars} had been getting used to silence victims or potential victims of sexual assault that they then grew to become incensed, indignant, outraged.

I feel there’s going to be a severe push throughout this nation (Canada) to repair it. I feel the truth that the federal government has stepped in, that they’re not letting this go, that they’re going to proceed to do what they’re doing, goes to be an enormous issue. I feel the truth that a variety of sponsors pulled out of Hockey Canada and once we begin to look behind the scenes of provincial our bodies, of native associations and so on., I feel they’re going to begin pulling out elsewhere too till it’s all cleaned up.

“Everyone better get their stuff together quickly because I think it’s a snowball (effect). I don’t think it’ll stop at Hockey Canada at this point; I think there’s too much money and investment and corporations are looking at it, saying, ‘How do we look funding this? How do Canadians look funding this?’ I think this could be the catalyst. I’ve also seen a member of the nomination committee that puts forth the names for the Board of Directors say that ‘We’re going to use the same criteria to pick the next board.’ So, there’s still the same people kind of influencing the culture. Will it change? Time will tell but I think it’s the first time that I have a belief that it could, and that excites me.”

Gabriel: “I think the same thing. Another thing to realize is that if you don’t have a basic knowledge on all of these issues, enough to pass by in society, in your career, you run a risk of losing your career. I think it’s another reason why people, the players need to wake up, to not sleep on these things, to not think they’re entitled to the whole world. I think every single thing like this makes hockey culture better. It’s painful and it’s awful, it sucks and it’s not surprising, it’s going to continue to happen until it gets better. It’s getting worse until it gets better.”

In wake of the current signing of Mitchell Miller by the Boston Bruins and his subsequent removing from the staff, what are your ideas on the idea of accountability tradition and redemption arcs inside hockey?

Gabriel: “I love how you used ‘accountability culture’ because that’s exactly what it is…Gotta hold players accountable, it’s very clear. Some think that they can get away with it, the whole, ‘He’s a good player, we looked into it, it’s fine, it’s brushed over,’ and then they get hammered for it. I think it’s amazing that it was dealt with the way that it was, but it’s another reason for everyone to wake up and realize that you can’t just be casual about any of these situations anymore…and everything needs to be well thought of.

“You need people in your organizations or you need to outsource people like Brock and pay them what they deserve to be paid to navigate these situations properly. If you don’t, you lose a lot of public credibility and it comes back down to money where it hurts them the most. I thought it was bad but good. I think the media is holding these things accountable, I think everyone’s woken up to it and it shouldn’t slip by anymore.”

McGillis: “In my thoughts, I can’t converse for everybody however I can solely go for me. As a homosexual man, how I really feel once I see homophobic slurs or homophobia taking place, there’s all the time going to be part of me that may resent that individual. I can study to forgive however I received’t neglect. I can solely forgive if there’s a type of restorative justice with the sufferer – in different phrases: two-party consent, the place there’s true atonement for issues that they do, not simply checking bins with a purpose to get within the good graces sufficient to get an NHL or skilled contract. Once they’ve atoned, (they) proceed to have interaction in communities and don’t simply shut issues out at that time. Once you’ve gotten atoned, it means you’ve been working with these teams, issues ought to be humanized for you and you have to be rallying round it and championing change for these teams.

“For me, I can’t converse on how Black or disabled people really feel about Mitchell Miller as a result of I’m not Black nor do I’ve disabilities. It’s not my place to talk on it, aside from that it’s horrific. In my thoughts, he’s carried out nothing to justify deserving something within the sport; it’s an honor, it’s a privilege to play hockey. For me, as a queer individual, I feel everybody, in the event that they atone correctly, successfully they usually interact with victims, deserves a chance to be a greater human being and if that features hockey in some unspecified time in the future, positive.

“I think I’m more about the reform than punitive. I think it makes the world a better place and we can hopefully teach people to be better people. In some cases, you can’t and they don’t deserve that opportunity. Also, I think there has to be genuine empathy and compassion by that person… I will say this, I think the sport loves a redemption story, loves it, I think we see all too often, whether it’s abusers, people who have been homophobic, racist, people who have assaulted etc., we’re quick to give them that second chance and I think even in a lot of instances, media members are too. To me, it’s like…creating a story arc for someone instead of them doing the work and the steps to unlearn/eradicate/shift their attitudes and behaviors to become better human beings and then the story will write itself. We can’t be out here, looking and trying to write these redemption stories. We’ve got to let people write their own stories.”

What are your ideas on the “tough it out” mentality that exists round accidents and hockey tradition? How can this mentality be modified?

Gabriel: “As far as the injuries, I say that responsibility falls on the player. If you can play, and want to play, that’s your choice. Teams are always gonna want guys to push it in crunch time for the betterment of the team. That’s not going to change. But if the injury could get worse and threaten your career, you’ve got to look out for yourself. Call the people you need to: agent, NHLPA. Teams, for sure, should then realize the situation and respect the decisions, but there are always going to be differences of opinion in this area. There is a huge gray area. Hockey is arguably one of the top few toughest sports to play on the planet. You have to know the risks and understand how to navigate it. Just my opinion.”

McGillis: “I think it starts at a young age. We celebrate and glorify it. It’s in the media, it’s in the sport, it’s in the culture, it’s on the coaches. Young players learn how to rush back from injury. I say don’t rush back, don’t play through serious injury. I know some people go, ‘Well, I did it, my generation did it,’ and it’s fine for them, but I look at myself. I’m 39 years old, I’m in physio two to three days a week, from injuries from hockey that I had cortisone shots for and different things. Everyone I know is in the same boat and they can be semi-debilitating at times.

“It’s really foolish that we glorify and celebrate people doing long-term damage to their body for a short-term gain. Granted, playing sports in general, you’re doing long-term damage to your body for short-term gain. However, some of this is preventable and we should be emphasizing, almost celebrating those who take the time to come back healthy. Although you have a small window of a career, rushing back, playing hurt and never reaching 100 percent of your ability again is probably worse for you than sitting out an extra three weeks or a month or the rest of the season and getting back to 100 percent.”

Do you suppose hockey is doing sufficient relating to psychological well being?

Gabriel: “I think massive strides have been made in mental health. I have seen a few players take leaves of absence when they needed it for mental health reasons, come back, get back in shape and play again. Also, the NHLPA has it set up that any player can access any mental health help they need, and it extends to your immediate family in your household. I take advantage of that and it has been a massive benefit.

“Robin Lehner being open and honest about his struggles, as well as Tyler Motte, and the list goes on, have helped break down this barrier more. I think we all need to work to continue to break down the stigma surrounding mental health because it touches every single one of us.”

McGillis: “I don’t think we teach our kids at a young age to share that. I know so many kids when they go to Triple A, junior etc. would hide their struggles, be scared to tell their families, out of fear that it would get out. Then, that would lead to people thinking that they’re mentally weak and that weakness is then used against them in the drafts, in picking teams, in write-ups on players.

“Is that culture shifting? Yes, slightly. Are we getting to a place where people are starting to open up a little more? Yes. Do I think we have a long way to go until it’s a conversation that doesn’t have any judgment associated to it when it comes to men in particular? Yeah. I think it’s seen as less masculine when we share our feelings or what we’re going through in terms of our mental health. I think society has a long way to go when it comes to that. Sports culture does as well. I think that’s why sharing my story is so important. People should feel safe opening up and get help if needed.”

What are some components or establishments within the sport who’re really doing issues proper, making the correct of modifications to hockey tradition?

Gabriel: “Black Girl Hockey Club is setting the example right now. I know it’s a group that Brock and I monitor, pay attention to. I think they’re doing great stuff. The Carnegie Initiative, I think they’re really good too.”

McGillis: “I agree with Kurtis. What Black Girl Hockey Club has carried out to create a neighborhood for Black ladies and ladies of shade is fairly outstanding within the sport of hockey. It’s such an unbelievable factor for girls of shade to have a secure house for them to be themselves and have interaction and see individuals like themselves in a sport that historically doesn’t have Black ladies in it. For all of these individuals, it’s such an enormous, big factor. I feel it’s unbelievable, I feel it’s going to vary the sport. I feel it’s going to revolutionize the game. (Black Girl Hockey Club was based within the U.S. however has additionally opened a Canadian chapter now, Black Girl Hockey Club Canada.)

“It makes it simpler as a brand new fan to come back in and have interaction and really feel comfy. It issues, that’s how we develop the game, that’s the way you carry new individuals. If everybody in marginalized teams introduced in 10 mates, engaged them with the game, the game goes to be that rather more numerous, that significantly better off. Having areas for individuals who aren’t the normal/stereotypical hockey followers actually issues.

“The Carnegie Initiative is great. I’ve been in contact lately with HEROS Hockey, they have a lot of different programming with marginalized folks, for underprivileged folks, for low-income families and households etc. They do a lot and it’s great to see that they’re expanding.

Hockey 4 Youth is another one. They’re working with a lot of new immigrants into Canada, traditionally from non-hockey playing countries, sharing the sport with them, and engaging them into hockey…as a way to feel comfortable and safe, to take part in something that’s so much a part of the culture here (in Canada). They’re new to Canada and it’s a way for them to engage in our national pastime. I think those four are all doing phenomenal work and changing the game and really making it a place for everybody.”

What do you suppose is the important thing to being a superb ally and serving to break down boundaries for marginalized individuals within the sport? What can gamers do within the dressing room to be extra of an ally for many who aren’t like them?

Gabriel: “The language is the primary place to begin. Eliminating that language, no matter if it’s an inconvenient time otherwise you cope with it at a extra handy time. Pull somebody apart, speak about it however you may’t permit the language to be there. It immediately makes an area unsafe.

“Brock and I talked on a name just lately with an NHL participant, actually open minded, a extremely good individual, who understands that he doesn’t know all of it. He acknowledges that, he’s a safe man, a father, he’s like, ‘I don’t know every part however I wish to study. I’m open minded to all of this, I would like the world to be a greater place for my son. I don’t need him to expertise this in hockey. If he involves me and says that he’s homosexual, I would like him to grasp that this can be a secure place for him, no matter how he identifies.’ We want people who find themselves open minded like that. It begins with the language however allies may be compassionate and empathic individuals. That’s all it’s, simply be open minded to it. Don’t make it a political factor; human rights ought to by no means be that, it ought to have by no means gotten there, a variety of guys get entangled in that stuff.

“Just be open minded and willing to grow like we all need to be in life. Life is just constant learning. If you’re not learning or adding to it, you’re dying.”

McGillis: “From my perspective, I don’t suppose there’s such a factor as an ideal ally as a result of I don’t suppose there’s such a factor as an ideal individual. I feel as a complete, we’ve got to acknowledge that. I’m not an ideal advocate, activist, no matter my time period is.There’s no handbook or guide to being a superb ally, to be a superb advocate for any of it. It’s about continually studying, rising, and evolving. It’s about participating and studying, studying by yourself but in addition studying from individuals and diversifying your practice of thought.

“Critical evaluation, I feel, is de facto key…There’s no excellent science, it’s not simple however progressively that helps with allyship. To Kurtis’ level, language is step one. It’s very simple for somebody to say these issues. I speak about 3 ways to be a shiftmaker: (1) Humanize points, (2) Create a superb setting, (3) Break down boundaries for conformity. If we take a look at humanizing points, if somebody says one thing homophobic, you might scream at them, which I don’t imagine in, as a result of I don’t suppose it’s efficient. I feel there’s instances to yell, instances to riot but when we wish to get a message throughout, the primary time shouldn’t be screaming. I feel we are able to interact and educate as an alternative of making boundaries of communication, we are able to open it up. We can humanize that problem so that somebody can go, ‘Hey, isn’t your sister queer or don’t you’ve gotten a homosexual uncle?’ and go, ‘How would they feel if you used that language?’

“Then we can critically think, and then they’re going to start learning lessons of what to say and not to say and the impact of it because it’s hurting their relative, the person in their lives. We bring them back to the humanization aspect of it. Then they’re going to recognize that there is someone in their space that they’re going to want to keep safe: this space with their buddies, people they care about, their teammates. They have to switch the way they talk because they realize that it could be any one of them.

“From there, if we all embrace the fact that we’re weirdos and we embrace that we’re all individuals and not this hockey robot, we’re going to be less likely to judge others for their differences, which ultimately creates better allies because now we’ve stopped judging and we’re not alone. It makes you a better person, which ultimately makes you an ally to speak out on different things if you’re not judging people. When you see other people who are, it’s going to make you uncomfortable.”

What may be carried out on the grassroots stage to make the game extra open and inclusive going ahead?

Gabriel: “Hockey Canada runs all of the hockey in Canada… hockey in Canada needs to have a set protocol. The kids are the future. Kids are already doing things, you see amazing things all of the time, kids wearing pride tape on their sticks and it says a lot. I think it needs to be mandated all through those levels, not just the players but the coaches too. The coaches are from an older generation that are a product of it.

“Like Brock says, ‘We don’t fault the individuals, they’re products of the culture for the most part.’ It needs to start at the top with the NHL doing it and it needs to start at the bottom with Hockey Canada doing their due diligence of putting these programs in place together for all teams to know the basics. It’s just part of it. There’s a certain age you’ve got to start at: How to bodycheck, how to do this, how to do that, how to treat your teammates, how to make the locker room an inclusive space, it all helps the team win. It’s a big cycle; if you have a more inclusive team and every kid knows how to treat everyone, players are going to get along better together.”

McGillis: “At a grassroots stage, individuals say that they put their youngsters in hockey to study work ethic and teamwork and self-discipline and studying from a boss or coach. All of those are great traits that you must study from hockey, however why can’t they learn to interact with people who find themselves completely different than themselves? Why can’t that be one thing that they study? Because the truth is No. 1, The overwhelming majority of those youngsters aren’t going to make a dime from taking part in hockey. Less than one % will. No. 2, They’re going to finish up in the true world and the true world is numerous. They ought to be extra open about this stuff. Even of their house, the extra inclusive they’re, the extra they are often themselves and the happier they’re, the happier their teammates are.

“I feel the way in which issues are arrange in hockey are extremely egocentric. There’s a saying that goes, ‘You play for the logo on the front, not the name on the back,’ however in the event you don’t permit individuals to embrace their individuality, suppressing it from them, that’s really egocentric in my thoughts. Opposite of individuality is one individual’s perspective of what a staff ought to be. So, after we acknowledge the necessity for all of that, I feel what they should do is humanize points, and as soon as they do, individuals wish to rally and have interaction additional as a result of they’ll understand that this issues. At that time, we are able to educate them.

“When people step out of line or do the wrong thing – which is inevitable, none of us are perfect, we all screw up – for those that can be reformed, from there, we will set up a much better culture that’s inclusive, supportive, celebrates us as individuals while also recognizing that we’re all there for the same goal of wanting this team to succeed. We can embrace everyone’s uniqueness and be themselves.”

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