Hockey Against Hate – A personal story and comment on intolerancePosted: 30/06/2011
Authors Note This article touches on some issues that are somewhat contentious and controversial for some people. You may agree, you may not but this is my honest opinion. Consider this your warning.
In May 2011, New York Rangers’ winger Sean Avery hit the news headlines inside and outside the sport of hockey but not for his on ice antics. Avery appeared in a video supporting “New Yorkers for Marriage Equality”, an organisation campaigning for the recently passed bill to legalise gay marriage in New York State. Avery, a straight professional athlete was a new face and voice to the campaign for marriage equality that had featured few sportsmen, especially male sportsmen.
Controversy abounded shortly after the release of Avery’s video when Todd Reynolds, vice president of Canadian sports agency Uptown Sports Management tweeted, “Very sad to read Sean Avery’s misguided support of same-gender ‘marriage.’ Legal or not, it will always be wrong”. Reynolds tweeted that he hated nobody but had a right to his opinion and if Avery, part of the hockey world could voice his support of same gender marriage then Reynolds could voice his opposition.
However Reynolds’ opinions did not sit well with a group of hockey fans based in North America and Australia who set up Hockey Against Hate in response with the goal of “spreading the message of diversity, equality and acceptance through the game of hockey.”
This extends across not just homophobia but racism, sexism and other kinds of discrimination and the organisation have already sold a variety of t-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as “Puck Hate, Love Wins”, “At the end of the day, we all love hockey” and “The only colour that matters is the one on your jersey” to raise money for a variety of causes that promote diversity such as Human Rights Campaign and The Brendan Burke Memorial Scholarship Fund. (The son of Toronto GM Brian Burke, Brendan came out in 2009 and was killed in a car accident in 2010.) New York Islanders rookie sensation Michael Grabner is a well known HAH8 t-shirt owner.
As a white, middle class 26 year old straight, married man (at time of writing) my personal experiences of discrimination against me are somewhat minimal but I’ll tell you a story that sticks with me and why it’s important for me that Hockey Against Hate’s message of tolerance is spread to every corner of the hockey community including Britain.
Those of you who know me are aware of my love of Rostock Piranhas ice hockey. I watched my first hockey game in Rostock in 2004 and have been a fan ever since. Rostock was once part of the former East Germany and, well, there’s a bit of a problem with racism there. I say a bit, one of my lasting memories is walking through the suburb of Toitenwinkel and seeing a Nazi emblem drawn on the pavement in chalk with the words “Heil Hitler” underneath it.
Now we can’t paint everyone with the same brush; not everyone in Rostock is a racist but it’s not an exaggeration to say that some of my friends had never met a person who wasn’t white until 1991. The issue for many is one of ignorance but for some sadly, it is more than that.
I remember the conversation well; it was January 2006 and I was standing outside the rink with some people during a period break. A lot of my friends smoke so we’re chatting away about what was going on in the world;
Me: Klaus (not his actual name), I really must come up and visit your place at some point. You’re in Toitenwinkel right?
Klaus: Yeah you must come up and see the flat, won’t take you on a tour of the local sights though, especially not at night.
Me: Well yeah, Toitenwinkel isn’t blessed with the best reputation.
Klaus: Well yeah, it’s all the f*&$^&g foreigners fault really. In the DDR times it was a nice place to live, now it’s full of Turks and f(£*&$!g Russians everywhere.
Klaus: Seriously, the place is a dump now. I’ve lived there all my life so I won’t move now but I’m fed up of these foreigners coming over here. They should all piss off back where they came from.
Me: You can’t say that!
Klaus: Why not?
Me: Have you forgotten? I’m foreign!
Klaus: Oh Anthony, you speak German. You’re ok.
(mumbles excuses and heads off to talk to someone else)
I am actually getting a little cross remembering that night just typing this down. Now that was one person, one guy who it turned out was a tool. I did run through my mind that would these people who shared my love of hockey only be friends with me if I was white?
Luckily it turned that Klaus was the only one with the problem. My other friends are brilliant people who care about the content of the character not the parts of us we cannot change. The real issue was people just accepted it when nothing like where I come from or the colour of my skin should matter on or off the ice.
What do we love about our sport? We love the speed, the skill, the checks, the intensity, the slapshots from the point, the passing around on the powerplay, the shorthanded goals, the road trips and most of all, the passion. Performance of these things are dependent on the effort put into practising them, not on your gender, your sexuality or your race. The same goes for enjoying the sport.
Bavy always tells us over the PA system at Bison games that the heat stays on the ice, that it’s a family sport and no foul or abusive language will be tolerated. Well I have some news for you; that foul and abusive language doesn’t just mean questioning the ref’s parentage. It means homophobic jokes, it means any subtle racist comments, it means sexist things anybody may idiotically yell at any female official. Our “families” are not just our blood relations but also our friends and fellow fans and we need to treat them with appropriate respect by not saying anything that allows terrible ideas like homophobia or racism or sexism to permeate our sport, on the ice or off it. British hockey is enough of a mess without us attacking each other.
Something else Bavy says to pump us all up is “You, me and the boys; we are the Bison!” Sounds pretty inclusive to me.