Pointing the finger at hockey as uniquely responsible for the alleged sexual assault is ignorant and irresponsible

Bruce Dowbiggin: Debunking the link between hockey culture and sexual assaultIt’s been a fruitful time for those in Canada who hate hockey. News that the slow-motion prosecution of Canadian junior hockey players for an alleged sexual assault in 2018 has fulfilled their fever dreams about the corruption of our national sport. What’s that? You thought everyone in Canada loves hockey? Please.

For the same reason that some think guns kill people, the toffs believe that hockey itself causes outbreaks of macho sexual behaviour. These people cheer for Sweden when it plays Canada because … Canadian hockey is just too down-market for them. Sweaty guys. Cold rinks. Meritocracy. Ick! Not to mention Graham James (a former Canadian junior ice hockey coach who was convicted of sexually abusing players on his teams) and the homoerotic tinges of guys bonding too closely.

We should clarify here that we mean men’s hockey. Women’s hockey is not included in the loathing. In fact, metrosexuals from Justin Trudeau on down worship the wholesome new PWHL. Taking time away from wrecking the UK Free Trade bill, Trudeau recently gave a pep talk to the Ottawa players in their dressing room. Surprise, they lost.

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Players are married to rivals on other teams. Can you get more hip than that? Women’s hockey is nominally about winning; the real prize is equal pay for work of equal value. And the love of the Trudeau cabinet.

But men’s hockey, with its crude meritocracy, must be shunned at all costs. Pediatric “experts” blame its emphasis on winning for causing kids to drop out. So when the sordid tale of a 2018 multiple-sex allegation at a golf tournament arrived, it warranted a hearing in the Commons, tut-tutting editorials by the score about the over-sexed nature of teenaged young hockey stars and multiple attempts to convict someone, anyone, for the act.

It became journalistic practice to refer to the alleged assault as a “gang rape” to better conjure up subhumans from a hockey biker gang. While responsible journalists like Katie Strang from The Athletic and Rick Westhead from TSN tried to temper the “string-’em-up” faction, blood was in the water. The Don Cherry culture must be quashed.

But here’s the rub. Sexual assault cases with their “he said/ she said/ zhe said” are notoriously tricky. The reason we are still discussing this awfulness is because the London, Ont., police and everyone else who’s tried to prosecute the case knew that they likely couldn’t get a criminal conviction based on the evidence they had. No one was ratting out his teammates. The women’s story had holes.

That’s why the principals eventually pursued a civil case, where rules of evidence are less stringent. A civil case that Hockey Canada quickly paid off from a suspicious slush fund to end the ordeal for everyone. How’d that work out?

Feminists and the non-binary set howled about this, but after the storm of outrage the media cycle disappeared from the public view. The 20 or so players on the 2018 Team Canada gold medal winners graduated into the NHL, and the league, which had no power to compel testimony nor criminal charges to rely on, let them play. This was highly unsatisfactory. Who was under suspicion? Who was innocent? Player agents and lawyers kept their charges from self-incrimination at all costs.

Until this past week when four NHL players and one in Europe suddenly sought leave from their teams to deal with something-something-something. Robin Doolittle of the Globe and Mail then revealed that London police had asked five as-yet unnamed players to surrender to charges. (One, Senators draft pick Alex Formenton, has reportedly already surrendered.)

And now, the carefully constructed narrative of players, Hockey Canada, the NHL and the police will be examined once more. Every team member who did not participate will be asked why they didn’t report the story when they heard it from teammates. It may wreck more than a few careers.

But unless someone has changed their testimony in the past six years, it will be a tough case. If you want to know how hard it is to prosecute multiple sexual charges, just consult the Jian Ghomeshi trial. Remember? Going in, the media had painted an airtight case against the former CBC Radio host for assaulting a series of women. It only remained to get him into court and his ass would be in Millhaven for a million years.

Over-confident crown prosecutors rushed into court. Then the witnesses were found to have collaborated on their testimony, and letters emerged from “victims” to Ghomeshi post-assault indicating that they still wanted to see him for sexual purposes. Case dismissed. (The only person punished was the loyal CBC executive who conducted the Corp’s internal investigation and was fired with cause for discovering that CBC’s upper management had permitted Ghomeshi’s behaviour.)

How will it end? Will there be convictions or will deals be done? In this time where social-media truths are fungible and Woke causes are paramount, no one should hazard a guess. But one thing that will get an airing is the charge that hockey created this climate of sexual permissiveness. The sport must be condemned when its participants break the law.

You think that hockey caused this? That it doesn’t happen in the world of millionaire basketball or football or baseball players? Guess again. Cleveland Browns QB DeShaun Watson faced 24 sexual assault accusations. One former NBA player had seven children by six different women. Former MLB pitcher Trevor Bauer faced sexual assault charges from an alleged assault at his home.

How about the stories of generations of young women who, like the young women pursuing athletes, went backstage at concerts and shows for a rendezvous with a famous rock star like Steven Tyler or Axl Rose and got more than they bargained for?

Or those who tried to climb the political or corporate ladder by submitting to power figures? Hello, Kamala Harris. This case is about power, stardom, privilege and exploitation. Ugly, yes. Life-wrecking for some. But trying to pigeonhole hockey as the unique engineer of the tragedy is ignorant and irresponsible.

Bruce Dowbiggin is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History, his new book with his son Evan, was voted the eighth best professional hockey book by bookauthority.org. His 2004 book Money Players was voted seventh best.

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