This was not the first time that the Pictou County Weeks Crushers' Garrett Holmes says he has been mocked by a Maritime Hockey League opponent about having Tourette's Syndrome. Nor is it the first time that taunting during a MHL game that was clearly offside has rated national attention within the past year.
Many hockey leagues have policies set down about what kind of chirping and gamesmanship is acceptable and what constitutes abuse. Keeping it out of the sport is often easier said than done. Whether it gets penalized often boils down to whether an official clearly heard and/or saw the abuse, which can be daunting in a fast-moving sport played in arenas which often have dodgy acoustics. So it's not surprising that the MHL did not have grounds to suspend Truro Bearcats captain Phillip Fife for the gestures made toward Holmes in a game last week, although the Bearcats are addressing it with their players. Ultimately, it's something that far too often seems endemic to hockey in Canada. After reading Holmes' account, it's clear whatever measures the MHL and its feeder leagues have in place to nix verbal abuse aren't being taken seriously.
Here's Holmes, speaking to Christopher Cameron:
"There was an incident in front of the net and it was mocking the physical symptoms (of Tourette’s) with the head twitching and the words ‘twitch, twitch, twitch’ were repeated,” said Holmes. “I’m a pretty laid back guy and I usually don’t fight or anything unless I absolutely have to – or it’s for the team or something – but at that moment it just set me off and I personally thought it was too far. “
Holmes explained that the two major symptoms of Tourette’s he deals with are motor tics and facial tics. He said that motor tics are uncontrollable urges to jerk or twitch a body part such as his arms, shoulders, neck or legs. He said facial tics are essentially the same thing, but it affects specific parts of his face.
“Basically they stick around or the urge continues until the point that you twitch so much that you either satisfy the urge or it just goes away,” he said. “Sometimes it can be physically uncomfortable if it takes a long time to satisfy. Facial tics are basically the same things, but they’re in parts of my face — my eyebrows or my nose will twitch on the ice sometimes. They get worse in stressful situations, like school, hockey or something like that.”
This isn’t the first time he’s been made fun of for the condition during his hockey career.
“We thought it was dealt with last year and it wasn’t I guess, other than that the league — for the suspension part of it — they looked into it and there wasn’t enough conclusive evidence. I guess we have to put that behind us and start worrying about the season and what’s best for the guys in the room.” (New Glasgow News)
Is it that blue-sky to think someone can still have a highly competitive personality and yet respect boundaries, knowing better than to razz an opponent over a physical condition or personal circumstances that are beyond his control? Five years later, it's still stunning that current York University Lions forward Gregg Sutch was mocked about his hearing impairment during his rookie year in the OHL. It's basic respect. The acting-out-of-character arguments don't hold much water, since intense situations often reveal one's true self.
The upshot is that the Crushers, who cancelled an exhibition game vs. Truro, as well as the Pictou community rallied around Holmes ("It’s people like that, that inspire the change. I mean without them it probably would’ve just been swept under the rug and never noticed again.") The Bearcats have also accepted some culpability. No doubt Fife feels pretty chastised, although he shouldn't be scapegoated for something that is toxic across the sport. Hopefully this sustains a conversation about how to nip this problem in the bud.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to email@example.com.