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Sports doesn't build character but has a way of revealing it.
It's taken all of two days to betray that the Western Hockey League's potential right step of launching a Player Impact Program to make "sure they're supported in every possible way" — exact quote from commisioner Ron Robison — might only really be about upholding hockey bro privilege by protecting them from modern inconveniences such as having to respect women as people. In fairness, one can wonder about the line of questioning in this VICE Canada interview and by no means is Calgary police Const. Steve Kelly, a WHL and NHL alumnus, required to use politcally correct terminology, but some of the quotes here are just brutal.
On the whole, having a police officer who professes he's not "a big fan of that [term] 'rape culture' " is not a good look for the WHL. That also reflects a long-standing systemic bias about sexual assault, where the focus goes from not wanting ruin a perpetator's life while often forgetting about victims whose lives are ruined and need to be put back together.
The mansplainin' really gets put up to 11 here.
From Manisha Krishnan:
"I'm not a big fan of that [term] 'rape culture'," said Kelly, himself a retired NHLer who played just under 150 games for several teams including the Edmonton Oilers and the New Jersey Devils. He played junior hockey with the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL.
"I've played in [hockey] culture for a long time and I'm not going to sit here and claim that it's never happened before... sexual assaults or rapes or whatever, because I'm quite certain it has, but I just don't believe it's a culture at all."
Kelly seemed to then suggest that rape culture is a concept hyped up by the media.
"Back 15 or 20 years ago, when I was in junior hockey, people would jump on it and quickly dispel the myth of a woman who claimed sexual assault or rape or think she's lying or whatever, and nowadays I think it's turned the other way where they believe it, whether it happened or not," he said, pointing to the recent controversy surrounding NHL superstar Patrick Kane. "So it's kind of come around the other way, it's still not, I don't think, where it should be—an impartial investigation."
Only about six percent of sexual assaults in Canada are reported to police and false accusations of rape are extremely rare (two to four percent of all reports).
The program covers the legalities of sexual consent, explaining that a person cannot give consent if they are intoxicated—information that Kelly described as "an eye opener, even for me." It also talks about recently passed anti-cyberbullying legislation bill C-13, which makes it illegal to share sexual photos of a person without their permission.
"I played hockey for a long time. I know the fact that there are girls out there that want to send you nude pictures," said Kelly. Back then, he said a typical reaction would be, "'Well yeah look they sent me a picture, I'm gonna send it out to everybody else and show my buddies or do whatever.' And unfortunately, that's not allowed, and you kind of have to tell guys, at some point here, it's a brand new law but someone's going to be made an example of, and I don't think you want that to be yourself." (VICE Canada)
It is a small step forward that the WHL took this long overdue step. Let that last sentence swish around for a bit: And unfortunately, that's not allowed, and you kind of have to tell guys, at some point here, it's a brand new law but someone's going to be made an example of, and I don't think you want that to be yourself.
It is "unfortunate" that a WHL player who's been sent a racy pic by a woman that was for his eyes now, in the eyes of the law, has to have her consent, before he passes his phone up and down the bus during the 13-hour bus ride to Brandon? Perhaps Kelly misspoke. Or he does not articulate the way one might expect from someone leading a program "cover[ing] topics such as responsible social media use, sexual consent, drugs, alcohol, gambling, being inclusive and being strong leaders."
It comes off like the emphasis is more on 'don't get caught and embarrass the league' than on 'here's why those behaviours are disrespectful to all of society.' That is not to say that is the case, or will be the case. It had best not be the case with the WHL. Doing so would be the epitome of hockey bro privilege.
Sorry, not sorry to say that rape culture is a thing, period, full stop.Just today,The Other Half published an essay by Casey Rathunde about renouncing her Chicago Blackhawks fanship due to the NHL team welcoming Patrick Kane to training camp while the former London Knights star was under investigation for rape. The mere fact it closed comments "in response to a history of abusive comments left on every single other piece we’ve ever posted on the subject of women and hockey" is a proof there is a defensiveness about how hockey doesn't condone such behaviours.
(This might seem like a stray observation, but one noticeable cultural difference between the two leagues I cover, the OHL and Canadian Football League, is the place of women after a game. In the CFL, players' life partners wait for them metres away from the dressing room. The OHL is different since it's an age-group competition, but that would be unimaginable with a girlfriend, mother, sister or close relative.)
The WHL ought to make each player read Jon Krakauer's book Missoula during those 13-hour bus rides. Athletes do possess empathy and humanity, like you or I. Perhaps understanding the effect that being raped or violated has on a woman, not to mention what's involved in what's euphemistically called "collecting evidence," might plant some seeds about why it's wrong to harm a female friend or intimate partner.
Kelly's phrasing paints a picture of players as victims since, unfortunately, they're not allowed to just do what they want. One would hope the issue here is just the messaging.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @naitSAYger.