Hockey Culture: The Game Remains the Same

Matt Dumba Hockey Culture
EDMONTON, ALBERTA - AUGUST 01: Mathew Dumba of the Minnesota Wild speaks before the game between the Edmonton Oilers and the Chicago Blackhawks in Game One of the Western Conference Qualification Round prior to the 2020 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Rogers Place on August 01, 2020 in Edmonton, Alberta. Dumba spoke about the NHL's commitment to ending racism. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)

The old guard of hockey. The people who have grown into seniors, spending their entire lives in sport. While Don Cherry’s generation is declining, their influence remains entrenched and preserved. Their mindsets and hires now prevail in hockey culture.

The National Hockey League has long had problems. As the world outside the rink has changed, inside it has not. In the time of the Black Lives Matter movement, the NHL is attracting criticism for its attempted response. It should not be surprising. 

Culture Exists as it is Constantly Re-Created 

Hockey has a culture problem. It has been built up over the years.  Culture exists as it is recreated and reinforced by the economic, social, and political cultures within the sport. It is recreated every single day. People’s actions create the culture

Hockey Culture isn’t a concrete thing. It’s not static. It’s the product of actions, redone every single day. The concept is built up through perceptions related to how people define and think. 

Every action, every second of every day at every rink, builds the environment. It isn’t the buildings, it is the people. The culture is the result of rules, norms, and behaviours. It defines what is and what is not acceptable. 

The Mindset of the Hockey World

The thinking in the hockey world drives actions. The results are problematic. The entrenched mindset of the hockey world is closed. It does not allow anyone from the outside access. 

It is the people who think the thoughts. A style of thinking exists in an atmosphere because of the who occupies that space. If there are issues in the culture, it is because of the people. If racist behaviour had a strong penalty, it would go away.

Racist behaviours persist as they are allowed. As such, one needs to look at who is  creating, and condoning the toxic actions that poison the environment. The people in the sport need to look themselves in the mirror. 

Hockey could stop this if they chose to. They have not made that choice. They don’t seem likely to either. The history of accepting any form of difference is not good.

Hockey’s entrenched power structure has resisted even allowing male Europeans into NHL rinks. The history of integrating anyone beyond white Canadian and Americans has not been good. This is all out in the open. 

Guys who wear visors: Europeans & the French

Don Cherry is a prime example. Generations of Canadians listened in on his ethnic nationalism. It shouldn’t be controversial to say he has been anti-European at least. When Alpo Suhoen was brought in to Coach the Moncton Hawks, this was his response on national tv:

“Why did they bring a Finn over to coach Moncton?” Cherry said, according to reports at the time. “Wasn’t a Canadian good enough? … I don’t wish him well in Moncton. What’s his name, Alpo? Sounds like dog food to me.” – via the National Post

Don Cherry to this day remains beloved to many. Many turned away slowly over time, but his influence has been tremendous. He was a mouthpiece for how hockey saw the world.  Cherry was embraced for generations, but he’s not the one who actually made decisions. 

Integration in Hockey: Bringing in European Males

Teams have failed to sign and employ Europeans for quite some time. If history is any indication, Black Lives Matter and the idea of racial diversity will be a difficult sell to this world. They have been unable to integrate white Europeans into their ranks. The numbers are stark, as demonstrated in Rise of Europeans in the NHL

In the 1970’s, there were only 2 European trained players in the league. In the 1980s it rose to 50. By the 1990s, the league had a whopping 100. In the 1972-73 season, only Thommie Bergman (Detroit Red Wings) was in the NHL. By 2018-19, the league was made of approximately 27.8 foreign born players. – Via Euro Hockey 

Hockey has long been happier being American and Canadian, and only American and Canadian. This level of closed mindedness is rarely seen. Even extremists in the white nationalist movements are at ease with European ties.

Hate groups in North America love their perceived European identities. Identity Evropa is a white supremacist organization with ethno-facist goals.They are based largely in the States, but it’s a common thread for groups such as the Sons of Odin or the Aryan Guard. It’s European imagery, especially from the Nazi era in Germany.

These are some of the worst people in the word. Even they were happy associating with European culture.Hockey has long preferred to be North American only. 

Slow Progress on the Ice

Accessibility to the game is an issue. Hockey’s bubble has been here well before Covid-19 made it less metaphorical. While it has improved, the problem is still here. The hockey world resists Europeans. 

Explanations for why this occurs do not pass muster.Training differences could generously be attributed for the difference in who gets signed or drafted in the NHL. Hiring practices show the same issue though. Even European white males don’t have access. 

No Progress Off the Ice

Off the ice, the old boys club of the NHL has long been a closed group. There is 1 European born head coach, Ralph Kruger of the Buffalo Sabres. The Columbus Blue Jackets employ Jarmo Kekalainen as the only European born General Manager. The first full time European Referee came about only a few years ago

Hockey needs to do better. It’s not currently capable. Hockey is unable to discuss diversity because it hasn’t been open to it. White male Europeans not being welcome sends a loud message regarding tolerance in the NHL. It’s an intolerant place.  

Hockey Culture Discouraging Diversity

Hockey needs to accept and encourage diversity. It has not. 

People of Colour have not been welcome. Willie O’Ree is hockey’s Jackie Robinson. Or Jackie Robinson is baseball’s Willie O’Ree. Either way. The first Black hockey player in the NHL recently discussed racism in the sport. It’s clear he believes it has been around a long time, and it will be difficult to dismantle. “I guess it’s going to take a while before it’s over” Mr. O’Ree was quoted as saying. This diplomatic take is more than fair. 

Hockey isn’t a welcoming place for a lot of people. The example of Erik Trump and subsequent comments showed that a lot of self-identified fascists view hockey as a safe space. Somewhere they can go and spout whatever they want.  

Prevalent Racism

This is not an issue of the past. The same abuse endured by O’Ree or Robinson is still around. Racism clearly exists in this sport. There is a reason the section titled “Racial Incidents” in Wikipedia’s Black players in ice hockey is 1,219 words. Even with kids, aboriginals have been taunted with slurs. This is tolerated and has been for ages. 

The hockey world has put up with racism for a very long time. Like Ron Maclean during a Don Cherry rant, when people do bad things they cringe and go silent. Then it’s time for a beer and to forget it ever happened.

The Uphill Battle Facing the Diversity Alliance

Expectations of progress at the moment should be low. The Matt Dumba statement was a wonderful action for hockey. (Although, the “End Racism” sign above the Chicago Blackhawks logo seems oblivious at best.) As long as the same power structure allows the same beliefs and actions, evolution can’t happen.

White players need to contribute. As do organizations, owners, and managers. Ryan Reaves made the problem clear. Discussing kneeling, he expressed concern about making teammates “uncomfortable” A locker room completely comfortable with the concept of Black Lives Matter would have been able to do this. The hockey world is comfortable with the status quo. 

The Hockey Diversity Alliance is in for a tough fight. They’re working against the entrenched systematic racism in hockey. Until hockey’s power structure changes, the game remains the same. 

The sport needs to want to change. Hockey needs to be more welcome, and it needs to find new friends. Currently, it’s a safe space for intolerance. 


Hockey Culture Main Photo:
Embed from Getty Images


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here