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Hockey league sends mixed messages

Failing to address racist comment offers no support for victims

By: By Megan Sarrazin

  |  Posted: Wednesday, Nov 14, 2012 06:00 am

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The use of racially offensive language at a high-level minor hockey game is unacceptable and needs to be investigated by the league, says a local psychologist.

The St. Albert Gazette reported Saturday that the Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League refused to investigate racial slur that was used during a Nov. 4 game at St. Albert’s Akinsdale arena.

The league’s official stance is to oppose racist language and behaviour, but its refusal to investigate the incident sends “a two-fold message,” said Nicolas Allen, registered provisional psychologist at River Valley Health.

“I don’t think that’s an effective way to deal with it. I think, at minimum, an investigation should be conducted.”

Allen said by not investigating this incident, the league is showing players that they won’t be held accountable for their actions, while failing to provide support to those targeted.

“We hear about all these bullying situations that are happening and they’re just getting kind of swept aside and ignored by the people that could help and it leads to far (more) dire consequences,” he said.

Allen said derogatory language – sexist, racist or homophobic – can have a huge impact on a person’s confidence and self-esteem, adding it can be a contributor to a wide range of mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety.

He specializes in depression, anxiety and sport psychology and said 50 to 80 per cent of his work is sports-related.

Although they may not be the target of derogatory comments, Allen said there is every reason to believe that bystanders are affected, particularly if individuals share the same ethnic identity.

He said it is important for the league to address this issue because failing to do so could mean fewer players will come forward in the future should they find themselves a target of racial discrimination.

“Individuals can’t necessarily control what someone else does on the ice, but we can definitely try and educate them about what is tolerated and what is not,” Allen said.

Alberta Midget AAA Hockey League president Bob Olynyk said last week that the league has a zero-tolerance stance on racist language but said it is not pursuing an investigation into the matter.

He said on Monday, however, that the matter has been dealt with internally. He said he could not comment on what punishment, if any, was handed out.

“I don’t think there was an incident, but they internally handled whatever was supposed to be wrong,” he said, later adding he thinks the team’s action is that it “closed the door” on the incident.

Olynyk previously told the St. Albert Gazette that an investigation will only be made if an on-ice official hears derogatory language, adding no investigation will be conducted if a player, coach or public bystander files a complaint.

“I’m not going to chase this thing because it’s not worth our time,” he said. “I’ve got better things to do than chase something because one person heard something.”

St. Albert Gazette photographer April Bartlett overheard a Lethbridge Pronghorns player direct a slur towards a St. Albert Sports Raiders player following an intense fight in the first period of play.

She heard the remark while shooting above the Lethbridge bench and said a member of that team’s coaching staff heard it as well, adding he told the player not to use those words.

Terry Cowie, manager of the Lethbridge Pronghorns, previously told the St. Albert Gazette that no racist incident took place, however, he has since said the incident has been handled internally. He would not disclose what punishment was handed out.

“It’s none of the press’ business,” he said. “I’m not going to talk about what goes on in our hockey team. People in hockey don’t talk; they don’t make a lot of noise.”

A player with the Leduc Chrysler Oil Kings – a team in the same league as Lethbridge and St. Albert – was recently handed a 12-game suspension for a similar offence in Edmonton.


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