Laura Robinson thinks that if you cherish the young boys in your life, you should keep them away from the game of hockey.
“I would never let a boy I cared about be in hockey,” Robinson told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from Ontario.
Robinson, a freelance journalist and author of Crossing the Line: Violence and Sexual Assault in Canada’s National Sport (McLelland & Stewart, 1998), has spent the past 18 years looking at sexual-assault cases involving hockey players. She said she was horrified to discover a “subculture of rape and violence in hockey beginning at the junior level”, and she claims that nothing has changed from the time she started her research.
“It’s because we live in a rape culture, and within the subculture of male professional sport, it’s about defining who a man is through his sexual scoring,” she said.
According to Robinson, a former national-level cyclist and rower, hockey culture demands that players display aggressive behaviour in order to prove their masculinity. “There is a fine line between the masculinity performed on the ice and the masculinity performed in the hotel room,” she said.
Robinson claimed that while covering the Olympics in Vancouver she received three e-mails concerning sexual assaults committed by male hockey players—and she wasn’t the only one who noticed a spike in reports of sexual violence.
Sexual offences increased by 70 percent—from 16 to 27—during the Olympics compared with the same period the year before, according to Vancouver Police Department statistics. Irene Tsepnopoulos-Elhaimer, executive director of Women Against Violence Against Women, told the Straight in a phone interview that centre workers accompanied five victims to the hospital the night of the gold medal men’s hockey game.
Ontario physician and provincial politician Shafiq Qaadri told the Straight earlier this year that a “tsunami of testosterone” washed through streets across the country after Sidney Crosby scored his famous overtime goal for Canada. He said that young men have much higher levels of testosterone running through their systems than older men, and that when this is combined with the extra jolt they receive from a sporting event, their risk of violence is elevated.
According to Dr. Graham Pollett, medical officer of health with Ontario’s Middlesex-London Health Unit, fighting should be banned from hockey at all levels if real change is to occur in players’ behaviour. But the call to ban fighting from Canada’s national pastime has long been met with resistance from both players and officials in the NHL.
“Kids look up to the professionals, and they [professionals] need to step up,” he told the Straight in a phone interview. “For the life of me, I don’t understand why the players don’t get behind this.”
Alexis Peters, a sociology professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary, argues that the culture of hockey is set up to emulate and reinforce notions of extreme masculinity. In her PhD dissertation, Peters claimed that junior hockey players may be at a higher risk of perpetrating acts of sexual assault than their nonathlete counterparts.
Her research focused on a group of 102 Junior A hockey players aged 18 to 22 who played in the Ontario Hockey Association, with 74 nonathletes in the control group. Seven questionnaires were used to measure the attitude of each group toward male-female relationships. The hockey players scored statistically higher on things like hypermasculinity, measured through a callous attitude toward sex and perception that danger was exciting and violence manly. More disturbing for Peters was the fact that the players scored lower on measures of emotional empathy for other people’s pain.
“Less empathy for people’s pain? That’s a psychopath,” Peters told the Straight.
Although she acknowledges that her findings are part of a preliminary study and that the subject requires further research, Peters insists that anyone involved in the sport should be troubled by the results.
“There are some huge issues that need to be looked at,” Peters said. “It’s very disconcerting.”
But Robinson isn’t as optimistic about the ability of Canadians to scrutinize their beloved game. “It won’t stop, because Canadians are blind to hockey,” she said, vowing to continue her fight. “I will never back off, because they [hockey players] rape girls and they rape women, and the culture tells them that they should.”