Editor: Slurs still part of hockey culture

By Steve Maich, Publisher & Editor-in-Chief
Sportsnet Magazine

(This letter appears in the Aug. 6, 2012, issue of Sportsnet magazine)

If you missed the profane, sexist and virulently homophobic interview that Cam Janssen gave to a couple of St. Louis shock jocks last week, I would urge you to seek it out and give it a listen.

I suggest it not because Janssen has anything important or useful to say. He doesn’t. The interview’s main points can be boiled down to the following: 1) Losing the Stanley Cup final is disappointing; 2) Janssen works very hard to be intimidating on the ice, even going so far as to intentionally injure opponents when he has the opportunity; and 3) He hopes there isn’t a lockout. Those profound insights are wrapped in about 14 minutes of the most inane, sophomoric and foul-mouthed banter you’re ever likely to hear. If you have a shred of intelligence or decorum, you’ll hate every minute of it.

I suggest listening because, if you have played hockey with any regularity over the past 30 years, you will quickly realize that you’ve heard it all before. Cam Janssen’s brain droppings play on an endless loop in thousands of hockey dressing rooms around the world, from juvenile to men’s league to the pros, and are generally greeted with the very same kind of moronic chortling that you can hear from the two “interviewers” in St. Louis. This is the state of hockey culture, like it or not, and it has to change.

I am not speaking from a position of moral superiority on this issue. Sometimes, walking into a hockey dressing room feels like stepping into a time machine that invariably spits you out in some retrograde era in which it’s still acceptable to call women “broads” and homosexuals “fags.” I can not tell you how many times I have listened to this kind of bile. But rather than speaking up, I have just kept quiet, stared at my skates and waited for the discomfort to pass or the game to start. I am ashamed to admit that.

Janssen is being justly vilified. He quickly issued a statement apologizing. And slowly he will fade back into the fourth-line obscurity from which he briefly emerged.

Local paper sounds off: Niagara Falls Reporter prints column stating, “Enforcers are out, but gays are in.” | Read it here

But we shouldn’t forget what he said. This is our Olympic preview issue, and we are likely to spend the next few weeks talking about the transformative power of sport to bring people and communities together, to instill self-esteem and to teach valuable life lessons about honour, discipline and respect. Those lessons are only worthwhile if they are true. And they can only be true if they are available to everyone regardless of race, sex, creed or orientation.

It takes a long time to change a culture, and Janssen helpfully demonstrated how much work there is still to be done. But if hockey’s code is ever going to become one of openness and respect—in other words, a culture worthy of the Olympic ideals—it has got to start with people like me. Let that be Cam Janssen’s contribution to the game’s transformation: No more keeping quiet and staring at my skates. The game is too great to shut anyone out of it.

Steve Maich

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