American Hockey League defenceman Josh Healey has developed an app that he believes allows players to report abusive coaches without damaging their careers.
Since launching The Sports Aux on Jan. 25, 2019, Healey has attracted 3,500 users, including 1,500 verified hockey players, with more than 90 per cent of the players coming from the American Hockey League, ECHL, junior hockey or the college ranks, he said.
“There is no real accountability for agents or coaches, and I think with everything that is going on now, we now know things are happening,” Healey, who plays on the Milwaukee Admirals, an affiliate of the Nashville Predators, told USA Today Sports. “A lot of guys don’t want to speak up for obvious reasons — they don’t want to be the guy who has his career hurt because of one instance, particularly when they are young.”
What makes Healey’s app particularly relevant today is that Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters recently resigned because two of his former players came out to report episodes of abuse. Akim Aliu, a former NHLer born in Nigeria, said Peters used a racial slur multiple times in his presence when he played for him as a first-year pro. Michal Jordan accused Peters of physically assaulting him when he played for him on the Carolina Hurricanes.
“I feel like these kinds of (incidents) happen more than people like to say they do,” Healey said. “I personally haven’t been around anything like that. But I do have guys coming to me saying, ‘Oh back in juniors this guy would do this or that guy would do that.’ I know there are guys who go through that.”
Aliu said he didn’t speak out back then because he was worried that it would negatively affect his career.
Since the accusations about Peters came out, stories about other instances of abuse have emerged about other coaches.
“There is no real outlet for players, and I just want to provide that platform for them, both good and bad,” Healey said.
The Sports Aux goes through a painstaking review to verify that players are who they say they are, and only players can anonymously review coaches and agents.
Anyone who signs up for the app can read the reviews, the vast majority of which are positive, according to a USA TODAY Sports review.
Players seem to appreciate when they have a quality coach. But players are also willing to criticize. Snippets include, “Has a hard time communicating with his players in a professional, organized manner” or “Not liked by most of the players on the team … I don’t even think he even enjoys hockey, not sure why he does it.”
One college coach was accused of having no integrity, and another player agreed with that assessment. Another player said one current NHL assistant coach “made me hate hockey.”
Healey found his first experience with a player agent wasn’t to his liking, and reviews on agents give players an opportunity to tell their stories, good and bad. He said the biggest criticism is that agents take on too many players and if you don’t quickly establish you have a definite path to the NHL, they lose interest in you.
While Healey said most of the comments on his app would fall under the category of “constructive criticism,” he does see the app as a way for players to sound the alarm about abusive coaches. He doesn’t notify leagues about his reviews, but if a player said in a review of a coach that he was assaulted, enough people would see it to ensure it would become public.
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Healey has reached out to the NHL, NHL Players’ Association and the minor leagues to try to gain more support for his app, but so far, he remains on his own.
“We just need to hold people accountable,” Healey said, “and I think that’s what the game needs right now.”