Hockey’s traditional “code” governing on-ice conduct fractured into pieces some time ago.
The code of silence may be next.
One by one, like steady drips from a leaky faucet, we’re hearing from hockey players at all levels about abuse they say they experienced in the game. Once, these stories would have stayed safely tucked away, hidden by authorities, with survivors learning to simply live with the legacy of trauma suffered in a sport they loved.
That seems to be changing.
Akim Aliu stepped forward last year with his allegations of racial abuse suffered in the American Hockey League at the hands of coach Bill Peters, and Peters ultimately lost his job as head coach of the Calgary Flames because of those allegations. Aliu has also spoken publicly about the abuse he suffered from teammates, specifically former NHLer and Canadian national junior team member Steve Downie, while he was a member of the Ontario Hockey League’s Windsor Spitfires.
Dan Carcillo and Garrett Taylor’s statement of claim with the Ontario Superior Court of Justice
Former Kitchener Rangers forward Eric Guest alleged this week that an unnamed older teammate forced him to use cocaine at an unsanctioned team party when he was an OHL rookie in 2016.
On Thursday, meanwhile, former NHL player Dan Carcillo launched a national class action suit, along with former Lethbridge Hurricanes player Garrett Taylor, against the Canadian Hockey League, the three junior leagues (Western Hockey League, OHL and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League) and their member teams, alleging that the “culture and environment of the Leagues and each of the Teams is highly racist, sexual, sexualized, homophobic and otherwise discriminatory.”
“Canadian major junior hockey has been plagued by rampant hazing, bullying and abuse of underage players, by coaches, team staff and senior players,” says the statement of claim. “Survivors of such abuse have come forward and continue to come forward to this day. However the defendants have stubbornly ignored or failed to reasonably address this institutionalized and systemic abuse.”
The suit asks for unspecified general and aggregate damages. None of the allegations have been proven in court.
“What’s being alleged is a systemic failure to oversee and protect teenage boys who were handed out to these leagues and these teams,” said Toronto lawyer James Sayce, who represents Carcillo and Taylor. “Folks who see this story and want to share their story should get in touch with us. People like Dan and Garrett and Akim Aliu and many others are telling their stories. As people get older, they realize what they went through was not normal.
“Hopefully this suit can impact the way current players and future players are treated. There’s no reason for this in hockey.”
CHL president Dan McKenzie did not return a phone call for comment.
Carcillo has been a vocal critic of the NHL’s brain injury policies, and has spoken publicly about the alleged abuse he suffered as a member of the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. In the suit, Carcillo alleges he and other rookies were forced to sit in the shower while other players spat saliva and tobacco juice on them, and urinated on them. He says he and others were repeatedly hit on the buttocks with a sawed-off goalie stick, forced eight at a time into bus toilets while naked, forced to participate in orgies, and forced to bob for apples in a pool of urine, saliva and other body fluids.
Carcillo alleges coaches and team officials were aware of the abuse, and participated.
“I believe this case will give those who were abused a chance to be heard,” Carcillo wrote on his Twitter account. “In my experience, sharing stories of abuse is part of the healing process. It allows a person to take the power back.”
Taylor has similar stories of his experiences in the WHL and alleges he was forced to fight older players on the team in practice, and suffered a serious concussion in one instance. He said 16-year-old and 17-year-old players were forced to dress up in women’s clothing at team parties and consume alcohol to the point of vomiting and blacking out.
Taylor said at one point he was sent down to a lower-level team and given the “garbage bag treatment.” The treatment involved being told in front of his teammates at the last moment before a road trip that he had been demoted, told to get his bags and left behind by the team. He alleges he wasn’t given any travel money and his parents were not notified.
“This is a historic case,” Sayce said. “These types of events have a lasting impact on people. These are life-altering events.”
The focus in this case is on the responsibility of leagues and teams to protect the health and welfare of teenage hockey players. The Greater Toronto Hockey League has been forced by public pressure in recent days to release information on racist, misogynistic and homophobic misconduct in Canada’s largest minor hockey league, demonstrating abuse suffered by hockey players at the youngest ages.
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More than just targeting hockey authorities, former players seem more comfortable than ever coming forward with abuse they suffered at the hands of fellow players. The traditional philosophy that “what happens in the dressing room stays in the dressing room” seems to be slowly disappearing, replaced by young athletes willing to accuse other athletes of mistreatment.
Hockey likes to fashion itself as one large family, but it’s fairly clear that in many cases family members aren’t treating each other very well. The Carcillo/Taylor class action suit is just starting, and will attempt to be certified by the courts in order to go ahead.
As always, the hockey establishment will fight back. These are sturdy institutions that have relied on the willingness of players, coaches and team officials to unofficially sanction conduct that would be frowned upon in regular life.
If that changes, everything changes.