If you haven’t already, I urge you to read Matthew Henriques’ Open Letter to the NHL before reading this article. If you have, I urge you to read it again.
For over half of my life, I have been a metalhead. It all started for me around the age of twelve when I was gifted a copy of Black Sabbath’s Master of Reality. I was already listening to harder rock (primarily AC/DC and Led Zeppelin) but this was different. This triggered something in me. I needed more. Two years later, on a whim, I picked up a copy of Megadeth’s Peace Sells…but Who’s Buying? on a two for $25 special at a record store in Vancouver and had my mind blown all over again. This was exactly what I had been looking for, and it was just the beginning. Megadeth opened me up to other American thrash acts such as Metallica, Exodus, and eventually Slayer. From Slayer, I was able to more easily expand my tastes to heavier, more sinister German bands like Kreator and Destruction. And know, here I am, a 29-year-old who listens to bands with names like Tomb Mold and Cerebral Rot and loves every second of it. Heavy metal has been a constant in my life, second only to hockey in terms of longevity.
Like most Canadians, hockey was a staple of my childhood. I got my first pair of skates as soon as I learned to walk. My closet in full of jerseys of varying sizes, from toddler to adult. I played a bit growing up, no matter the season. I lost many rainy days to various hockey video games. Once I became of age, I would spend countless Saturdays either at a local bar or in a friend’s basement watching Hockey Night In Canada while pounding one (or two or three) beers too many. Most of my friends I’ve made in life are through a shared love of the sport. Me writing this stems from that love. Hell, my marriage was (in a sense) built on that love. Sure, heavy metal is great, but hockey is my first love, and both have played a large role in shaping me into the person I am today.
It has never been lost on me how how predominantly white both of these subcultures are. What did get lost was what that meant for people who didn’t look like me.
As a white man, it took me a shamefully long time to realize and accept the privilege I carry throughout my day-to-day life. This isn’t to say I was ignorant to the existence of racism or bigotry. I knew that there were racist people out there, and by extension, victims of racism. I knew it was wrong to judge an individual by the color of their skin, but my ignorance led me to believe that that’s where it stopped for me. So long as I didn’t personally do it, I was a good person. By simply telling myself I wasn’t a racist person, my role in stopping racism was done.
I realize now that I was wrong.
My immersion into predominantly white subcultures did not help this. Sure, they weren’t entirely white. I had a few BIPOC friends who were into hockey, and likewise for heavy metal. The cultures both promote themselves as open for everyone. Hockey is a Canadian institution, so the implication here is that it extends to all Canadians. Heavy metal is a refuge for the outcast, so all are welcome. Outwardly, they were inviting, but once inside, I saw a fanbase that looked mostly like me with very little diversity. It was white people shit that pretended to not be.
Originally, I felt as though I had very little to contribute to this discussion. I felt my “role was to listen, learn, and amplify voices other than my own.” I quickly realized that speaking out against the leagues shortcoming and putting pressure on media to continue asking the difficult questions was also needed. Even then, something felt wrong. There was a nagging thought that I couldn’t quite shake, but I also couldn’t quite articulate. But as NHL players followed the lead of many of the other professional athletes across various leagues in North America (NBA, WNBA, MLB, MLS) and forced the postponement of games in protest of the the continued systemic racism that permeates our society and culture, I saw the backlash roll in, primarily from people who look like me. I knew what it was. I knew what I wanted to say.
We, especially we as white hockey fans, must do everything we can to make racists feel unwelcome in our sport.
Predominantly white subcultures are always subject to infiltration by right wing fascists and just regular old racists. Their target demographic is already there, and truth be told, a lot of them just need a nudge to get them to buy in. We’ve already watched as Eric Trump tried to use the NHL as a political tool when they attempted their toe-the-line-we-don’t-want-to-offend-anybody “stance.” Search through the replies to any Firstname Lostsofnumbers account complaining about the politicization of sports and you’re bound to find at least one person begging them to come watch the NHL. It’s the best game on earth, and by gum they stand for the anthem. By opting to remain politically apathetic (only time will tell if the recent efforts will continue,) the NHL has at best inadvertently positioned itself as the alternative to the leagues willing to speak out on these issues. At worst, it did this purposely.
Much like I was wrong way back when to think that the simple act of not being a racist was good enough, we must not allow ourselves to feel that simply decrying racism is enough now. When we allow racism to go unchecked, we are affirming two things. One, we are affirming to the one spouting racism that they will be tolerated. They are free to say whatever garbage they want. They, in this community, are welcome. Two, we are telling the victim(s) of aforementioned racism that they are unwelcome. This isn’t the place for them, and they may as well leave. “Hockey is for Everyone” is just a thing that is said so you can’t say we’re explicitly racist. Hockey is white people shit, and we want to keep it that way.
In order for hockey culture to truly progress beyond what it currently is, white fans can no longer turn a blind eye. We must expunge the toxicity that already permeates, while preventing more from seeping in. We have to be more than simply “not racist.” We must call out racism (and any other form of bigotry) when we see it. The burden simply cannot fall on BIPOC anymore. The time for us to do our part is long past overdue.
To continue to be silent is to be complicit.