Normand Hector says kids are telling him that bullying, racism and sexism persist.
When Hockey New Brunswick started tracking all complaints of discrimination last year, organizers expected to get just a few.
Instead, 29 allegations were investigated, resulting in 15 players being suspended for a minimum of five games, and up to as many as 20.
Executive director Nic Jansen said this was a sign the organization — the governing body of all ice hockey in the province — needed to take another approach.
“So we decided to be more proactive,” he said. “And Normand was recommended to us as someone who could lead workshops on equity, diversity and inclusion.”
Normand Hector, who identifies as Black and gay and performs in drag under the stage name Normani, has agreed to meet with players, parents and coaches in Moncton and the Saint John area, starting next month.
Local hockey groups had already engaged him to give presentations over the past few years.
Some concerns he heard made him believe that change is going to take a lot of time and work.
“I’ve heard about bad behaviour toward parents,” Hector said. “I’m hearing about disrespect towards coaches. I’m hearing that racial slurs are still being uttered.
“I’m also hearing that young girls want the same opportunities, the same equal chance, to play a game that they love.”
Hector said he tries to promote empathy by encouraging players to treat each other as they would wish to be treated.
He asks them to imagine being attacked verbally about something they couldn’t change, such as the colour of their skin.
“I ask them how they would feel if somebody deliberately wanted to make sure they crushed you on the ice with that. How would you feel?”
When they answer that they wouldn’t like it at all, he asks why they would tolerate that behaviour in themselves or someone else.
“Why go for the jugular? Cause that’s what I call it,” Hector said. “If you’re saying those words and you’re going for those things on the ice, you know you’re going for the jugular.
“And who told you it was OK to do that? You’ve seen other people do it and no action was taken around that so automatically you jump on that bandwagon and you’re going to start doing the exact same thing? My workshops are teaching players to think differently.”
If Hector feels he’s still not reaching someone, he tells them that the world is changing and bullies and bigots are putting their own careers at risk.
He asks them to imagine getting a chance to play professionally, then having to explain why they were written up for doing something inappropriate or cruel.
Hector believes the hockey world is being forced to evolve, as evidenced by all the sponsors that have abandoned Hockey Canada in the wake of its sexual assault scandal.
He also thinks pressure should be coming from parents who pay a “tremendous amount of money” to have their children in the sport.
“I would think that parents would say, ‘OK, this is going to stop here and now. My son or my daughter wants to play hockey. I want them to be treated fairly and equally. My money is just as good as everybody else’s so I want this. I demand this.'”
More partnerships coming
Jansen said Hockey N.B. is also working on partnerships with experts who can give workshops to raise awareness around sexual violence and toxic masculinity.
However, he said he wasn’t ready to announce who those partners are, until the details are finalized.
He also wants to make the sport more welcoming for girls.
Last year, Jansen said, female registration in the province increased by 16 per cent while male registration fell by about six per cent.
Some municipalities haven’t changed their arena schedules to reflect that, he said.
“A lot of ice time is done historically,” he said.
“And if there’s no ice time, it’s difficult for them to grow.”
He said the organization also aims to promote girls and women in leadership positions such as coaching and officiating and to have more female volunteers.
Jansen said Hockey N.B. has also engaged a third party to conduct investigations around complaints.
He expects the number of complaints to grow next year as more people become aware of the complaint mechanism that instructs referees or witnesses to any verbal taunts, insults or intimidation based on race, ethnic origin, religion, age, gender, sexual orientation, or disability to report it.
He says Hockey N.B. needs more expertise to investigate those complaints with skill and sensitivity.
By engaging an outside party, he says Hockey N.B. will have more consistency and procedural fairness for both the complainant and the respondent.
“We believe that will be a huge step in the right direction,” he said.
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