Thursday 23 December 2010

A foul-mouthed brat caused this problem

Greg Walsh is a minor hockey coach from Peterborough, Ontario who pulled his team from the ice after one of his players had a racial slur directed at him. The coach was suspended for the rest of the season. He was originally suspended indefinitely but the Ontario Minor Hockey Association on December 17th 2010 decided to suspend the coach from the Peterborough Minor Hockey Association Midget House League until April 10th 2011. The four month suspension did not really dictate what it really was. The season actually ends after the March break, so that meant that it was going to be a complete season that's gone so in reality, it's a year’ suspension, although he could train his team after the suspension ended before the playoffs next year. The ruling came after a December 11th hearing into the incident.

On November 15th, one of Walsh's players on the NAPA Auto Parts team, 16-year-old Andrew McCullum, was sent to the penalty box along with a rival from the Austin Trophies. While they were in the Kinsmen Arena penalty box, the boys heckled one another. McCullum told his coach that the opposing player called him a nigger.

Calling a black person a nigger is improper and highly frowned upon. But when the offending player was back on the ice the next period without anyone coming over to apologize, Walsh was furious. The whole team agreed to forfeit the game they were winning to support McCullum by leaving the ice.

The referee sat both players out for the rest of the period, but when the offending player came out to start the third period, Walsh and his team left the ice.That move is against the rules of Hockey Canada, the sport's national governing body.

Let me say from the beginning that in my opinion, Walsh was wrong in pulling his team from the game. Admittedly, he, his player who was insulted and his team were quite right to be extremely upset. The coach from the opposing team was wrong to bring the foul-mouthed brat who called Walsh’s player a nigger back into the game.
Because the two on-ice officials didn’t hear any racial comments, they were not in a position to issue the appropriate penalty to the offending player but the league acknowledged that the slur was made.

Richard Ropchan, the OMHA's executive director, told CBC News he thought that the punishment was tough in this case but that Hockey Canada's rules had to be followed. He said that the OMHA does every thing it can to deter coaches from pulling their teams for whatever reason. Ropchan said. "I think he did a noble thing .We don't question that, but there were other avenues to deal with it.”

I can see pulling a team off the ice if it appears to the coach that the players on the ice are getting too violent and his team members are at risk. But pulling them from the game because the coach is in a snit, is not in my opinion, a valid reason for cancelling a game. Would he do it if his team was in the finals and that was the final game they were playing? I doubt it.

What Walsh should have done was to file a complaint against both the coach of the opposing team and the offending brat. The Association would have dealt with his complaints. They don’t tolerate the kind of behavior such as what the offending player did.

After the Association looked into the complaint, the player who used the slur against Walsh’s player sat out three games along with two of his coaches and was asked to write a letter of apology. The PMHA also filed a hate complaint with the Peterborough and Lakefield Community police and requested an investigation. I doubt that complaint will go far with the police unless they want to charge the offending player with creating a disturbance. That charge applies when someone says something offensive that can result in a commotion being created in response.

The good news is that Greg Walsh’s suspension has been lifted and he was reinstated immediately. He will be back behind the bench in the New Year, facing the same team he was playing when he made the decision to pull his team off the ice in protest of a racial slur.

Why the change of mind on the part of the hockey officials? There was a torrent of public outrage that finally sent hockey officials scrambling to reconsider. Walsh thanked the Toronto Star, saying the newspaper’s coverage of his ordeal was “instrumental” in having his suspension repealed.

The public outrage created by the Toronto Star, had placed a lot of pressure on the OMHA, and the hockey officials saw in the end that maybe it was a decision they should look at again. Quite frankly, I doubt that they would have looked at it again had it not been for the publicity that came from the incident. They wanted to use Walsh as an example so that other coaches would be hesitant in pulling their boys off of the rink.

Reaction to the news of Walsh’s suspension was swift and furious. NDP sports critic Paul Miller, a former OMHA coach and referee himself, condemned the move. Letters of outrage poured in, and calls to boycott the association’s corporate sponsors circulated on social media sites. Miller sent an open letter to the OMHA executive commending them “for doing the right thing for Coach Walsh and his team,” but also asking for the league to revisit its rules on discriminatory language.

Chrysler Canada, one of those sponsors, said in a statement Monday that after learning of Walsh’s suspension the company asked the board to reconsider and that “we applaud the decision to reinstate Mr. Walsh.”

Richard Ropchan of the Association said the league would review its penalties for using discriminatory language during games “based on some of the things we’ve learned from this.” Glen McCurdie, a Hockey Canada vice-president, said that the incident may lead the organization to revisit that rule.

Walsh also wants penalties for using racial slurs stiffened. “McCullum was hurt just as much as a person is hurt if they get hit with a stick.”

He is absolutely right. Hockey is supposed to be a ‘fun’ game. There is no place in the game for slurs or the people who make them. I don’t know if the brat that made the slur has learned anything from this but if he has, then he will benefit from this experience. If he hasn’t, then he will invariably find himself in hot water again sometime in the future.

There are many ways you can express your anger but calling a black person a nigger is not one of them. The brat that slurred the opposing player and the brat’s coaches that didn’t take the slur seriously; should hang their heads in shame.

In 1973, a racial slur made during a minor hockey game in Mississauga spawned a parking lot fight that ended a teenage life. A biracial 16-year-old who took matters into his own hands was found guilty of manslaughter during an ensuing trial. Now a 54-year-old GTA man with children of his own, the former teenage hockey player said that death would never have occurred if he'd had a coach like Peterborough's Greg Walsh, who was recently suspended for removing his team from the ice in protest to a racial insult.

As I said earlier in this piece, Walsh was wrong to take his team off the ice. I believe the fault lies entirely with the coaches of the offending player. If in both incidents, the coaches of the offending players had taken the offending players off the ice for the entire games, the problems would have not have subsequently gone as far as they did.

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