Sports Outside the Beltway

Junior Hockey and Free Speech

Amateur Hockey is rarely the realm of controversy. Occasionally, the layer is peeled back on the leagues that groom high school aged boys who aspire to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup one day. A few years ago, former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy testified against his former Juniors coach who had been molesting him (and possibly other players) and helped put him behind bars. And until this week, the only news coming out of Junior Hockey has been the performance of the future stars of the NHL.

A recent decision by a Junior Hockey Coach may spark another examination of how teams and leagues make statements, both political and non-political.

Sea Dogs head coach Jacques Beaulieu cut left-winger Dave Bouchard from the team on Saturday after he failed to sign a flag that was sent to Canadian troops in Afghanistan.

Bouchard, 20, who is now home in Jonquière, Que., said it’s all a big misunderstanding and thought another player had signed his name on his behalf. He has apologized to his coach, saying he should have signed the flag.

Beaulieu wants to show support for the troops, and insists that every single one of his players and coaches show their support as well.

“It’s just something that I really believe in,” he said. “You do have freedom of speech in Canada. You are allowed to say whatever you want but we have standards here. And we’re going to live by them.”

Bouchard was on Radio Canada this morning and was asked if he was a separatist. He said he was “just a hockey player.” And he should just be a hockey player. Even if Bouchard was making an anti-war statement, and my hunch is that he wasn’t, his right to make that statement is obvious.

I personally feel that the decision to fire a player because he wouldn’t sign the flag is extreme. It may violate various labor laws, as well, but Beaulieu’s decision is morally wrong first and foremost. It is his team and he can apply whatever test he wants for inclusion on the team, provided he is supported by the front office. But to insist that everyone agree with you to be part of a team, that is meant to be community organization is to take that loyalty to an unhealthy level. The gesture of showing support to soldiers who are under fire in a hostile country is a genuinely nice action, that has been tarnished by the heavy handed actions of a coach unwilling to accept that someone might disagree with him.

This quote from UPI shows how serious Beaulieu is.

“Morally, we have standards with this hockey team and that’s a standard that we believe in,” he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. Monday. “I mean, if Dave doesn’t believe in it, that’s fine. But he won’t be part of it. He won’t be part of this organization. That’s the standard that we set.”

The impact for professional teams is muted, because the coaches and organizations do not have the authority to fire players the same way that Junior teams can. Further, with the attention paid to the events of major professional sports organizations, it is impossible to avoid the media maelstrom surrounding that kind of decision. Apart from a few folks who follow the Saint John Sea Dogs, and the QMJHL, not many folks know about this story.

Remember Carlos Delgado?

They booed Carlos Delgado on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium. They should have cheered him.

Delgado is the leading anti-war activist in major league baseball. He actually has thought about the U.S. invasion of Iraq and come to the conclusion that more and more Americans and more than a few shame-faced politicians finally have come to as well.

“I think it’s the stupidest war ever,” the Blue Jays’ power-hitting first baseman told the Toronto Star earlier this month after someone finally noticed that whenever “God Bless America” was played in major league ballparks, Delgado would disappear until the song was over.

This, as it turns out, was his silent protest of the U.S. invasion of Iraq that has now cost the lives of 900 U.S. citizens and countless more Iraqis, many of whom just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Whether fans at Yankee Stadium agree with Delgado or the Bush administration’s war, they still should not have booed him when he came to the plate. If anything, they should have cheered because he was a living civics lesson to every young fan watching (and the old ones, too) who may have heard this week of his quiet protest.

I disagree with Ron Borges (the author of the above praise of Delgado). The fans have every right to boo him. They can disagree with his action and call him on it by booing him. No harm, no foul there. The foul is when a sports team foists a cause on the team’s players and by doing so co-opts their support for said cause. Most of the time it is benign, like supporting cancer survivors, or what have you, but sometimes reasonable people disagree over passionate issues of the day. In those cases, their right to speak should not be muted in the name of unanimity with team, or worse as a condition of employment.

Cross Posted at Ennuipundit

Related Stories:
Recent Stories:

Comments are Closed


Visitors Since Feb. 4, 2003

All original content copyright 2003-2008 by OTB Media. All rights reserved.