Photo: Carlos Osoria, Toronto Star

This morning Steve Dangle tweeted out a link to an article on The Grid (A weekly online Toronto newspaper, I’m told – my co-workers had generally good things to say about it) titled “My son’s not playing hockey because hockey breeds jerks,” by Christopher Shulgan.

My Twitter feed was kicking it around, and seemed generally annoyed, as the knee jerk reaction usually goes when your group of people gets slighted. My initial reaction was a little different – depending on how the post is written, the guy could be making a very good point.

My second reaction was “What a troll of a headline” – it’s the sort of generalization that made me tempted not to take the bait and give the post more views, but what the hell, there actually is a little merit within. There’s also plenty of bullshit. Let’s read the post together and I’ll weigh in on what I think has value, and what’s needs to be stuffed in a rocket and shot into the sun.

***

Twenty years after leaving high school, here’s what I remember about the hockey players who went there: They actually circle jerked. One of the guys was legendary for the velocity with which he could achieve orgasm. Like, he told people. He bragged about it. That always struck me as weird. But then, the hockey players who went to my high school were weird. They had weird relationships with women, and weird in-jokes that referenced things I thought were just weird to be into. Like the professional wrestler Ric Flair.

Shulgan’s anecdotal tidbit here is the most generic piece of hockey mythology ever. “I heard the bantam team did ____” is the standard lead-in to a story like that at that age. While there might be a few derp-heavy idiot teenage boys that actually did something of the sort, that’s not hockey culture. It’s an click-whoring lede that’s already overshadowed what might have otherwise been an interesting parental point below. That paragraph is an adult playing the telephone game as a basis for making a point.

I’ve been thinking about those hockey players a lot lately because of a conversation I recently had with my dad. “Are you going to register Myron for hockey this year?” he asked.

My son is an athletic kid. He’s fast and strong and tough. He falls out of trees, dusts himself off, and climbs back up them.

You’re missing out on the chance to breed a third-line grinder, man.

He rides his bike for miles alongside me as I run along the waterfront. And I do see the logic of starting him up in hockey.

If you live in Toronto, and you want to set your athletic boy on a path that could, conceivably, lead to professional sports, then hockey seems like the smartest route to take.

It’s not supposed to be about that, of course, but okay.

Sure, soccer may be more accessible, but the spirit of soccer doesn’t pervade the air here the way it does in South America or Europe. No other place in the world has Toronto’s resources for creating world-class hockey players. After all, we’re the biggest city in the country that invented the sport.

So far, he’s making a solid case to put his son in hockey. And honestly, with hockey being as relevant here as it is in Canada, it’s pretty cool to be a part of it, especially from a social standpoint. 100% of my groomsmen at my wedding were hockey friends, and while there’s plenty of opportunity to make plenty of friends participating in other activities, being forced to interact with a large group of guys on a daily basis seems to provide a pretty good place to find buddies you genuinely enjoy.

And if Myron ever intends to play, I should start him now. Myron is six. He had fun with last winter’s skating lessons. He’s ready to get going. If we wait till he’s seven, he’ll be behind. Really, it’s this year, or never.

Eh, that’s a bit dramatic. I didn’t play until I was eight. Not that I became Gretzky, but “now or never” is a bit silly. You don’t have to make the NHL to enjoy your years of minor hockey.

But after my dad’s question, I shrugged.

“I don’t think so,” I said.

“Is it a money thing?” he asked.

“Naw,” I said.

So what kind of a thing was it? I flushed. To my dad, I mumbled something about wanting to spend much of this winter at ski hills, and then one of the kids distracted him. He didn’t have a chance to argue with me, to say what I know he felt: You should put your boy in hockey. It’s basically un-Canadian not to do it.

Well that’s not a great reason, but I have a question that hasn’t been answered yet, and it seems relevant: what does the son want to do? Didn’t we just hear he had fun skating last year? I recommend questions like “Do you want to play hockey or would you rather go snowboarding” to the kid. Usually a good way to figure out what people want.

But look, this winter, if I’m going to be sitting on anything cold for long periods of time, I’d rather it be a ski lift.

Right, but again, what would your son rather do?

My boy’s already a good enough skier to be comfortable on intermediate runs. I’ve got some trips planned—to Blue Mountain, maybe to Tremblant or Burlington, Vermont. This winter I figured we’d tackle black diamonds. He’s also bugging me to teach him how to snowboard. Dude, I’ve been dreaming of snowboarding with my son since I was 20 years old.

20? Damn.

Tangent here, but serious question: do they let six year olds on black diamonds? Irrelevant to the conversation, I know, just curious.

Even if we didn’t prefer snowsports, I would never push my son to pursue hockey.

We’re getting that.

I spent some years playing the game, and I do enjoy the occasional round of shinny. But spending long hours drinking bad coffee on cold fibreglass benches in dark arenas? Not exactly a pastime that, as a time-pressed parent, I’m excited to pursue.

Am I crazy here or is the focus here on the wrong thing? “I prefer participating in sports over watching, so I’m going to keep my son in sports where I get to do stuff too.” Oh and also, hockey players are jerks.

And I just can’t shake the sport’s lingering association with the circle-jerking dicks at my high school.

There are, if you don’t mind avoiding the literal translation here, “circle-jerking dicks” at every high school – its not confined to any particular “subset of humanity.” Hell, it’s not even confined to high-school.

In fact, that’s the root of my problem with the sport. It’s not that I don’t want my son to play hockey. It’s that I don’t want him to become a hockey player, to become part of that peculiarly jock subset of humanity.

Call me crazy for kicking this around, but what about doing a little parenting? Explaining to your son the difference between right and wrong? My mother, likely reading this today, would almost certainly agree with Shulgan. She was married to an NHL hockey player for many, many years, and a lot of the guys my father called teammates were cocky. She was desperate for me not to grow up cocky like other hockey players, so she talked about it with me often. Over-confidence, a lack of humility…these may be things hockey (or sports in general) instill in kids that needs to be quelled. And while I’ve got plenty of personal issues, I think I’ve been pretty good at keeping “cocky” out of my personality traits, thanks to my mom’s parenting.

If you don’t want your kid to be a circle-jerking dick, it’s not that hard to keep him from being one. And judging by the amount of thought and attention our author is putting into doing that, I have to believe he’ll succeed. His son has a dad who cares. That usually helps.

Is it the long hours spent in locker rooms? The culture of the sport? The inherent violence that breeds among its players an allegiance to the team that supercedes all else? Whatever the cause, hockey has an asshole problem.

Allegiance to teammates is a gateway to circle jerking. Or something.

So this winter, I’m going to concentrate on avoiding feeling un-Canadian because I haven’t put my boy in hockey. Actually, I’d argue that there’s something patriotic about it. Yeah, you know what? Hockey might be a profoundly Canadian activity. But so is the act of despising the asinine aspects of hockey behaviour.

The latter is actually kind of true, I think there’s plenty of Canadians who get annoyed by your prototypical “hockey player.” But that this post could be summed in a tweet (“Not putting son in hockey, knew a circle-jerking hockey player once and I prefer skiing/snowboarding“) sullies what could have been a quality observation.

***

So let me try.

I’m not trying to say that Shulgan is wrong, regardless of how weak his point is. I mentioned the whole “cocky” factor that comes with being a hockey player, and that’s a very real thing. You end up cocky not just because you’re very good at a very difficult sport, but because there’s strength in numbers. You’re a part of something.

People have asked me if it was hard, socially, that I played on a handful of teams over a three year span at one point, and I always point out that it’s made easier by the fact that you have 20 built-in friends right off the top. Of course you won’t get along with everyone, but you always have buddies. If someone talks down to you, you’re never lacking for back up or support. That, I think, is why guys feel powerful, and part of what breeds your standard “hockey player.”

The culture, as I’ve written (and spoken on), can be homophobic. It can be misogynistic, and it can help push along  some bad seeds.

But just because you’re exposed to those elements, as you might be in the real world, doesn’t mean they’ve got to be stitched into the fabric of your being. A parent still has the ability to use the negative events as teaching moments, and I think that’s a far healthier environment than heading into the real world having been sheltered from idiots and assholes. They exist everywhere (pull together 20 skiiers and I’ll find some too), so it’s good to learn to deal with them at an early age.

Comments (44)

  1. Right away hes looking to live through his son (if he wants to be good he has to start now, I’d rather snowboard with him than watch him play etc.) Is this guy afraid to make a sacrifice for his kid? I’m sure my Dad didn’t want to sit in the cold, drinking bad coffee, watching a bunch of six year olds “skate” around after a puck, but he did, and hell, I know he’s seen some very good hockey games played because of it, you know, when you can take pride in your childrens accomplishments.

    Also, hockey doesn’t breed jerks. Neither does any sport or whatever, its the parents who do that. If you’re a good parent then your kid will turn out ok and won’t be a jerk. Then again, maybe I’m a jerk and don’t see it that way since I grew up playing hockey.

  2. What a piece of awful parenting.

    1. If you’re thinking about enrolling your child in any sort of activity you should probably get their input. Maybe this guys son wants to become a figure skater but he has no clue because he’s so intent on forcing his kid to be a snowboarder.

    2. If you don’t want your kid to grow up to be a jerk, learn how to be a better parent. You don’t get to high-school age and suddenly become a ‘circle-jerking asshole.’ You have to be raised in a way that makes you inclined to participate in those activities.

    What a poor excuse for a parenting figure. I hope people don’t take his advice seriously and I hope his mother is a much better role model.

    • It’s awful parenting not to shove your kid into hockey? You’ll be horrified to know that other sports exist…no, really.
      Hockey has become a sick perversion of, so called “Canadian values”. Our juniors fail miserably against the US and the excuses pile up like the crap in a feedlot.
      Our womens rugby team excels consistently and nobody cares. Our CFL players have never been on strike and play on year after year. They make a fraction of what our hockey “heros” pull in to sit on the bench. The NHL is a bunch of spoiled jerks and it pisses me off that Canadians can’t see the BS that goes on to support our over-paid, mollycoddled , hockey bozos. After this last strike by our heros, they can go to hell.
      I’d rather have a kid in ballet than let him / her play that screwed up game.

  3. Personally, it’d be far more worrying if the kids in his school grew up worshiping “Ravishing Rick Rude” or the Honky Tonk Man, but c’mon – Rick Flair? Man’s a legend.

    Seriously, though, has this guy even asked his kid if he wants to play hockey? I grew up hating skating so I didn’t want to play hockey. I was content with that choice.

    • The Honky Tonk Man is the best, most deserving, longest-serving Intercontinental Champion in history, and possessed the most devastating move pro wrestling has ever seen with the Shake, Rattle and Roll. The only reason he was deposed was because of some underhanded dealings by the McMahon mafia who wanted to install roided-up poser ‘The Ultimate Warrior’ in one of the most shameless fixes in sporting history.

      So take it back.

  4. Well written. There are jerk-offs in every subset of the population. I played football and baseball as a kid, and there were certainly those type of kids in those sports as well.

    Off topic, but you asked…
    I used to work at a ski resort as a lift attendant. Yes, they do let 6 year old kids on black diamond trails. Provided they have the ability, there are no age restrictions. At least where I worked in Western NY.

    • In Colorado, the black diamonds are overrun by kids under 6. Seriously.

      Not the doubles though – skiing through trees.

  5. I teach my sons two things.

    1. Play hard, have fun.
    2. There’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance. And you need to be on the right side of that line.

    They learn for themselves that not playing hard, or teammates not playing hard, isn’t fun.
    They learn to distance themselves from the ‘weird’ kids and the arrogant kids.

    I also make sure, if their coaches are ‘old-timers’, that they understand what that is and why. Which makes it very funny to hear a 10 yr old explaining why an ex-NHLer is wrong for doing something.

    Really, it sounds like this guy isn’t good at parenting. But having your first child being 6 yrs old, it does take some time to develop that sense of separation between your experiences and his. Hopefully, this guy will get it some day. But it ain’t today!

  6. All credibility of this guys article when right out the window when he used the works ”circle jerk”.

    Really?

    • Let’s try that again.

      All credibility of this guys article went right out the window when he used the words ”circle jerk”.

    • he’s not far off, in the late 70′s in Brampton kids were gettingtheir pubes shaved against their will, way before “Ypungbllod” came out and the worst thing I heard about was doing laps with a marshmallow in your ass, if it fell out you had to eat it, AA and AAA players were very comfortable messing with other guys junk.

  7. This is downright silly. Every possible activity (sports or otherwise) has its share of @$$holes. That’s not a reason to keep your kid from doing one. Sounds like the Dad never got over his own childhood, so he’s punishing his kid for it.

  8. I’m still stuck on the first paragraph. Why is it weird to reference Ric Flair in conversation? I do it at least three times a day.

  9. I wonder what are the odds his son becomes a snowboarding asshole?

    • Exactly. So many ill-informed parents don’t let their kids snowboard because they “hate the attitude”. So now we’re seeing instead a new crop of teen freeskiers who rip around with awesome skill and reckless abandon, and they can be a little bit arrogant and impatient when more cautious skiers cluck at them. So you still have the same problem on the hills of an over-privileged and aggressive young clientele giving managers and patrollers headaches, but the parents can take comfort with the fact that they don’t have snowboards strapped to their feet.

  10. Instead of asking his kid what he wants to do he writes some lame article on the internet generalizing a sport with millions of participants all over the world. Sounds about right.

  11. I grew up playing hockey as did most of my brothers, complete with a back-yard rink flooded by my Dad. My oldest brother played on some top teams in Toronto and had the opportunity to play Junior B back in the late 60′s. Overall I would say most of my teammates were pretty good individuals and kept that way by our coaches and parents.

    I tried to encourage my daughters to play hockey, putting them in skating lessons early and building a rink in our backyard so I could play shinny with them. But they weren’t interested so I didn’t push. They ended up in fastpitch and playing on allstar teams at tournaments throughout southern Ontario. Over their 12+ years of playing softball they had the great experience of a team sport, made some lasting friends and I got to coach and witness some excellent games.

    We ran into some jerk teams – ones that felt they owned the diamond and their coach encouraged the swagger. It always has more to do with how the team is motivated and guided by the coach or management. My teams, and our girls, were always told to show respect to competitors and treat facilities like it was their home. If you acted like jerks then you sat on the bench or got cut from the team.

    It sounds like the author of the article didn’t have a problem with hockey players. He had an issue with a group of individuals who were enabled to be idiots instead of coached about life as well as the game.

  12. Shulgan sounds like an asshole. I’m not like regular Dads, I’m a cool dad, dude!

    So, no hope for the kid anyways, unless the other parent steps up.

  13. I agree with the repeated question of “What does the kid want to do?”

    It’s sad when a parent takes something bad that happened to them as a kid and then limits their kids lives because of it.

    I had a bad experience playing basketball in HS. That doesn’t mean that I won’t encourage my younger son if he wants to play basketball.

    I also had a jerk hockey coach or two growing up. Instead of telling my oldest son not to play, I’ve been an assistant coach on his teams the past three years and am the head coach this season.

    I’ve already had a few parents comment positively on how things are going and even had a ref thank me for a positive review I gave him and how well behaved our team was.

    It’s easier to improve a culture from the inside than to mock it from the outside.

  14. He doesn’t want his kid to be a cocky asshole so he keeps him out of hockey.

    Yet he’s been dreaming of snowboarding with the kid since he was 20.

    I’m a big skier. I have met plenty of cocky asshole snowboarders too.

    • Brave Fellow, when I was growing up, the problem mountains were grappling with was the ‘young male skier’. When I started snowboarding in the early nineties, the skiing public deftly took this label and affixed it to ‘snowboarders’ and castigated a whole sport. Now the freeskiers are the ones who are getting the bad rep.

      As long as there are teenage boys with lots of testosterone and no parental supervision, there will be brash mountain dwellers and conflict.

  15. Does anyone else here feel a sense of envy about Shulgan NOT being a hockey player or I am just being cocky? Just saying.

  16. I’d like to get the authors take on this twist to his headline:

    “My son’s not doing ballet because ballet breeds gays”

    Is he cool with that headline? It’s about as full of shit as his original one. Absolute garbage on every level. The guy doesn’t care about his kid, he’s quite clearly a selfish and self absorbed twit.

    • Or “My son is not doing snowboarding because snowboarding breeds pot head alcoholics”

      • Maybe it’s different in canada, but the ratio of pothead alky cokehead snowboarders to jerk hockey players is about 1000 to 1 in the states.

    • Agreed.

      “I mumbled something about wanting to spend much of this winter at ski hills”

      “But look, this winter, if I’m going to be sitting on anything cold for long periods of time, I’d rather it be a ski lift.”

      “Dude, I’ve been dreaming of snowboarding with my son since I was 20 years old.”

      “But spending long hours drinking bad coffee on cold fibreglass benches in dark arenas? Not exactly a pastime that, as a time-pressed parent, I’m excited to pursue.”

      Sounds like a lot of “I, I, I, Me, Me, Me”.

  17. Good post. THE question, of course, is what does the boy want to do? Sounds to me like this guy has a real hangup regarding hockey.

  18. You called it, Dad’d rather be skiing, so no hockey for Myron regardless of what Myron wants because Myron doesn’t get a vote, Dad wants to ski. But for some reason Dad REALLY wanted to get out the circle-jerk story.

  19. I am not a hockey fan and I am familiar with these type of hockey guys from HS and college. Not a fan of them either. I know all hockey guys aren’t like this though.

    Maybe this parent should first ask his kid what he wants to do and then work on his parenting skills to prevent his kid becoming involved in future circle jerks.

    Like I said, I am not a hockey fan but if my kid wanted to play, I would put up with the early morning practices/games and cold arenas as long as it put a smile on my kid’s face. I played basketball my whole throughout HS and my dad despises the sport. But he was there every game – home or away – supporting me. And that’s what a good parent will do.

  20. You named your kid MYRON…..Let’s be honest he doesn’t stand a chance. Do him a favor and keep him on the slopes.

  21. Hockey was the breeding ground for the most deranged and socially disfunctional alcoholic weirdos I’ve ever met. Lots of those people wind up toothless drunks with permanent brain damage by the time they’re even 20. I see people forcing their 3 year olds into hockey and it just makes me sick. Are they teaching these kids anything about life? No because they’re too busy getting them into the goon-cult. That’s all that matters to them. Hockey is the absolute worst sport for your young child.

  22. “Hockey might be a profoundly Canadian activity. But so is the act of despising the asinine aspects of hockey behaviour.”

    This is becoming more and more true with each concussion/violence in hockey article published in the Globe and Mail. It’s sickening. If you didn’t or couldn’t play hockey as a kid in Canada, it has become fashionable to trash the game and take a ‘holier than thou’ approach toward it. It’s like these people that have no physical connection to the game feel that, instead of appreciating the beauty of it and it’s place in our national culture and history, the best thing to do is trash hockey altogether. I’m getting so sick of it.

  23. I have no kids but am engaged and have been thinking about kids in the near future for the first time in my life. I can’t wait to them on the ice but I do understand if they don’t want to. I’m fine with my kids doing something I like, baseball, hockey, snowboarding, skiing, football whatever, or something I have yet to form an opinion on (rugby for example) but I hate basketball and I can totally see myself pushing my kids away from that sport as much as possible.

    If this guy doesn’t like hockey, I don’t see why pushing his kid away from it is so terrible. If the kids is begging to play hockey and the father is saying no way, thats another story. Any parents wish to enlighten me.

    • Why is what you like to do even in the equation? You aren’t going to be playing basketball, your kid is. You don’t even have to pay much attention, just drive to the gym, drop the kid off, sit on a bench and read a book for an hour, and then drive home. That’s it. Heck, you can probably get away with only actually being present for games and still be a decently involved parent. Maybe even occasionally fake an interest in the game by making an ill informed reference to Kobe.

      There’s no need to push a child towards or away from any particular sport, just let them find what makes them happy. If that’s not enough to make you happy then you’re probably already a terrible parent.

  24. “Tangent here, but serious question: do they let six year olds on black diamonds?”

    Yes. My daughter was going down them at 5 in Colorado. She rocks.

  25. I attended high school in Vermont and played hockey. The team was full of jerks and we laugh today about what idiots WE were. Those years repesent my greatest childhood memories, which is why Ive had three non-jerk kids who have all played hockey to varying degrees. I wouldnt trade one “dark cold rink minute” of our tIme together and neither would they. I have one left still playing and I’m dreading the day its over. By the way, I lived in a “ski town” and graduated with members of the US Ski team, who were the most egotistical spoiled punks on the planet. But believe it or not – I’ve allowed my kids to ski. Go figure. Guess it wasn’t about me.

  26. Obviously, this guy is a total pussy. His kid is going to play tennis and will grow up masturbating to photographs of hedgehogs.

  27. My take on this is that generally, parents who grew up playing hockey had their mom and dad drive them to practice and games when they were kids, and they now accept that it’s their duty to do the same for their children. Parents who weren’t so lucky tend to not want to take on the challenge, it’s foreign to them and seems like a big sacrifice.

    My sister put her kid through soccer and martial arts, and whenever I’d bring up hockey she’d look at me with pique and say there’s no way she was spending her weekends in cold arenas, like the author describes. She hated arenas as a kid, forced to be there because of my dad’s and my games. So now my nephew loves watching the Canadiens but doesn’t play hockey himself.

    A five-year-old generally doesn’t really know if he wants to play hockey or soccer or basketball or do tae kwon do or ballet. He or she will go along with whatever their parents decide. My dad played hockey, so I played hockey, I didn’t question it or think their was an option. Later when I asked my parents if I could go skiing, they explained that my sport was hockey, and we couldn’t afford both. I chose hockey, and picked up skiing, then snowboarding when I got to university and my own money from part-time jobs.

    I agree with all the posters who advocate for the kid’s right to decide what he wants to do, but unless he has two or three friends who play hockey and tease him because he doesn’t, he’ll most likely go along with his dad’s choice.

  28. badly written/argued but he has a point, 99% of the hockey players in my highschool (and highschool was only 5 years ago for me) were homophobic jerks that thought since they played on the local junior team they ruled the world and could do whatever they want. There’s articles on here about all the bad things hockey players grow up to do, linked at the end of the article here (there’s more articles than those too). I can understand a parent wanting their kid to have no part of it.

    But it’s nothing that good parenting can’t fix (too bad lots of hockey parents are jerks too!), and it should be the kid’s choice, and if a 6 year old doesn’t know what he wants to do let him try a bunch of things.

    • You’re obviously gay and I don’t mean that in a homosexual way. So you weren’t cool in high school, get over it already.

  29. Hey Justin…, yet another insightful and timely article… sounds like this “Dad” doesn’t get it… that as a parent, he (and the boy’s Mum) are the ultimate determinants of how the son grows up, and not an association with a particular sport….we encourage both of our boys (7 and 10) to try many sports/activities and in every case, the vast majority of kids and parents are great… but you can always tell the ones who are a problem in waiting. There are jerks every area of society, whether it be sport, arts, business, community. It’s up to the parents to set the boundaries and make sure the child has the tools, knowledge and awareness to keep them from becoming one of the “problems in waiting”….

  30. What that parent is teaching his son is how to be a self-centered jerk. Most parents have the KIDS at the center of their lives, not the other way around (as JB points out).

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