Until last week, Bill Peters was coach of the Calgary Flames, and had been regarded as somewhat of a new wave of coaches in the NHL, both successful and somewhat of a throwback to the old days of hard-asses behind the bench.  He was a career coach, getting his start in the Alberta Junior B scene back in the late 80s, before moving onto the University of Lethbridge, then the Western Hockey League in Spokane, WA.  Then he was coach in the minor leagues, with the Chicago Black Hawks’ AHL franchise in Rockford, IL.  He was then an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings, from 2011-14, before the Carolina Hurricanes hired them as their head coach for the 2014-15 season, where he stayed until he resigned at the end of the 2017-18 season to take the job in Calgary.  I give you his history in rising through the ranks of the hockey world for a reason.  Bill Peters was deeply, deeply embedded in the hockey world and almost universally respected.  And he was successful.  He did not win championships, but he worked hard and made his players believe their teams were greater than the sum of its parts.  And they overachieved.

But then, on 20 November, the Toronto Maple Leafs fired their coach, Mike Babcock, and in the wake of the eventual mess that became, because all things Maple Leafs do, some of Babcock’s methods of motivating his players emerged. In one, he asked a rookie to rank his teammates from hardest working to laziest.  And then he shared that info with the players, exposing the rookie.  Oops.  This led, in Canadian hockey circles, to a discussion about coaching methodologies, and the changing nature of the players, and therefore coaching.

Five days later, on 25 November, Akim Aliu, a former player, announced on Twitter that he had had a run-in with Peters, who was Babock’s assistant in Detroit, when he played for Peters in Rockford:

Aliu expanded when he spoke to TSN in Canada, telling Frank Seravalli that ‘He walked in before a morning pre-game skate and said, “Hey Akim, I’m sick of you playing that n—– shit, I’m sick of hearing this n—– fucking other n—–s in the ass stuff.” He then walked out like nothing ever happened. You could hear a pin drop in the room, everything went dead silent. I just sat down in my stall, didn’t say a word.’  Two former Rockford Ice Hog players confirmed the story to Seravalli, and also noted that the then-captain of the Ice Hogs, Jake Dowell, confronted Peters, though he won’t speak of this publicly.  And then when Peters called Aliu into his office, not only did he not apologize, he told Aliu that, ‘You know, I’m just sick of this n—– shit.  It’s every day.  From now on, we need to play different music.’

And so there we had it.  In the wake of the Don Cherry scandal, it seems that racism was no longer acceptable in hockey.  I mean, it is only 2019 after all.

But there was still more.  The very next day, another former player, Michal Jordan, who played for Peters in Carolina, weighed in on Twitter:

Jordan told TSN in Canada this was not an isolated incident:


Aliu called out Peters for being racist, and now Jordan was calling him out for violently assaulting his players.  On 27 November, the current coach of of the Carolina Hurricanes, Rod Brind’Amour, a long-time NHL player, who was Peters’ assistant there, confirmed Jordan’s story.  Note that Brind’Amour doesn’t appear to have done anything about this assault, he just noted players are afraid to call out their coaches.  Apparently so, too, are assistant coaches who also happen to be club legends, as Brind’Amour is in Carolina.

So, to recap, we had a violent, racist coach in the National Hockey League.  Over the next few days, the media’s attention was diverted towards the allegations of racism, no doubt due to the Cherry mess.  What happened next was perhaps predictable, with every current and former black NHL player having a microphone stuck in his face to ask his opinion.  New Jersey Devils’ forward Wayne Simmonds said he could guarantee every black player had faced such problems:

Simmons’ teammate, PK Subban noted that it hurt:

They were just two of the legions of black current and former players asked for their thoughts.  And then we got the next predictable part, where a bunch of white guys in the Canadian sports media began to declare that hockey was changing, and this is the wake up moment, and that things are going to get better.  We even got a statement from Peters’ general manager in Carolina, Ron Francis, where he says he knew about the violence and dealt with it.  Clearly Francis didn’t tell his boss, the now former owner of the Hurricanes, Peter Karmanos, who said he’d have fired Peters in a nano-second had he known.  It doesn’t really matter who is right and who is wrong here.

And so, it turns out that the hockey world is just like the rest of the world.  When racist incidents happen, it is on the victim to call it out, and then we turn to other visible minorities to explain what this all means, to either confirm or deny that racism exists and is a problem.  And then we get the white guys who claim that if only they’d known!

We need a new model.  We need to re-think how we approach this kind of bullshittery.  In less than a month, it will be 2020, and though we have racists in power in the United States and the United Kingdom, and in three of the four most populous and economically powerful Canadian provinces, we are better than this.

Instead of relying upon the victims of racist acts and incidents to speak out, white people need to speak out.  The same is true for sexism/misogyny, and homophobia and any other kind of oppression.  Men need to speak out about sexism/misogyny; cisgender folk need to decry homophobia.  We need to call this out when we see it, we need to make sure to other white people that their behaviour is not acceptable.

This does not mean that white people need to take over the anti-racist  movement, or that men should co-opt feminism.  Far from it.  Being an ally means exactly that, I am an ally,  it is not my place to try to lead anything, and it is my job to take my cue from people of colour, from women, from LGBTQA people.  But fighting this should not fall on their shoulders.  Period.

So, rather than turning to all the black players in the NHL and the former players in the media to get their thoughts, white guys in the NHL should speak up. Instead of going through the round of white guys saying ‘If only I’d known,’ those white guys need to act when it happens.

I am a white, middle-class cisgender man.  I have privilege in this world by dint of that.  I thus have the responsibility to be aware of my privilege and use it to make this a better world.  We all do.  This shit needs to end.  Period.