How an NHL street party caused a social media storm about racism

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A local Winnipeg Jets tradition – the Whiteout Street Party – has been the source of controversy. Is it political correctness run amok or is the name insensitive to racialized people? THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

LAs the city of Winnipeg was preparing to host a large celebration to mark the beginning of the National Hockey League playoffs for its team, the Jets, a storm broke out over social media over a headline about the hockey street party.

A story that described the preparations for the outdoor public celebration during the playoff game in the Winnipeg Free Press included this headline: “Jets parties will turn downtown white again.” The original story ran with a photo of four men wearing all-white, hooded costumes. Both the headline and photo were later changed.

Soon after, Black Space Winnipeg, an anti-racism advocacy group, tweeted a response to the article and posted a comment on its Facebook page. The group implied the words “white again,” along with the photo, would make racialized people feel unwelcome in the city. The group also suggested in a Facebook post the name of the playoff party (“Whiteout”) be changed.

“Have a look at these photos from past Jets pandemonium/fan appreciation. The four men wearing all white Jets outfits with pointed hoodies … remind you of anything?”

On Twitter the group wrote:

“This headline can carry a very different meaning depending on who’s reading it …”

Many people reading the tweet from Black Space Winnipeg did not take the time to think about the original headline of the article before they hurled back angry, misinformed or racist replies.

Some examples: “Go back to playing basketball and leave hockey alone” and “its (sic) ok to be white,” a slogan made popular by white supremacist groups.

I believe the angry tweets and Facebook comments can be classified into two main complaints: many people felt the term “whiteout” was never intended to be racist and that making that claim is political correctness run amok.

Winnipeg Jets’ fans get warmed up at the Whiteout Street Party prior to the second NHL playoff game against the St. Louis Blues on April 12. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

Words and traditions change because our world is not static. We shouldn’t be afraid to institute change as we become aware of errors made in the past. Decisions made 30 or even 100 years ago have been challenged and changed. Sports have also changed. McGill University recently dropped the name of its sports teams, the Redmen, because as McGill University’s principal said, it is “widely acknowledged as an offensive term for Indigenous peoples, as evidenced by major English dictionaries…we cannot ignore this contemporary understanding.”

She said the name “is not one the university would choose today, and it is not one that McGill should carry forward.”

Winnipeg pride

Last year, the Jets won their first playoff series since the team returned to Winnipeg in 2011, making it all the way to the conference finals. This was a big event for the city. The parties attracted thousands of people to downtown Winnipeg. The crowds were loud and boisterous, but according to media reports, the atmosphere was friendly and a good example of the city’s community spirit in action.

For many Winnipegers, it was a positive image that helped to negate the often stereotypical images many Canadians have about their city as boring, cold as Mars (or hot and full of mosquitoes in summer), or one of Canada’s most violent communities.

“The whiteout” is a nickname for Jets street parties originated three decades ago. According to the CBC, the parties started as a response to the Calgary Flames’ “Sea of Red” during the 1987 playoffs. That was at a time when the Jets home colours were white, not blue as they now are, but the tradition has stuck. Although the Jets left Winnipeg in 1996, the “whiteout” resumed after the team’s return to the city in 2011.

Winnipeg is one of many NHL cities where fans uniformly dress in their team colours during the playoffs. Here, white-clad Winnipeg Jets’ fans react towards St. Louis Blues centre Robert Thomas during NHL playoff action in Winnipeg on April 10. THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods

On the surface, the term “whiteout” seems fairly benign and aptly describes the scene. Photos of the event confirm that it is indeed a sea of white. It looks like a blizzard, a phenomenon that naturally occurs in Manitoba winters.

It’s the second explanation — political correctness run amok — that is the most worrisome.

Concerns dismissed

Many fans dismissed the concerns of Black Space Winnipeg and others, rather than considering why the headline might have been offensive.

I read some of the over 450 replies on Facebook and over 400 replies on Twitter. Many of the responses gave nonsensical responses that showed how little the reader understood the issue and how little they valued the conversation on racism in their city centre.

To demonstrate how ridiculous they thought the issue was, a few posters submitted ideas like having a white refrigerator makes them a racist.

But the headline, along with the photo of men in white hoods, can be interpreted as “only whites are welcome” message. The intention of the message may be innocent, but the way it is understood by the people will depend on their social location.

In a city where racism often rears its ugly head, it is understandable that the seemingly innocuous headline can be understood to be threatening — especially by people who experience discrimination.

Black Space Winnipeg and other social activist organizations are asking Canadians to have conversations about race and to think about how we use language and how the way we label things and visualize them can unintentionally include and exclude groups of people.

Our current social climate in Canada, and in Winnipeg, has given space to more explicit expressions of racism, and therefore we — and our media outlets — need to think about the ways we use language and how that language may perpetuate bias.

Lori Wilkinson, Professor of Sociology, University of Manitoba

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hockey Over Hate

WATCH: A young black boy’s love for hockey proves to be greater than the racism that exists in the rink.

Divyne Apollon is a 13-year-old black boy with a passion for hockey — a sport he loves, but one that has exposed him to the ugliness of racism. During his latest encounter with intolerance, Divyne and his team came together to battle against hatred, while getting a surprise from Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals.

BY LONNAE O’NEALLOIS NAM April 5, 2019

The Death of the CWHL Presents a New Opportunity for Women’s Professional Hockey

The sudden announcement by the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) that it was ceasing operations has generated controversy and confusion. But as an academic who researches sport organizations, I have a different take — the CWHL closure opens the door for new and innovative women’s professional hockey opportunities.

On the surface, this ordeal reads as a tale of two leagues – one non-profit, the CWHL, and one for-profit, the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL).

When the CWHL announced it was shutting down, the league’s board of directors stated“the business model has proven to be economically unsustainable.” Many fans and media took this to mean the non-profit model won’t work and the only option is the NWHL’s for-profit approach.

But this is a shortsighted view.

Closure is a catalyst for change

The closure of the CWHL is a catalyst for other key stakeholders to enter the scene — which has happened many times in the past for men’s professional hockey, where leagues have come and gone.

As my early doctoral research shows, many different stakeholders — including players, hockey federations, government and industry officials — have influenced the development of hockey over time.

The Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, created in 1914, initially resisted popular pressure to allow pay-to-play leagues to emerge. But as players opted for independent leagues that paid them, the CAHA loosened its regulations and accommodated a degree of professionalism while at the same time overseeing the development of hockey in the country.

This shift opened the market to hockey boosters and entrepreneurs, some of whom owned rinks and needed to have an attractive product in order to entice customers.

Money-making activity was fast and furious. Leagues came (the National Hockey League started in 1917) and went (the professional National Hockey Association lasted from 1909-18).

Rivalry between leagues

In his account of the emergence of the NHL, academic John Wong says separate camps jockeyed for position and profit as commercial hockey gained public interest. This is no different than the interplay — or as some note, the business rivalry — between the CWHL and NWHL that has unfolded since 2015, when the U.S.-based NWHL formed.

Women’s hockey also attracted economic interests during the early part of the 20th century. In his review of American women’s hockey in the First World War era, Andrew Holmannotes that sports entrepreneurs sought new ways to sell the game, and as a result, women’s hockey was positioned as a commercial venture. The key point Holman makes about this historic time, though, is the rise and fall of the women’s game, including its professional form. It is important to note the CWHL story has happened before.

In his examination of hockey capital and the sports industry, historian Andrew Ross notes the complex men’s professional hockey landscape has included single-ownership leagues. He points out the NHL was once an unincorporated, non-profit organization.

Not a new model

The key lesson, then, is to recognize the CWHL model was not new and that this approach, as well as others, has existed and failed in the past. More importantly, these models, and the individuals that spearheaded them, pave the way for new and viable professional women’s hockey approaches to emerge.

Which brings us to the next phase of the story.

In my work on the global development of women’s hockey, I note there is no one “best” model, and that each country must develop at its own pace through a method that best suits its unique hockey system. The same is true for a professional women’s hockey league.

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However, the CWHL’s shutdown created a vacuum. Just over 48 hours after the CWHL released news of its decision to close, the NWHL’s board announced an investment plan to establish two teams in Canada, and that it received a financial sponsor commitment from the NHL. And so, in a similar fashion to how the NHL and World Hockey Association, a rival men’s professional hockey league that existed from 1972-79, merged, one league shuts down while the others acquires some of its franchises and moves on as the lone commercial player in the female game.

Looking back to 2015 when the NWHL was formed, it’s interesting to reflect upon the CWHL’s response. The CWHL commissioner at the time, Brenda Andress, commented that the NWHL model was wrong and “that for us, it’s about sound operational and financial foundations first because we want to ensure the viability of the long term.”

During its 12 years of operation, the CWHL took this approach and in so doing, shaped the professional women’s hockey landscape. It’s now time for the next stage.