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London Knights’ Tommy Hughes (14) collides with Shawinigan Cataractes’ Pierre-Olivier Morin (60) during the second period of their Memorial Cup final game in Shawinigan, Quebec, on May 27, 2012. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)
London Knights’ Tommy Hughes (14) collides with Shawinigan Cataractes’ Pierre-Olivier Morin (60) during the second period of their Memorial Cup final game in Shawinigan, Quebec, on May 27, 2012. (MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS)

Globe Editorial

A overdue discussion about how we treat junior hockey players Add to ...

They leave home as teenagers, putting school on the backburner to chase dreams of a professional career the vast majority of them won’t achieve. They endure risk of brain injuries and other tolls on their bodies, while placing trust in coaches who – on occasion – have been known to exploit them. They are not paid, though the teams they play for make considerable profits, and they can be forced abruptly to move from one community to another.

If any hockey players badly need representation, it is not the ones making millions of dollars to play in the NHL; it is the youths playing in junior leagues across Canada. It is welcome that members of the hockey world are talking about providing them with it.

Realistically, it may be some time before attempts to form a Canadian Hockey League players’ association – which came to light through a flurry of media attention this week – take shape in a serious manner. It is not even clear who is behind the current effort; apart from a spokesperson named David Clarke, the only person publicly associated with it is former NHL enforcer Georges Laracque, who would reportedly serve as its first executive director. Nor have details been provided on what form the union would take.

At the least, however, the fledgling CHLPA has been forcing discussions that are overdue. Mr. Clarke has proposed, for instance, that teams be required to set aside more money for players’ educations, and to allow more flexibility regarding how it is used after their junior hockey careers are over. Mr. Laraque has also spoken about providing more of a support system to help players deal with the pressures they face. Presumably, that would help identify more quickly the very rare abuses of the sort inflicted by Graham James, and the more minor forms of inappropriate behaviour by coaches.

Although junior hockey executives have reacted with skepticism and a degree of indignation to the CHLPA’s sudden emergence, there is little justification for opposing such efforts. No suggestion is being made that junior players be salaried, or that teams otherwise dramatically overhaul their business models – only that coaches be held more to account for how they treat the teenagers under their watch, and whether they show due concern for their futures. If that is too much to ask, then there are questions to be raised about why parents would send their kids to play for them at all.

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