Acts of contrition can be powerful and persuasive. When you are contrite, it shows that you have learned from your mistakes, are ashamed of what you have done, and are embarrassed about what you have or have not done. It is an admission of guilt, but it is also a request for forgiveness.
But contrition is only effective if you are totally transparent and totally honest. If there’s nothing in the background that will override all of your seemingly heartfelt thoughts and prayers, all of your open letters to Canadians about how you can and will do better in the future.
This is the path taken by Hockey Canada after its executive appeared before MPs on the Heritage Committee last month. Committee members wanted to know who knew what and when, how and why Canada’s hockey umbrella organization secretly paid a woman who alleged she was sexually assaulted by eight players from Canada’s 2018 National Junior Team after a gala in London , Ontario.
Questioned by MPs, Hockey Canada officials admitted they didn’t know many details. They didn’t know which eight players were involved. They did not know how much money the woman was paid.
Hockey Canada conceded it needed to do better. So he did what so many organizations do when they’re in crisis mode. He published an “open letter to Canadians” admitting their failings and outlining how they would improve, including an internal third-party investigation. In short, they were contrite.
What they weren’t was direct and honest. While grilled by MPs, hockey executives never bothered to mention the secret multimillion-dollar slush fund that was used to settle “one or two” sexual assault cases involving hockey players every year. The use of the fund to settle sexual assault cases was halted on Wednesday, just over 24 hours after it was revealed by The Globe and Mail.
The money came from registration fees paid by players or parents. That means the couple who hopes their daughter makes the Olympic team, or the single mom who worked overtime to get her sons to play house league hockey, has paid Hockey Canada’s secret fund to bury her incidents of sexual abuse.
Whatever modicum of goodwill Hockey Canada gained by launching a third-party investigation, its promises to MPs to do better or the ubiquitous “open letter to Canadians” was forgotten in the wake of the new revelations, and coming up: The Heritage Committee is considering calling back the organization’s leaders for another grill. It will only add fuel to the fire.
If the organization’s leaders and board were worried about the London incident, they should be doubly worried about the latest revelations. They have already had their federal funding suspended, and corporate sponsors that underwrite the organization’s tournaments and operations have withdrawn or suspended financial support.
Hockey Canada is like a public trust. It is the organization that represents the country that gave the game to the world. It should be the organization that shapes the culture of hockey and sets the standards for the sport.
Instead, it’s yet another example of how the culture of hockey – at all levels and in all leagues – is stuck in a long-gone, completely unmourned past. And if the current management team can’t bring the organization that represents hockey in this country into the 21st century, it’s high time a new team took over and could do the job.