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OPINION: University has mistreated women’s hockey

Too many unanswered questions surround the hazing saga. (Dal Athletics photo)
Too many unanswered questions surround the hazing saga. (Dal Athletics photo)

I spoke with women’s hockey coach Sean Fraser the day before Dalhousie made the decision to suspend most of his team. He wanted more goals for his struggling squad. The next day, everything Fraser and I talked about became pointless. He either had no idea what was about to happen to his team or he was the best actor in Halifax.

The shock will wear off for the coach and his players, but the bitter taste left in their mouths will linger.

What this team has been put through by the university is embarrassing and shameful.  From the start of this season, through no fault of the team, Dal’s women’s hockey program has been a comedy of errors, better resembling a Seinfeld episode than a respected university athletics program.

The nomad Tigers bounced from arena to arena, trying to find a place to call home ever since the university tore down their campus rink in the summer. The team never once complained about playing home games in the Metro Centre, the Forum, or even Alumni Arena located on the Saint Mary’s campus.

They stuck together to get through this mess. In the end, ironically, it was their loyalty that may have resulted in the suspensions of virtually all players. If team members had offered a scapegoat or two, the university likely would not have suspended all non-rookies. But instead, the players stuck together, refusing to let one person take the blame.

To me, this whole hazing situation doesn’t make sense; there are so many questions left unanswered.

Why force the players to sign documents taking away their ability to speak? If the investigation was really finished in November, why announce the decision in early January? Why wasn’t the announcement made before Christmas? The players wouldn’t have had to rush back and play a meaningless exhibition game in late December if they already knew their fate. Perhaps they wanted to give the players as little time as possible to try the appeal process or to arrange other legal actions.

How much did the cost factor of traveling to New Glasgow—which would have been their second semester rink—for home games, putting the team in a hotel and paying for meals affect the school’s decision? A lot of people I spoke with around the AUS women’s hockey scene, including two coaches, feel this is one of the hidden reasons for such a severe punishment. But is saving a few thousand dollars really worth the bad publicity?

Did the university realize what a can of worms this would open up, or did they expect to be applauded by anti-bullying activists and sports psychologists?

Make no mistake, the language used by the university in describing these suspensions was carefully selected. By using the words ‘hazing’ and ‘bullying’ without giving any details as to what happened at the party, the players were easily painted as the villains.

But thanks to the hard work of The Dalhousie Gazette‘s Henry Whitfield, Frances Willick of The Chronicle Herald and others, the story of what really happened is starting to come out. Face paint, Vaseline-covered hair, boxers and blazers. I picture Tom Cruise in Risky Business crossed with Heath Ledger as the Joker. As hard as that image is on the eyes, is that what first comes to mind when you think of hazing and bullying? No.

To be fair, Dal has been placed in a tough position. Hazing and bullying, especially when combined with drinking, is wrong and must be dealt with strictly. But in this specific case, does the punishment really fit the crime? Or was this a way to make an example out of a team to prove that rookie parties should never even be considered in the first place?

Unless the team is able to successfully fight their charges, it doesn’t matter. In the end, the real motive behind the university’s actions doesn’t change anything. What matters is the second half of the season is gone for these hard-working young athletes. What matters is the AUS playing careers of at least Cassie Banfield, Elizabeth Matheson, Miranda McMillan and Sarah McVey has come to a sad and sudden ending.

I would argue that over the course of this season, by not having a rink, by being sworn to secrecy during the investigation and by being thrown into the national spotlight because of this story, the university has put these players through more humiliation, intimidation and personal disrespect than a little Vaseline and face paint ever did.

How hard will it be for the players on this team to wear their university’s colours and logo with pride again? One player already told the Gazette she doesn’t feel comfortable wearing her varsity jacket anymore. How will she feel next season wearing the jersey of a university that took away the team’s rink one year and their season the next?

Jon Pickett is a broadcaster for AUS women’s hockey games in Halifax. He never had to finish writing his winter preview of Dal’s women’s hockey team for the Gazette.


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