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C'mon guys, play fair

So we're back at it. Or really, not at it. At least not playing the sport we love. Not right now.

Our State has just issued a three week pause in an attempt to get our escalating Covid-19 cases under control. Covid-19 is now the third leading cause of death in our state (with another 1,711 dead in the last month). The World Health Organization recommends areas go to their highest level of alert/protection when their positivity numbers are over 5%. Michigan's all-time rate is 5.06% but our rate over the last month is 8.63% - not a good trend.

And the State's order clearly states "..gatherings are skating rinks."

Immediately Michigan Amateur Hockey Association (MAHA) Directors, Hockey Associations, and coaches were hit with requests for definition, explanation and translation. MAHA even compose their own interpretation that they released today.

I'm not sure why "gatherings are skating rinks" requires translation.

I guess because I'm writing about hockey. This is a sport who's National Governing body is USA Hockey (USAH). And USAH's President, Jim Smith, is currently under investigation by SafeSport for his time as a leader in Illinois. It appears he, and others, did nothing about a coach known for his sexual predation. (see Katie Strang's podcast here; Read Topher Scott's article from today and his podcast with his father and Katie today here). Not just to skewer Jim. No one else did anything (for 30+ years) even though it appears the coach's behavior was an "open secret." And this is our National governing body.

Why is this related to what's happening with this three week pause? Because our current power coaches in powerful programs are already ignoring MAHA. At the same time that MAHA was putting out their interpretation, Tier 1 programs purchased ice in Ohio (positivity rate 8.9%) and assured their teams they would still travel to tournaments in Nashville (positivity rate 11.91%) and Pittsburgh (rate 16.99%). MAHA volunteers and USAH representatives are on the benches of nationally bound teams attending these events. And parents will say nothing. The parents said nothing in the Illinois situation too. As Topher writes, "The coach wasn’t allowed in the locker room because of his rumored history of child sex abuse; yet parents felt pressure to play for him so their kids had a chance of achieving the next level of hockey." Just like parents in Michigan once knew of a girls' coach that you "didn't want your daughter to get a ride home from." Until one family went to the police and it all blew wide open. But it had been an "open secret" for years. Years he spent as an influential, powerful coach in Tier 1 programs.

It is very, very hard for a whistleblower to feel comfortable "tattling" against programs that appear to direct your child's future. That's why, last spring, there were families driving their 12 yr olds to Ohio in the hopes that they would make a Tier 1 team. That's why it's disingenuous for MAHA to ask for whistleblowers to come forward now. It's an uneven balance of power. Tier 1 programs have a lot of resources and are desperate to retain, or even grow them - taking any advantage including offering ice (in illegally opened rinks) to players on teams that are complying with the rules. In normal times this would be tampering. But ignoring the rules are just a means to a strong financial end for a powerful program.

Other Associations, that are complying with the pause, are taking the hit. Their kids aren't skating and they're watching as privileged peers ignore the rules, or at the very least bend them, and keep right on going. No sanction. No penalty. The lessons are fairly clear. If you're powerful you won't be challenged. Parents have been quiet for decades about far more serious charges than illegal skating. But the premise is the same. They keep their mouths shut based on the advantages paying these programs appear to give. Payment for access. Payment for perception. Payment for powerful coaches.

That's really the rub. In the midst of deep grief the community has to witness these disparities. Why can't we just address our grief? Because under the anger and frustration what I hear is unparalleled anxiety. Deep chasms of grief. At everything. The disruptions. The changes. Asking each of us over and over to make on the fly decisions about our values. Asking us to do so publicly. Asking us to take stands against powerful programs. While never giving a chance to grieve so much loss. Loss of family, loss of colleagues, loss of things we loved to do, loss of time.

For those of you that are complying with the pause - you're my new heroes. And for those of you sitting on the fence, afraid to be the one voice on your team to say "I'm not going" or "I won't skate tonight," I hear your grief. I encourage you to be bold. I encourage you to find others who are not scared of the powerful programs. Those of us who realize the "all powerful Oz's" of the world may just be humans with lots of light and makeup. And their own agendas. Caveat emptor - buyer (yes, parents you are buyers) beware.

And since some of you will, no doubt, say "but you're not a parent" I'll share with you a few ideas from wise parents I've talked to. Wise parents who are complying and offer these tips:

  • tally up your savings in gas for road trips and donate it to the staff at your local rink. Send them thank you notes. Write your legislature asking for financial bridges for businesses hit hard by these conditions. Rinks that comply are being hit hard. But hockey is a small enough market that your legislatures may not realize the impact. Tell them. Make it about all the businesses that are closed right now. Our community members need our support.

  • ask your child to express their disappointment about the pause - help them write it out, say it out loud, receive a hug (or sticker or high five) - validate that they are right to hope and that you agree these are, indeed, deep losses. Segue the conversation about other losses. Because loss is one of the big scary realities in life. And it's okay that kids know we're scared too. Hold hands. Whistle at the dark. Do it together. It helps.

  • make sure your child knows they are loved. Right now. Not as part of a team. Not as an aspiring star. They are loved for nothing more than being your child. You may not realize how much they skate for you, your attention, your love. Force yourself to say it out loud. Make sure they hear from you that you'd love them anyways, all ways. Hockey or no hockey.

  • help your hockey player burn off their adrenaline - take your child for a walk, swack a tennis ball, hit a golf ball, punch a punching bag. Anything to help them burn off the adrenaline that anxiety, depression and anger generate. Build muscles. Do yoga. Remind them that all of these strengths help them when they can get back on the ice.

  • help your child keep perspective. The pause is 3 weeks. But it is only three weeks. We can do this. We can help our communities get these numbers under control. We can make sacrifices for others as generations before us have done.

  • volunteer - for anything. Can someone help a classmate with a tough topic in virtual school? Does a family you know need food? or a tank of gas? or just a listening ear? Does your community need a young person to deliver meals? to help take out trash? to rake leaves? Use this time to help each other. When we're grieving it's so very hard to hold out a hand to help someone else. But helping each other really does help us too. It puts purpose back into our lives. It builds up a community, rather than selfishly using your privilege to tear it down.

  • and if you are strongly spiritual, consider Rabbi Sacks answer to Why does God let bad things happen to good people?

"God does not want us to understand," Sacks said. "Because if we ever understood, we would be forced to accept that bad things happen to good people, and God does not want us to accept those bad things. He wants us not to understand, so that we will fight against the bad and the injustices of this world, and that is why there is no answer to that question. God has arranged that we shall never have an answer to it." (on the podcast From The Inside Out)


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