One of the most famous locker-room stories in modern sports happened in 2013 when NHL player Joe Thornton said – for all to hear – that if he ever scored four goals in a single game, he’d skate naked in front of everyone in the arena.
This description is the sanitized version and the comment was reported by the late-Vancouver sports reporter Jason Botchford – prompting a storm of criticism that the journalist had violated the sanctity of the locker room.
It was a very public example of how hockey players – and athletes in general – view their sacred den of privacy.
“What goes on in the locker room, stays in the locker room,” as the saying goes.
This code has been used to boost team spirits, but it’s also been co-opted to cover up abuse by pledging athletes to a code of silence, no matter how bad the behaviour.
Instantaneous technology – or particularly social media - is now disrupting the sports world’s code of silence.
Hockey has been rocked by scandals, including Hockey Canada standing accused of not taking sexual assault accusations seriously enough.
Hockey Canada released a report Friday detailing more than 900 documented or alleged incidents of on-ice discrimination – verbal taunts, insults and intimidation – across all levels and age groups during the 2021-22 season. The organization said, however, the information in the report doesn’t reflect off-ice incidents of maltreatment, sexual violence or abuse, which starting this season will be handled by the federal government’s Office of the Sport Integrity Commissioner or a new independent third-party complaint process.
Social media has given victims and others a voice for demanding wide-scale changes.
NHL player Ian Cole was accused by a woman on Twitter of “grooming” – he was suspended and then reinstated after an NHL probe.
But it’s not just incidents and allegations hitting the big leagues.
In West Kelowna, a minor hockey organization has been dealing with allegations of disturbing hazing and cyberbullying. Kelowna RCMP’s Vulnerable Persons Section is now investigating a series of alleged incidents that include social media posts and group texts targeting a U15 player as part of a larger pattern of harassment.
In a different case, social media is at the centre of an egregious violation of locker-room privacy. Now the fate of a teenage hockey player is in the hands of a Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey Association disciplinary committee after inappropriate locker-room photos of undressed teammates were posted to social media.
Black Press Media has chosen not to identify the specific team to protect the identities of the youth involved.
According to a source that Black Press Media has also decided not to name, the photos were taken during an away game in October, by a player who was benched due to a prior game suspension. The images were shared in a Snapchat group chat.
Brad Scott, vice-president of administration with the local hockey association, did not dispute details when asked for comment by Black Press Media.
“What I can tell you is that we were made aware of a situation on the date that you’re referring to, and we took the required steps to deal with it immediately,” Scott said. The children involved and their famillies have decided not to pursue the matter further, and charges have not been approved at this time.
Scott added that the association does have protocols in place to prevent situations like this from happening. That association says it is looking to implement mandatory social media safety education and training program for parents and athletes alike.
This is just one example in what has become a prevalent number of incidents where children share inappropriate photos and videos on social media.
It begs the question of who – aside from parents – should be teaching children about social media and privacy ethics? Should coaches, club leaders and school teachers also be responsible for educating kids about this in a way that goes beyond simply saying that sharing inappropriate images is bad?
Children participate in so many different activities, from school to sports to the performing arts, and in all those spaces there is an expectation of privacy and good social conduct.
Not everyone who leads children is an expert in social media, but with some training and effort they can be part of the solution.
That’s according to MediaSmarts, a non-profit group that has been contracted by provincial and federal departments to advise on digital literacy issues.
MediaSmarts director of education Matthew Johnson said in a phone interview that any organization that guides children, whether it’s schools, performing arts group or sports teams, should be addressing privacy ethics.
“They absolutely should be teaching children about this,” Johnson said. “We all have a responsibility to teach youth about privacy ethics.”
Johnson says “everybody has a camera in their pocket” and the issue of how images are used must be addressed as a collective effort.
Sports teams are an interesting case, Johnson said, because of the “strong subculture” that develops within that team dynamic. Sometimes that subculture becomes more powerful than even what parents are telling them, Johnson said, with coaches sometimes carrying more weight than mom and dad.
Teams need to be vigilant in sharing a message of respecting others, he said, so they “don’t fall prey to moral disengagement.”
MediaSmarts research has looked at, for example, the issue of sexts sent between boys and girls. Boys are more likely to think it’s acceptable to share the sexts with others, Johnson says.
Efforts need to be made with consistent messaging so this behaviour isn’t normalized, he said. The key is letting boys know that their peers think it’s wrong.
“If they think that their peers think it’s wrong, then they’re more likely not to do it,” Johnson said.
But organizations need to do more than simply say something is wrong, Johnson said. MediaSmarts offers a variety of information and tools for people to use in teaching about digital literacy on a consistent basis and is a good place for organizations to start.
BC Hockey CEO Cameron Hope says his organization, which handles more than 60,000 minor and amateur hockey league players - including the Ridge Meadows Minor Hockey Association - has detailed policies and protocols in place for locker room privacy and the use of social media. For example, the use of phones in locker rooms is prohibited.
BC Hockey also has educational modules detailing appropriate conduct that have been created through a partnership with Sheldon Kennedy, a former-NHL player and survivor of sexual abuse by a coach, Hope said.
All of these policies and materials are then distributed to all the individual hockey associations, with age-appropriate instructions on how they are to be delivered to each player, Hope said.
Coaches are a vital part of delivering messages about their behaviour but, unfortunately, not every player listens, Hope said.
“The hope is that common sense prevails,” but Hope adds that this isn’t always the case.
BC Hockey receives dozens and dozens of complaints each year, according to Hope, ranging from kids calling each other nasty names to the sharing of inappropriate images.
To deal with these complaints, Hope said BC Hockey has a multi-level approach called a “maltreatment tracking system” that documents each case to ensure they are investigated and taken seriously. BC Hockey also formed a new committee just to monitor complaints as they progress through the system. This tracking system, said Hope, is being used for the Maple Ridge locker-room incident.
“You have to have an infrastructure in place so people feel comfortable (reporting incidents),” Hope said.
Ultimately, it’s the local associations that investigate and communicate with parents, Hope said.
A source who contacted Black Press Media about the Maple Ridge incident was concerned the case was not being dealt with quickly enough.
The team’s players were told right after the incident, and then there was a mandatory meeting for parents. But according to the source, only about half to three-quarters of the parents attended.
Parents have since been told, in a letter from the association to parents that was obtained by Black Press Media, that the parents of the children who were victimized didn’t want to pursue the matter any further.
Students spend six to eight hours, fives days a week, at school – and when sleep is factored in that leaves young people in the hands of teachers more hours in a day than parents.
In 2013, B.C.’s education ministry launched the ERASE Student Advisory, which brings students together to help create social media guidelines for inside and outside of the classroom.
Such guidelines include students today being asked to sign media consent forms at the start of the school year. The guide also encourages teachers to address social media use in the classroom by outlining “their specific rules.”
But does that place an unfair burden on teachers?
Not so, says BC Teachers’ Federation president Clint Johnston, who told Black Press Media the union is supportive of teachers playing a major role in teaching privacy ethics.
In fact, the union has been working with the ministry on a draft section dealing with internet safety. That section will then upgrade a health education course to include issues such as catfishing and the sharing of inappropriate images online.
Students need more education on the legalities involved with sharing private information on social media, he said.
“That is a piece being put into place (for the future),” Johnston said. “We’re certainly supportive of (this being taught). That’s how you ensure every student receives it.”
Then, other teachers add to that course by continuing conversations in all classrooms to reinforce the same information.
The efforts described above are all about prevention. Sadly, for some the damage done can lead to tragic ends.
Perhaps the most famous cyberbullying case in Canada ended with the death of Coquitlam’s Amanda Todd after she was sextored by a man online. The man who tortured her was recently convicted in a B.C. court.
In 2013, 17-year-old Nova Scotia resident Rehtaeh Parsons, who was allegedly raped and then bullied over shared photos of the assault, also ended her own life.
Earlier this year, a Vancouver mom came forward to describe how her 12-year-old daughter received explicit images over Instagram, causing extreme emotional damage.
The list of incidents goes on and on.
In Canada, it is illegal for a person to distribute an intimate image of another person without that person’s consent.
The Canadian Centre for Child Protection created Cybertip.ca to provide programs and resources to help prevent online child victimization, including information on the legal aspects of posting intimate images.
If someone has an intimate image/video that was created in private circumstances, and that person knowingly posts it online or shares it with someone else, knowing that those in the image would not consent to it, the person could be charged.
Items posted in private sites can easily be reposted elsewhere and are difficult to remove from the internet.
In the Maple Ridge incident, families were warned to delete the images of the undressed teammates, but it’s unknown if that actually took place with every player on the team who received them - leaving the victims possibly vulnerable in the future.
- With additional reporting by Colleen Flanagan, Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News & Gary Barnes, Kelowna Capital News, and the Canadian Press