When I was hired to run Second City Hockey in August 2014, one of the first things I learned was how splintered the hockey community could be. There were so many divides — old school vs. new school, conservative vs. progressive, etc. — that many hours during those early months were spent trying to manage the comment sections.
It was not easy or fun. I’d spend afternoons arguing with readers who tried to defend language and attitudes that I found inappropriate for the community here. Usually by the end, I’d feel pretty terrible. Explaining to someone why racism, homophobia, or misogyny wasn’t welcomed — as if it needed a damn explanation — was an unexpected part of the gig.
In the rare occasions where we’d actually pull the trigger and outright ban someone from commenting for refusing to comply with our community standards, I usually heard about it. More than once, my bosses at Vox Media received emails with requests asking me to be fired for pushing a so-called “progressive agenda.” If you can’t tell, they always sided with me, support for which I’m very grateful.
None of this is to boastful, though. We lost longtime readers pursuing that goal, which was often as obvious as telling someone not to call an opposing player an “animal” or a “sissy.” I used to be shocked to think that some people so strongly objected to NOT being allowed to use those words, or to not being allowed to attack others’ opinions, or to our writers expressing their own opinions.
Things have improved since then, with far more readers understanding where we came from than deciding to leave. My moderators (who are delightful people!!) and I don’t spend nearly as much time managing unruly commenters as we used to.
But there’s still a palpable divide that exists among hockey fans in their opinions on just about anything and everything beyond their favorite sport, especially when it comes to so-called “progressive issues.” I see it anytime I bring up Patrick Kane’s off-ice history, lest we forget the Blackhawks’ best player was once subject of a criminal sexual assault investigation. He was never charged — and I always bring that up, too — but even mentioning what happened quickly turns any comment section into a bizarro world debate.
This isn’t to rehash those arguments regarding Kane, but to say this divide in how we talk about things isn’t uncommon. When Andrew Shaw was seen on television saying a homophobic slur and we criticized him, some readers disagreed. When we suggested the team’s logo might not represent the ideals the team wants it to, some readers disagreed.
And that’s OK. Your job isn’t to come to this site and willingly nod your head at everything. We’re trying to make you care about the things we care about, and if you don’t, then just read the hockey analysis. We understand that our audience doesn’t want some singular thing, and we try to satisfy as many of those desires as we can. If you think we’re wasting your time, that’s on us to convince you otherwise.
But this is a unique time for our community, in light of the results of the recent presidential election and the current political climate. We’re about to enter an unknown era of American history that has a lot of people deeply scared. The hockey community — often a bastion of conformity for heterosexual white men — desperately needs people in power who won’t tolerate the hatred and disrespect toward minorities that’s already bubbled to the surface. It needs people who will say, “I don’t care who the president is, in this place there’s only room for welcoming and acceptance.”
So that’s what Second City Hockey will strive to be. This is just a hockey website, and we certainly don’t have any grand misconceptions about the difference we’ll be able to make in an increasingly chaotic world. But the casual use of racism, homophobia and misogyny, and the normalization of such behavior, will not be welcomed here. Not that it was before, but now more than ever in my lifetime, it needs to said loudly and proudly.
If you didn’t want to read this on a hockey site, that’s understandable. There will surely be hundreds of posts on here where you’ll never even realize we disagree on things other than Joel Quenneville’s line changes and whether Teuvo Teravainen is overrated.
But there are a lot of voices to be represented in our community, and we’re not going to let the smaller ones get drowned out when it comes to the community or the stories we cover. That’s part of my job just as much as breaking down last night’s game. And while I didn’t wish it was this way, everything I read on social media and watch on the news reiterates that silence isn’t an acceptable position to take.
All of us root for the Blackhawks. Let’s try to come together in some other ways, too.