Wednesday, 6 February 2019

An Ugly Incident

I've held off on writing about the incident that happened on the weekend in the AUS between the St. Francis-Xavier X-Men and the Acadia Axemen due to the fact that all parties involved were reportedly investigating the cause of the incident and the fallout from it. As you may have seen and/or heard, there was a bench-clearing brawl in Canadian university hockey - a major no-no as per the rulebook - and there were definitely going to be repercussions. But because only StFX had spoken out about it previously this week, I wanted to wait until Acadia and the AUS had spoken on it.

Today, Acadia spoke while the AUS handed out punishment based on the video evidence. I now feel like it would be a good time to weigh in on this whole debacle.

First, here's the video from the AUS broadcast.
Ok, so there's a lot happening in that video. Fights, officials trying to keep some sort of control, coaches yelling at one another, goalies getting involved... it's a full-on donnybrook. However, there's a second video online and it shows an entirely different perspective of the melee. PARENTS: THIS VIDEO HAS LANGUAGE NOT INTENDED FOR THE YOUNGER CROWD. VIEWER DISCRETION IS ADVISED.
The comments made, the actions taken, the anger shown? All reprehensible acts when it comes to hockey at any level. I get that St. Francis-Xavier and Acadia have a rivalry, but this entire sequence crossed multiple lines of sanity into insanity that should never be reached.

So what sparked this entire brouhaha?

According to reports out of St. Francis-Xavier, forward Sam Studnicka was a target of a derogatory comment related to a sexual assault survivor. What Studnicka’s connection is to this unnamed sexual assault survivor is unknown at this point, but it's fairly clear that someone from the Axemen knows more than we do.

Studnicka released a statement that read,
"Over the course of my three-year AUS career, I have been challenged in dealing with insulting and derogatory comments on the ice pertaining to the shaming of a sexual assault survivor. It has taken an emotional toll on me, and it has been frustrating that one AUS hockey program in particular has elicited repeated on-ice comments directed towards me.

"Another comment was made during the third period of Saturday night's game, which was addressed by my head coach to the on-ice officials and to the opposing team's head coach. I was completely shocked when, minutes later, I was on the ice and the offending athlete was sent to take the face-off against me.

"There is no place for such comments within our society. Sexual assault is a very serious issue and there is simply no place for shaming sexual assault survivors, ever."
If this is what happened - and I have no reason not to believe Studnicka's statement - whoever was making comments towards Studnicka about this sexual assault survivor situation needs a serious reality check. That's a reprehensible act that cannot and will not be condoned by this writer. There are lines that cannot be crossed, and this is one of them.

That being said, the reaction by the StFX players in coming to their teammate's defence was swift and brutal as the video showed, and Studnicka praised his teammates for their reaction.

"I am proud of the way my teammates stood up for me and for something bigger than hockey," his statement read. "This event shows that more education is still needed on this issue. It is a serious societal issue and we need more awareness and education on all levels so young men are aware of the implications of their words and actions."

The AUS stated on Monday that there would be mandatory suspensions handed out before the investigation into the brawl added any additional penalties to anyone involved. Today, the penalties were handed out, and there are a lot of players who will have this week off from hockey after the AUS went through the suspensions. The list is as follows:
It should be noted that the Axemen had games scheduled for tonight and on Friday to close out the season while the X-Men play a weekend set on Friday and Saturday. With nine players from StFx suspended - nearly half the team's starters! - there will certainly be some discussion as to whether they play the games. That's where things take a bit of an interesting turn because if everything plays out according to plan, there's a good chance that Acadia and StFX could face each other in the first round of the AUS playoffs.

Acadia, after first disputing the "validity of the facts" that StFX had presented, decided to amend their statement today by releasing this statement:
On February 2, an incident occurred during a hockey game between the Acadia University Axemen and St. Francis Xavier University X-Men that is unacceptable. As we indicated in our last communication, we would not make further public comment until Atlantic University Sport rendered its decision on discipline. We accept today's ruling by AUS. At no time does violence in any form have a place in sport or in society in general.

Acadia acknowledges that one of our student-athletes made an inappropriate comment containing a particular word to a StFX student-athlete during the third period of Saturday's game – a play on which a penalty to Acadia was assessed. The Acadia student-athlete admitted and took responsibility immediately after the game and extended an apology. This information was shared with AUS. Acadia disputes that the comment was made deliberately or that it was made with the intent and in the context in which it has been portrayed in mainstream and social media. Acadia's student-athlete looks forward to the opportunity of providing this information to the review of the events currently being conducted by AUS.
Ok, hit the brakes here. If Acadia acknowledges that a student made an "inappropriate comment" and the student admitted this to them, this admission would warrant some sort of punishment not only from the AUS but from Acadia as well, no? Maybe I'm wrong here, but a player's intention in saying this inappropriate comment matters little when one considers the context of what transpired following the utterance of that comment, no?

Acadia's statement continues on, and it does little to protect the institution from less-than-admirable light.
Furthermore, reports that inappropriate comments are an on-going on-ice issue are inaccurate and we feel compelled to set the record straight. Two years ago, StFX brought to Acadia's attention that it believed inappropriate comments were made to a StFX player on the ice. They were dealt with at that time and there have been no such incidents since then. Those earlier incidents occurred before the Acadia student-athlete involved in Saturday's incident joined its hockey program.

Published statements on February 4 by StFX have led to an outpouring of comments and commentary, including personal threats directed to members of the Acadia community, that are a reaction to a narrative that simply is not true. This public dialogue has had a particularly direct negative impact on two student-athletes, one on each campus, and their families, and we appreciate that both institutions are concerned for their well-being and are providing support. At Acadia, our focus at this time is to ensure the safety and well-being of our students and to participate fully in the AUS review underway. We are confident this review will reveal the facts surrounding Saturday evening's incident.

We are acutely aware of the importance of making every effort to eliminate sexual violence and re-victimization of survivors everywhere in our society. We believe our student-athletes, coaches, and every member of the Acadia community have an obligation to act as role models in our communities and this standard was not met on Saturday night.

Acadia and StFX are working together to address the events that have transpired and will be making a joint statement at an appropriate time in the future.
There's a lot to unpack here. According to the first paragraph, Acadia University has had a problem like this before. This doesn't really paint the school in a positive light when one considers that Acadia University has now had two incidents of "inappropriate comments" in a 24-month span.

The next paragraph seems to be victimizing one student and his family from each institution. I'm not sure how Acadia has determined there to be any ill effects towards a student at StFX, but why are they playing both sides here? If they're looking to play the concerned institution when it comes to all involved, perhaps this isn't the right time for both-siding on this incident when it was an Acadia student-athlete who set the events in motion.

The next paragraph that reads "We are acutely aware of the importance of making every effort to eliminate sexual violence and re-victimization of survivors everywhere in our society" seems to indict the student-athlete who admitted that he made the comment, but the school seems to be defending the student-athlete while protecting the image of the institution by giving the whole incident a "hey, he should have known better" feel. Want to make sure he knows better in the future? Stop defending him after he admitted he did wrong! The road to hell is paved with good intentions, so it doesn't matter how he intended to deliver the comment. He doesn't get to decide what Studnicka finds offensive.

The final comment of making a joint statement seems a little hollow when it's fairly clear that StFX has had multiple issues with Acadia student-athletes making inappropriate comments over the last two years. While it's likely the schools will make a joint statement at some point once the AUS has finished its investigation, I don't expect it to be a joint statement filled with respect and adoration of one another.

If, or possibly when, the AUS finds the student-athlete from Acadia to have made an inappropriate comment that led to the melee, the appropriate thing for Acadia to do would be to suspend the player from the team for an extended period of time, if not an entire season or for his career. The fact that this is the second incident in the last 24 months that involved Acadia and StFX would lead me to believe that the sactions that the AUS should levy on Acadia for these indiscretions should be harsh. StFX shouldn't escape punishment either for their part in the brawl, but it's fairly clear from Acadia's statement today that the student is guilty of uttering inappropriate statements and his actions led to the bench-clearing brawl.

If the X-Men and the Axemen meet in the playoffs, it should be made clear that not only will both teams be under extreme scrutiny regarding their actions, but that any indiscretion that even seems suspicious will be punished harshly. The actions of the Acadia student-athlete will not only be not tolerated, but the AUS needs to make it clear that this will never happen again in an Atlantic University Sport game of any kind in the future.

If Acadia University even hesitates in agreeing with the AUS' decisions following the investigation, their inclusion in the AUS season next year should be cancelled.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: