Jake Marchment f*cked up

The Kings prospect did an awful thing and we should talk about it.

Two days ago, screencaps were posted online of two junior hockey players using the popular dating/hook-up/whatever app Tinder to say awful, offensive things to (presumably) young women who wouldn't have sex with them. If you really want to see the screencaps, they can be found here. The person who posted them didn't provide any explanation for how he ended up with them, but Jake Marchment tweeted the following yesterday:

The Kings drafted Jake Marchment in the sixth round this past summer. In fact, it says "Drafted by the L.A. Kings" in Jake Marchment's twitter profile. Although not officially signed, he is a part of the Kings organization and, for better or for worse (for worse, I think), we live in a culture which embraces the myth of athletes as heroes. So we should probably talk about what Jake Marchment did.

Hockey is a church in Canada. I mean that not only in the sense that people place blind faith in far-removed concepts (i.e., the Toronto Maple Leafs winning), but in the sense that hockey is a conduit to community. This is not meant to denigrate other hockey communities, because hockey as a social connecting fibre is true of lots of places. It's just very, very true in a startling proportion of the corners of this particular country. (Which is why it is particularly troubling that the classist - and associated racist - aspects of junior hockey in Canada remain so deeply entrenched, but that is another article for another day.)

There are now 60 teams in the CHL, spread across Canada and the northern United States. CHL teams play in little towns like Swift Current (2012 population of 17,365) to big cities like Vancouver (2012 population of a lot more than 17,365). People who will never see a live NHL game can, for $10-$20 a pop, watch eventual NHL stars in the infancy of their careers. When I was at the draft in Pittsburgh, a woman spotted my jersey and came up to me to tell me that she was from Gatineau and she'd gone to school with Luc Robitaille. He had been so marvellous on the ice but still a very nice young man, she wanted to reassure me.

It was reassuring to hear that he had been nice. Many of them are not nice. I grew up in a CHL town, big enough that there were things to do other than watch hockey, but small enough that it seemed like half the girls I knew in high school had dated a hockey player. What we knew about them wasn't so much a back channel as it was a general rule - hockey players were jerks. There were exceptions to the rule, and some of them were bigger jerks than others, but the rule was still starkly there. We were too young and unaware to label the root problem for what it was: an endemic, flagrant disrespect for women which manifested in a hockey culture of casual misogyny. Sunaya Sapurji, a junior hockey reporter/awesome lady who kicks ass in an industry which is beyond male dominated, wrote about this situation here.

Hockey is a church in Canada, and hockey players are the beneficiaries of that spiritual fervour. They are the lordlings of our small towns and even our medium-sized towns, the cosseted princes. Young men from mostly privileged backgrounds, they are sent away from home as teenagers to spread the hockey gospel, and to learn how they will be worshipped if they ascend to the pinnacle of the sport. They are hosted by billet families in a system which apparently has minimal oversight and they are handed pittances by the for-profit businesses which benefit from their work. Much like the infamous high school football towns of the American South, the players serve as a curious mix of untouchable celebrity, great vicarious hope, and cheap labour.

They are praised for their physicality over all else; they are taught that they are men amongst children. They live lives governed not by loved ones but by teams which excoriate them for their failures on the ice and respond to their failures off of the ice with internal discussion, pro forma apologies, and trades. They are taught, in this way, that their authority figures and the world at large care more about what they accomplish as athletes than how they conduct themselves as human beings. They learn that they are products which are to be admired or to be sent away, not adults who ought to maintain their senses of personal responsibility. They are shining idols on pedestals, instead of young men receiving the parenting they need, and it has made them not nice.

...a rape culture can be created when adults send a signal that athletes are to be held in high esteem, and the athletes absorb the belief that as long as they are loyal to the team, the adults surrounding that team will look away from anything they can do that can hurt it. A rape culture doesn't require a rape to happen. ... It merely is a culture ingrained into sports-playing youth that they get to do whatever they want, to whomever they want, with impunity. Rape culture is one gruesome step beyond jock culture.

Please don't get into #NotAllJuniorHockeyPlayers - it's perfectly normal for people to go through a system and not be completely shaped by it. Adulation affects different people differently, even if it happens to be adulation so forceful that it strips away basic societal requirements of personal culpability. Lots of hockey players are probably good guys. But the culture is there, and Jake Marchment is a product of it. He might grow up and be a good guy who respects women, but right now, he has fucked up, and his apology isn't good enough.

"Accepting full responsibility for [your] actions" means not trying to sneak in disclaimers about the privacy of conversations. It means acknowledging that your shitty actions had a victim - a victim who wasn't your teammate or the crowd who pays to watch you play hockey. It means not simply regretting what you did (be shitty to a woman because you thought she owed you sex), but why you did it (because you don't respect women and you don't understand that nobody owes you sex or will ever owe you sex, not even if you make the NHL).

I do not think that Jake Marchment is an irredeemable monster but I do think that he ought to be a better person. I also think that the Belleville Bulls and the Los Angeles Kings, as partners in promoting the culture which allowed and encouraged Jake Marchment to grow into a 19-year-old man who doesn't respect women, have a responsibility to try to help him to be a better person. Whether that requires individual or team-wide attention, short-term or long-term planning, it's essentially the least they can do. "Sorry" isn't going to cut it, and it never should.