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Hockey and social justice

Hockey and social justice

Aaron Lakoff is a long-time community organizer, an independent journalist, and a hockey fan based in Montreal. Scott Neigh interviews Lakoff about Changing On The Fly, his new podcast that explores the intersections between hockey and social justice.

Think, for a moment, about hockey. Maybe what springs to mind is early morning practices, the sound of blades on ice, or the feel of taking the perfect slapshot from the point. Or maybe it's watching with friends and a beer, competitive joking with colleagues during a tight playoff series, and "he shoots, he scores." For a lot of people, though – whether fans of the game or not – other less savoury associations come to mind as well: reactionary rants from Don Cherry, for instance, or toxic masculinity in the change room and in 'fan' spaces. And one thing that probably does not come to mind is "social justice."

When Lakoff was a kid growing up in Toronto, he fit a particular Canadian stereotype – he almost literally could skate before he could walk, he played rec hockey, and he cheered avidly for the Toronto Maple Leafs (a loyalty he has, as a Montrealer, since disavowed). As a teen in the 1990s, however, he became politicized via involvement in organizing against the far right via the group Anti Racist Action, with its combination of street militance and radical youth culture, and he was swept up in the political ferment of the resistance to the Mike Harris Conservative government in Ontario. At that stage of his life, he saw these two things in which he was passionately invested – sports and radical activism – as being "diametrically opposed." And because of that, gradually, his involvement in hockey faded away.

In the last number of years, though, that has begun to change. Thanks to encounters and then sustained engagement with the work of some sports activists and sports journalists, he began to realize there is nothing mutually exclusive about liking sports and being involved in activism and organizing. And not only does that mean that these days he is cheering loudly for the Habs and playing rec hockey again, but it also led him to begin work on Changing On The Fly.

The overall goal of the podcast is to use interviews with athletes, fans, activists, and scholars to explore questions of social justice as they relate to hockey and also to use sports as a lens to think through issues of social justice in the broader society. For instance, the first episode is called "The Game We Love, On Stolen Land", and it explores the complicated relationship between settler colonialism and hockey. And the second episode does a deep dive into questions of race and racism in hockey, including hearing about the little-known history of how the Coloured Hockey League in 19th century Nova Scotia made pivotal contributions to the development of the game.

Lakoff believes that sports have vast potential as sites for social justice organizing – something that progressives and radicals in North America have largely ignored – and he hopes that the conversations catalyzed by Changing On The Fly can be one small part of efforts to shift hockey culture and sports culture more generally towards reflecting values of justice and liberation.

Image: The image modified for use in this post is used with permission of Aaron Lakoff.

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Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada, giving you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow them on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact scottneigh@talkingradical.ca to join our weekly email update list.

Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.

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