Monday, November 18, 2013

Now is the time for enlightened discussion


Brian Burke’s recent statement in reaction to the Miami Dolphins' scandal and questions posed to him about hazing and bullying should be taken with a grain of salt.
Certainly, as the leader of an organization -- he is the president of hockey operations with the NHL's Calgary Flames —  it is commendable to make players and staff aware of a "no hazing" policy and address the issue in a proactive fashion. However, unless there are programs and policies in place that educate and make individuals aware of the issues at a deeper level, the effort is futile.
Bullying, abuse and harassment is not only about the overt physical assaults and public humiliation that take place in many hazing rituals, it also is about the invisible psychological trauma that victims suffer from in isolation that needs to be addressed.
We need to look at victims of bullying and abuse as individuals and refrain from painting all athletes or employees with the same brush.
Burke's example of how he would deal with locker-room bullying if it were him ("Now I know as a player, if I felt I was getting bullied, I know what I'd do — I'd end it right there in the dressing room. Whether I wanted to fight or not, I'd fight the guy. I'm amazed that this has gotten to where it is without the players dealing with this.") — is an extremely narrow-minded and unrealistic approach to addressing an issue that has become a major concern in all aspects of society.
Would it be appropriate for an individual working in the front office who was being harassed either physically or emotionally to physically assault a colleague to deal with the situation? Why is it any different in a locker-room setting?
The main issue with bullying, abuse and harassment is that it affects different people in different ways. The suck-it-up-and-punch-him-out approach mentality is simply archaic and short-sighted, and I would expect more from a man of Burke’s experience and knowledge.
I would hope that with the recent attention to the issue of bullying, abuse and harassment in the work place, leaders such as Brian Burke would refrain from taking a defensive approach, grounded in denial and bravado, and seize the opportunity to encourage discussion that is realistic, acceptable and productive.

(Peter Soberlak is a former WHL player who now is the chair of the physical education department at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. He has a bachelor's degree in psychology from UBC and a master's degree in sport and exercise psychology from Queen's University. He works in sports psychology with TRU's athletic teams and with the WHL's Kelowna Rockets.)

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