Publication Date

April 2018


Robert Steele




English (United States)


In asking what it means to be a male identifying hockey player, one is also asking an essential question: what does it mean to be a man? The (in)formal education a North American hockey player receives from an early age is purely metaphoric, reliant on the socialization of dominant masculine values confusingly tied up in a web of hockey tradition, playing skills, coach-player relationships, sexual identity, and peer pressure/conforming. This essay will use ethnographic, biographic, media, and film examples to culturally locate the sources and channels that constantly create and rehearse dominant masculine values within the sub-culture of North American male youth hockey while not only acknowledging, but detailing the social and political impacts of the indoctrination of hegemonic masculinity, namely physical and sexual violence. By studying the youth hockey hierarchy under a microscope, it is evident that its structure allows for several toxic power dynamics to be institutionalized. The first chapter explores the ways in which dominant masculine values are transmitted from hyper-masculine coaches to their young, impressionable players, thus catalyzing as well as skewing the boy's gender identity formation towards aggressive and often violent notions of self-identity, hockey player identity, and masculine identity. This is accomplished through two separate, but related aspects of youth hockey: the awesome amount of power that is awarded to coaches to use over their players, and the institutionalized anti-femininity and homophobia of coach's motivation rhetoric coded as hockey lingo. The next section analyses the ways in which the dominant masculine values received from hyper-masculine coaches are taken up and practiced in private all-male spaces like the locker room. The essential forms of expression used to indoctrinate young players into the fold of dominant masculinity are physical violence and homoerotic violence. I define and detail hockey's sacred initiation rituals and their purposes for inculcating aggressive masculinity to the next generation of boys who are used as props to reaffirm the unresolved masculine identities of the superior cohort. I then illustrate another ritualistic aspect of youth hockey, the kangaroo court, in order to provide examples for how homophobia, misogyny, and aggression are surveilled and thus reinforced by the institutionalization of a pseudo-judicial system which polices culturally constructed inappropriate behavior from the locker room out. The last section specifically focuses on the physical and sexual violence perpetrated by hockey players away from the rink. I offer a different viewpoint to the traditionally excepted research that uses hockey player's aggression in their on-ice play as the main explanation for their tendency to be sexually and physically violent off the ice. By offering ethnographic examples as well as documented biographic examples of physical and sexual assault, I point researchers towards the private all-male spaces adjacent to the rink in which deviant behavior is formed and rehearsed in order to prove that while the way that hockey is played as a game is one influence on physical and sexual violence perpetrated by hockey players, there is more going on behind the scenes that needs to be unpacked. I am limited to a strictly heteronormative outlook on sexual abuse. Research in the future needs to find avenues into the private spaces of the locker room as well as find ways to learn about marginalized men's experiences inside of hockey culture. Combining these investigations with research on emotionality and masculinity will provide ample evidence to build a curriculum that USA Hockey can use to teach coaches how to coach their players not just on the skills of hockey, but the skills of productive problem solving techniques in hockey too. Emphasis on changing misogynistic and homophobic hockey rhetoric and motivational tactics is key. This thesis hopefully can provide an ethnographic lens to begin the process of finding empirical data about the ways in which masculinity is really inculcated within the structure of youth hockey in order to thwarts its dangerous aftereffects in the real world.



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