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Tara Sullivan

Danvers case is another painful reminder that the culture of sports needs to change

The Holten Richmond Middle School in Danvers, where racist, homophobic, and antisemitic graffiti was allegedly discovered in a student bathroom.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

There’s a problem in Danvers, but it’s not just a Danvers problem.

There’s a problem in hockey, but it’s not just a hockey problem.

While the recent Globe investigation into the corrupted culture inside one town’s high school hockey program deservedly put that place and that team under scrutiny, the sad truth is that the outrage should not be limited to just one town or just one sport.

But let’s start there. From the top-down coverups and lack of transparency by those in charge to the bottom-up acceptance and tacit approval of those on the ground, what happened, and continues to happen, in Danvers is infuriating. Once again, sports is in the crosshairs, this time placing hockey at an ugly intersection of bullying and hazing, with older players forcing younger ones to perform racist and homophobic acts or risk being physically assaulted if they refused.


That there are those who would defend such antics as nothing more than typical locker room behavior, or those that would brush them aside for fear of sullying a town’s reputation or damaging a local team’s playoff hopes only erodes our trust even more. Those who truly love hockey — those who truly understand the power of sports as a lifelong teaching tool for lessons in teamwork, hard work, and accountability — they know hazing has no place in that world.

“This has nothing to do with the sport of ice hockey,” said Jack Parker, the retired Boston University men’s hockey coach whose 40-year tenure included three national titles. “That has to do with personal choices by people who have the incorrect moral standing, the incorrect moral dial, the incorrect feeling of what is right and wrong.

“There is no such thing as ‘boys being boys,’ nothing in that that has to do with hockey. That’s to do with being an [expletive]. That has only to do with one word: ignorance.”


If only the collective energy some would use to hide these actions would be used to change the culture instead. That’s the feeling of another area hockey stalwart, Boston College men’s coach Jerry York, who like Parker, is a Hall of Famer and has guided the Eagles to four NCAA crowns. If they both tell you the sport doesn’t need this crap, you should listen.

“When I hear of situations like these, I’m saddened, mostly for the hurt done to individuals, and for hockey and sports in general, which are thought of in a negative way when you read these columns,” York said. “It’s not simply a gymnastics story, or a hockey story or a hockey issue. It’s a much wider issue. Knowing right from wrong and applying it at every level, that’s what we have to do.

“There’s a mantra we have at Boston College: ‘Just do the next right thing.’ I’m in my 70s, but I’ve also been in my 20s, my teenage years, I’ve been there and experienced that. We’ve got to have more leaders, right from the get-go. The parents, teachers, anybody in leadership roles has to step forward.”

The next right thing in Danvers would include believing the victims, in this case the particularly brave student who went to authorities, as well as counseling those who don’t want to identify themselves. It would include holding the perpetrators responsible, even if that means tracking down graduates and at least trying to educate them on why their actions were so wrong. It would include holding the coaches accountable as well, particularly one who reportedly opened a door to a darkened locker room in which something known as “Gay Tuesday” was going on, only to close it with an “I don’t want to know.”


It would include a willingness to face hard truths and a desire to be better, to participate in the ongoing and evolving reckoning across all sports, from the sexual assault of Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kyle Beach by a team-employed video coach to the sexist treatment of Washington Football Team staff to the ugly antisemitic play calls used in Duxbury.

Parker’s BU program made major changes after 2012, including his eventual retirement, when an independent investigation following the arrest of two players found a lack of oversight and a “culture of sexual entitlement” for the hockey players.

The common denominator, it seems, is power. To hold and maintain power over others. To prove and protect power over others. To assert and aim that power at others, all of it as part of some misguided need to preserve a culture that was never worth protection. Power is at the root of bullying and hazing, which though similar can often be like flip sides of the same coin.

As the website stopbullying.gov defines them, “hazing is the use of embarrassing and often dangerous or illegal activities by a group to initiate new members,” whereas bullying “includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally” with the aim of “excluding someone from a group on purpose.”


But in the end, they both end up dividing people across lines of being in or out, being strong or weak, being loyal or disloyal. That very reason is why Zdeno Chara, the longtime respected captain of the Bruins, won’t even tolerate the word “rookie,” never mind allow actions on his team that would target such young players.

I remember during the Bruins’ 2019 run to the Stanley Cup Final asking Chara about mentoring young defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. His answer stayed with me, veering away from the micro look to a big-picture stance.

“If I can help them in any way, I’d love to,” Chara said that day. “Age doesn’t really separate the conversations or the personalities. I’ve been saying that for a long time. We are treating everybody the same way, no matter if somebody is 18 or 40, or somebody has 1,000 games or is playing in their first game. We treat everybody with respect in the same way as everybody else in the locker room.

“I don’t like to use the word ‘rookie.’ They are our teammates. I just don’t like to separate. I don’t think that’s the right thing to do. Once you’re a team, you’re a team regardless of the age or accomplishments. We have to treat each other with respect and the same way.”


Teaching that respect is the aim of a great initiative begun by Rusty Sullivan of The Sports Museum. Boston vs. Bullies is an educational video program that features local Boston athletes taking anti-bullying stances. With the free program aimed at middle school students, the hope is to intervene early enough to avoid later problems.

“It’s the power of the uniform; the whole sort of philosophy behind the program is that kids listen to athletes,” Sullivan said. “Like it or not, they are role models.

“If we can have these athletes speak out against bullying, and we tell kids what they can do when they’re caught up in these situations, being bullied or being a bystander, we can show a menu of things you can do to be a good teammate and stop bullying.”

Here’s hoping the adults will listen, too. In Danvers, to start, but everywhere as well.

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Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at tara.sullivan@globe.com. Follow her @Globe_Tara.