Letter: Junior hockey players toil in ‘unpaid servitude’

Certainly any of the minors and parents indentured into the system dare not complain, without fear of exile and banishment.

To the editor:

As an avid fan of the Kelowna Rockets, I must speak out against the continuing unpaid servitude of teenage players. I do so, knowing that my comments will not likely please my many friends in the sports associated world. But something must be said.

The Rockets are but one team in a league of wonderful, athletically talented young men. Some as young as 16 years of age. Almost nightly they sacrifice their bodies as they play and even fight for our amusement. These are youth in the prime of life, so motivated by hockey dreams of greatness, that they must agree to forgo monetary reward and put aside the structures of family, eduction and non-sport career alternatives; all  basically for “the roar of the crowd” and the hope of future fame and fortune.

While thanks are due to respective management and media for promoting the potential of future NHL careers, it is time they owned up to their complicity in committing a talented group of teenagers to what may be considered as a life of indentured servitude.

On the basis that a select few will obtain the gold ring of the NHL, parents and child are signed on to an existence of military-like direction without even a minimum wage compensation. At a time when stability and exploration of career options outside of sport are deemed maturation essentials by most, these youth are placed on buses commuting from rink to rink to rink. Witness the latest schedule—four games in five nights, half ‘home’ and half away. Are NHL players subject to such an unhealthy regiment? Medically, where is the recovery time for growing bodies?

For those who don’t make the NHL we are told, “there are scholarships.” In reality, how many of those rejected from advancement in the hockey world are actually able to graduate from on-the-bus studies with sufficient grades to take advantage of such scholarships. Of those that do, the true extent of the scholarship amounts only to tuition and book allowance. What of those many displaced in mid-career with injury or ‘failure to make the cut’?

Has there been the fullest of disclosure in the murky world of Junior hockey?  No.

In fairness, we the public have benefited from a first class entertainment product; that much is true. But at what expense? Are we to turn a blind eye to what is actually happening, lest we offend the ‘powers that be’? Certainly any of the minors and parents indentured into the system dare not complain, without fear of exile and banishment. Certainly none of the Don Cherry’s of the world, the media, or the advertisers or others benefiting from the youthful on-ice product are about to rock the boat.

Bottom line: We are really not too far from the days when children were sent down into the coal mines. Oh yes, we do have labour laws, but somehow sports entertainment appears exempt.

Perhaps of greater concern to many is the comfort of the seats and the price of admission; after all, these boys do provide first rate entertainment.

Ian R. Sisett, Kelowna