This article was first posted back in 2013 and is now one that get's reprinted every season...it's an important message that every player, parent, billet, coach, and administrator needs to see. Despite COVID, this issue has already been a problem this season.
Alcoholism and the development of high caliber athletics simply do not mix. What is it going to take to get the junior hockey community to stop underage drinking?
This is a difficult time in history; a time where man will sit in a cage of glass and steel, that moves at terrific high speeds, where a sudden turn of the wheel can easily result in numerous last breaths of life.
Any sober driver can accidentally make a slight turn of the steering wheel without thinking. And every night, in every state and province, someone tries to avoid this mistake while drunk. According to the United States Department of Transportation, every two hours, three people are killed in alcohol-related highway accidents. An estimated four million U.S. adults reported driving under the influence of alcohol, yielding an estimated 112 million alcohol-impaired driving episodes. Men accounted for 81% of these incidents.
Of all the major sports, hockey players are not the trouble makers. Football, basketball, and baseball have had more high profile arrests and incidents in the last few years than hockey has had in the previous 24 years. Our boys have been lucky because alcohol abuse within the game has become an epidemic.
The hockey fraternity sees alcohol abuse as no worse than society as a whole. The truth is that alcohol has been ingrained into the culture of the game for so long that many fail to see the extent of the problem.
Junior level players don't realize what's at stake. But that's going to happen with any group of 16 to 20 year olds. A lot of times it's simply a poor decision influenced by team mates. The miracle is the fact that junior hockey has been extremely lucky that more of these poor decisions have not come with catastrophic consequences.
In my opinion, alcohol use at the junior level is much like speeding in a car, 90% do it, but nobody is going to admit to it.
Substance abuse experts say that 10 to 20 percent of the populations have some form of problem with alcohol. An abuser is defined as someone who, during the past year, has experienced one severe consequence of alcohol abuse, such as an arrest or illness.
The key to curbing abuse is education. Those lessons need to come with a cultural change to the game. Junior hockey is supposed to be preparing these young men for the next levels of play, not for the college house party scene.
It is way past time for leagues to implement a zero tolerance policy in regards to underage drinking and substance abuse. Players caught violating the policy should simply be stripped of eligibility for a full year. The second incident should result in a career long ban from the level of play. Any team staff member, volunteer, billet parent, or team owner that knowingly enable players to violate the policy should face a lifetime ban as well.
This is the most effective weapon the game will have in order to change the culture of abuse. Yes, boys will be boys, but they also have to learn to make serious choices. Do they want this game or not?