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A Call for Courage

November 16, 2021, 3:05 PM ET [2 Comments]
Paul Stewart
Blogger •Former NHL Referee • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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Watching the Movie A Few Good Men the other evening, I made a decision that I agreed with Kevin Pollak who plays the role of Lt. Sam Weinberg, co council to Tom Cruise's role as the defense attorney, Dan Kaffee. Demi Moore who plays Lt. Joe Galloway asked LT. Sam Weinberg why he hated the two Marines who were on trial for performing a "Code Red" which is a hazing in Marine terms,0 on Pvt. William Santiago.

"Because they beat up on a kid who couldn't run as fast... They singled him out and beat up on a kid who wasn't as tough as they were."

Watching Santiago sitting alone on the mess hall, getting screamed at when he stumbled on a long run, I felt what he felt having been an outsider more than once in my life.

When I was a player in the NAHL's franchise, Binghamton, one day long ago, "a few good men on the Duster team grabbed me after practice, taped me to the trainers bench and gave me "The Shave."

I was in my union suit -- long underwear, the kind that buttoned down the front with a button drop seat. These were standard under-the-uniform wear for players back in those dark ages.

Needless to say, I was caught off guard. I was overwhelmed as 4-5 teammates ripped off my long John's and left me bare-assed naked. Then, the ringleader wielded an electric shearer to shave off the hair down there along with one eye brow and my then-long, flowing head of hair. But only half of it.

They greased me up with a combination of Vaseline and Atomic Balm liniment; HOT stuff. Then the table was brought out to the vacant arena where a sock was stuffed in my mouth. Then I was left by myself at center ice. Everyone left.

I still can still see the cleaning women sweeping the stands, looking down at me, pointing and having a great chuckle. The Maine Nordiques were coming out for the morning skate. The table I was on was likely taking up too much room on the ice. John Cunniff, the Maine coach, got some scissors and cut me loose.

I scrambled into the locker room while my teammates all had a good laugh. Then each one approached me, shook my hand and welcomed me officially to the ranks as a peer; I was now a pro in their eyes.

Being honest here: I hated what they did to me. But afterwards, I felt happy. I was now one of the guys. I was accepted, and part of the group. I was no longer just that kid from Groton and Penn that had a bunch of fights. From then on, I was treated differently. Had a nickname. Unlike with my previous team, I didn't get cold looks that silently said "You're an outsider."

Some may think that this custom was a horrible act of hazing. Well, in the context of today's society, it was. Back then, the "Shave" was part of the welcome aboard that I had not seen on my prior team. That prior team's treatment of me was more hurtful than losing the eyebrow that I sacrificed.

This all took place two weeks after I had left the University of Penn where I was not accepted as a teammate by the team that played there in 1975-1976. So I could relate personally to a Few Good Men.

Santiago sat alone in the mess hall shunned by his platoon and barracks mates. I knew the look he showed and I definitely knew how he felt. The "Shave" may have been embarrassing but the pain of being shunned and ignored was a hurt that I have never forgotten.

I like the characters LT Sam Weinberg and LT Dan Kaffee because they stood up to the real problem, the leadership displayed by Colonel Nathan Jessup played by Jack Nicholson or should I say the lack of leadership. They saved the Marines who performed the "Code Red" and beat up on Santiago to get at the real problem, The leadership of that command.

What I really understood in the movie was that the real reason to have Marines is that Marines are supposed to protect those that can't fight or defend themselves. Those nameless folks that may be fat, can't run, wear glasses, are nerdy, gay or have acne need someone to step up for them when they are picked on or discriminated against.. Hell, they even be draft picks who as youngsters have a dream to make it to the Bigs and that dream and that desire is then used to exploit them for devious and sinful ways. I'm no Holy Roller but exploiting a dream for sexual gratification is beyond belief.

That others came to know about it and took no action, despicable. Like Colonel Jessup said, "We can't handle the truth" so the "Leadership" protects themselves and their shallow goals by lying to us by saying and doing nothing.

Now we have hazing on a high school hockey team in Danvers MA. We have hazing and really what we should call it, persecution, at College Fraternities and at Clubs where groups form up and then gang up on those that can't defend themselves because they want to join the group. They sacrifice dignity because they are blackmailed into it.

I know of a boy who was recruited from his JR Hockey team to the High School Team. When asked, I advised him not to go because the team was set and that they wouldn't roll out the red carpet as he was not going to fit in on a team that had played together for 4 years even though they could have used his skills.

They wouldn't make space for him in the dressing room at practice. He dressed in the ref room by himself.

Then with two weeks left and before Senior night, the coach called him in and told him that he should concentrate on school and he cut him from the team. The Coach really didn't know what to say into a microphone in front of everyone in that rink on Senior Night. That boy and his parents knew that the coach had nothing he could say after his despicable lack of leadership.

That bastard was the real cause of the problem. He had no leadership, no balls and he was a bully. He beat up on a kid. He let the team beat him up for him. I hate him for that.

I have a friend who is a priest. We used to do the CYO Athletics for the Diocese of Boston together. He baptized my boys. I asked him when all of the horrors came out about the priests who had molested all of those children, who could I trust? Who do I allow my two boys to see as their spiritual councilor in the hopes that they were not being molested and scarred for life?
His answer was both poignant and timely. " I don't know, it's a real mess that has to be sorted out with strong leadership at the helm."

As we all know, that Cardinal, his name was Law, was taken from Boston and the his day in court, hidden at The Vatican with all of the horrors stories being placated by The Church's check book. Leadership ducked and hid.

OK, we know these stories but what are the solutions?

We have tests to license drivers, gun owners, automobile owners. Why don't we mandate at every level that all coaches, clergy and teachers, anyone in a position of responsibility over children or teams must be background checked thoroughly. The truth will out. Perhaps not 100% of the time but closer to 99% than we get now.

We aren't Witch Hunting people in groups or those that are excluded from groups. We are seeking to see if we have a "bad apple" that needs culling.

We can't pick on minorities, those that are different, the homeless, the sick, the alcoholics and drug users. We need to embrace all people in a fair way and give them a shot at their dreams. After all, at one time they were someone's kid.

I know what it is to be a minority. I was an American Preppy Hockey player, an American who dared to become a Pro when Canadians didn't want us in "their" game. This is not an indictment against all Canadians. It is for those who waved the Maple Leaf and crapped on Americans as we elbowed our way into "their" game.

I recall going thru Customs entering Quebec when I was a Nordique. The agent stood there mouthing the names, Lacroix, LeDuc, Dionne, Tardiff, Stewart... STEWART???!! I thought all the
Nordiques were French Canadian !"

My response was quick and to the point I wanted to make against this snide, ethnocentric comment of his. "Well, not the tough ones. They had to go to Boston to get a tough guy."

We have real problems, serious problems. We need serious people to solve these problems. We need to find leadership that has the courage to know to do the right thing is the only thing.
We could defeat Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo...surely we are smart and tough enough to beat those that try to bully their way across ours and our children's lives.

As Klaktu said in The Day The Earth Stood Still, "Your decision is critical. We will be watching."

**********

A 2018 inductee into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, Paul Stewart holds the distinction of being the first U.S.-born citizen to make it to the NHL as both a player and referee. On March 15, 2003, he became the first American-born referee to officiate in 1,000 NHL games.

Visit Paul's official websites, YaWannaGo.com and Officiating by Stewart
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