ou ever fought for your life?

Like, really fought for your life?

In 2005, in a tiny arena in Windsor, Ontario, I fought for my life.

It was the year I’d left my family home in Toronto to go play hockey in the OHL. I was just a raw 16-year-old kid with a big ol’ dream that he’d make it to the show one day. Nothing unusual about me, really. But from the moment I joined the Windsor Spitfires, I had a target on my back. There was this guy on the team — he was the top-prospect, future-NHL-star type that most junior teams in Canada have — and he looked at me, Akim Aliu, and chose to make my life a living hell.

First couple of practices he put Tiger Balm in my jock. Then he took my gear outside and threw it on the roof. And then he began to belittle me in front of my teammates, the coaches, whoever would listen to him. He’d make fun of my clothes, the way I spoke. He was two years older than me and a rising star, and he wielded his power over me like I was nothing — like I was subhuman.

If you’ve heard of me, you’ve heard of the hazing incident that took place that season. Thanks to this guy, that was the way I was introduced to the entire hockey world. I was the kid who wouldn’t go along with it. The kid who didn’t “get” the culture.

I dreamed of my parents reading in the paper back home about their son scoring a hat trick in his first game, or leading his team to the playoffs. Instead they had to hear about my refusal to strip naked and get in a bathroom in the back of the team bus with three other rookies. And, somehow, the whole issue was treated like some sort of discussion. I read headlines like, WAS WHAT HAPPENED TO AKIM ALIU WRONG?