On the weekend, I was at home with my daughter. She’ll be three years old next week and is just starting to figure out the world she lives in. She’s learned how to spell her name, count to 20 in French, and the lyrics to just about every song Adele has ever recorded. She’s also starting to figure out what she likes and dislikes. She dislikes meat, messy floors and bed time. She likes Peppa Pig, mud puddles, and hockey. She’s come to watch me play, I’ve taken to her to a few junior games, and when she told me the other day “Dad, hockey is my favorite”, my heart became a puddle of goo. I had always looked forward to the day that I could share the sport I grew up playing and admiring with my children and that day is here. But then there are mornings like today. When you wake up, read through Twitter and become completely disenchanted by hockey and the culture within it.
Before this morning, your average hockey fan didn’t know the name Garret Ross. Now they do, and not for a good reason. At this point you should know about the scummy situation involving Ross and the Chicago Blackhawks organization but if no, my wonderful friend Catherine Silverman wrote about it here. Ross was involved in a legal situation months ago involving an ex-girlfriend, the Chicago Blackhawks organization has known about it and continued to let him play until recently pulling him from the lineup for PR purposes. It’s a scumbag move, from a scumbag organization and something that should be getting more press than it has been.
But this is not about Ross, it’s not about the jackasses that should be held accountable for being so overly tone-deaf and insensitive towards the victim of the crime. This is about a problem in hockey and sports in general that this whole terrible situation represents. The NHL, professional hockey, and sports in general has created a culture that is causing this life long super-fan to legitimately question if he’s doing the right thing by exposing his daughter to it.
This past Saturday afternoon I was watching the CIS Women’s semifinal. Admittedly it’s not something I would ordinary stop on when flipping through the channels, especially during the opening weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament, but I saw my alma mater playing and decided to watch for a while. When my daughter woke up from her nap and wandered downstairs I heard “Oh hockey is on…hockey is my favorite”. She doesn’t REALLY know what hockey is, only that her dad loves it and that she had a lot of fun going to a Jr A game with a few family member about a month ago. Usually, when nap time ends, the TV goes off and we decide what we’re going to do for the afternoon. This time, I had a soft ‘dad’ moment. I picked her up, sat her on the couch next to me and we watched for a while. As we watched, she said something to me I didn’t expect.
“Daddy, hockey is for boys”
She told me this out of the blue. I was shocked. I didn’t know where it came from and it was even more surprising given that it was women’s hockey we were watching. I asked what she mean, figuring an almost 3-year old didn’t really know what she was saying.
“Boys play hockey”
‘Sure they do’ I told her, ‘but so do girls, these are girls playing on TV right now. She didn’t fully believe me so I made sure to keep the game on to the end to show her the women as some took their helmets off as the game ended. She was over the moon excited at the idea that ‘girls can play too’. I felt happy but at the same time concerned that maybe it was me that had taught her that hockey was ‘for boys’. My wife ensured me that it’s almost certainly nothing more than my daughter having only ever seen men play the game (aside from me propping her up to watch the 2014 Women’s Olympic gold medal game when she was 10 months old).
I didn’t give it much more thought at all beyond that for a couple days until I woke up this morning and saw Cat’s article from last night and her reaction on Twitter. Maybe the little girls that can’t tell which foot her boot is supposed to go on was right, maybe, unfortunately hockey is for boys. Maybe the culture we’ve created around the sport is so toxic at this point that women don’t feel welcome in it. There was a great thread of tweets from former hockey fan Megan Richardson that furthered this thought for me. She retreated from the game because she felt it didn’t want her as a woman. I know women who love the game and don’t feel the same way as Megan. I work with two wonderfully talented women at TLN that love the sport, love watching it, talking about it, and in the case of Cat, working within the sport. That doesn’t mean they have to accept ignorance when it comes to sexism in the culture that surrounds it. Quite frankly they shouldn’t accept it, and neither should the rest of us, man or woman.
In the short time I’ve known them, I have come to respect and adore both Cat and Antonella (our social media manager at TLN), they are both smart, funny, and worth admiring both as people and sports fans. I have on more than one occasion called my daughter a mini-Cat (a comparison that is hilariously accurate) , and honestly if she grows up to carry herself the way Cat & Anto do I will be incredibly proud. I felt riled up about the Ross news when I heard it, and after a little venting on Twitter this morning, I looked to the two of them for the best way to perceive the situation and it helped me gain a lot of perspective on the whole thing.
“I don’t blame hockey, I blame society”, Cat told me. And I guess that’s true. There is a systemic problem when it comes to equality of race that goes well beyond sports, sports are just where my interests lie so that’s where I see it. Serena Williams fighting back against the pig that is Raymond Moore is a great example of how even though the issues are ingrained in the culture, we shouldn’t just blindly ignore them.
I don’t proclaim to be the perfect man, husband or father, I’m far from it. I’ve known there is a problem in hockey, and society for a long time, I guess I just felt like so many of us that it was just convenient to ignore it. We most definitely shouldn’t be ignoring it. I honestly don’t know what to do. My daughter hasn’t even reached her 3rd birthday and I’m already contemplated shielding her from the sport I’ve loved my entire life. That’s probably unrealistic and not likely the best course of action. I feel that at this point the best thing for me to do is to teach my daughter not to accept the problem as so many of us have. Tell her to be loving, beautiful and supportive like her mother. Be like confident like Serena and speak up when someone talks down to you and your sport because you’re a woman. Be perceptive and strong like Anto and call us out when we’re bring foolish. Be fun enthusiastic like Cat and show the world that you can coach and inspire young kids to play the game. Be like Hilary Knight and play hockey ‘Like a Girl’. Be who you want to be and don’t let a history of problems in our culture stop you from anything. Be smarter than your dad who took until he was 30 to figure out that the problem shouldn’t be ignored.