By Tom Hunter (@)
I wrote this piece last spring. In that time my daughter has grown exponentially. She is starting to learn that sports are a big part of her father’s life and has shown interest in many. She loves to play soccer and basketball and has taken to her dance classes very strongly. This December she decided to ask Santa for skates and a helmet for Christmas – he delivered.
She’s a bit of an adventurer and wants to try just about everything. I feel it is my job to let her. Support her as she tries to find those hobbies that she connects with the way I connect with hockey. This week I took her to the Air Canada Centre for the first time to see a World Junior hockey game. She told me that her favourite parts were the Zambonis – followed closely by her nachos. While I could tell she couldn’t completely grasp what was going on, there was a glimmer in her eye – the first realization that she was trying to figure out what was going on out on the ice. she asked me questions – mostly about the ‘silly goalies’.
Since that game at the ACC, she has spent time with me watching the afternoon games. She will sit down and spend the good chunk of a period – about the length of one episode of Paw Patrol.
I’m not forcing it on her by any means – my wife makes sure of that – but I will be there to teach her when she asks.
The below is a very personal column I wrote about my conflicting feelings towards the culture of sport as the father of a daughter. I feel it is the best thing I have written this year (ever) and felt this was as good a time as any to re-post it.
I now have a second daughter and the same goes for her. My first is showing an early interest in athletics, but who knows about the second – It’s only been 12 weeks but I can already tell they have very different personalities.
Sports will always be a part of my life and I feel that as a result, they will be a part of theirs – though I’m perfectly ok if they’re not. My hope is simply that I can do best to support my daughters in everything they do.
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 not, you can learn 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 meant – 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 for a couple days – until I woke up this morning and saw the Ross article from last night and the reaction on Twitter. Maybe the little girl 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 Silverman, 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 Catherine and Antonella (our social media manager at TLN) and cherish them as friends. 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 confident like Serena and speak up when someone talks down to you and your sport. Be perceptive and strong like Anto and call us out when we’re being foolish. Be fun and 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.