The violence that is essential to professional hockey keeps me from watching many NHL games anymore. The only time I watch is when there’s a Canadian team in the Stanley Cup Finals (Senators, Oilers, Flames, Canucks – but sadly, never, ever the Leafs). Then I watch the final game or two. Yet, I have always loved hockey because it can be beautiful, elegant and creative. Watching Johan Franzen or Martin St. Louis on YouTube, I laugh with joy at their skill. It reminds me of the glory days of Lafleur, Salming, and Perrault when I was growing up and did watch lots of hockey on TV.
My repulsion is in no small part due to the fact that I’m as susceptible as the next guy to the rush of watching a heavy hit or a fight in hockey. What does it mean that I seem programmed or acculturated to enjoy the violence, while simultaneously being disgusted by it? A man is taught in this world to be not soft, not gentle, not sensitive. These are supposedly uniquely the qualities of women. So much of my adult life has been a struggle to understand what it means to be a man as opposed to what society dictates a man should be. My quest has become all the more urgent now that I have a young daughter.
This came up strongly for me this week when I read about the Dallas Stars’ Sean Avery dissing his NHL adversaries, as well as two of his former girlfriends. Thankfully, his behavior was condemned at all levels of the NHL: his coach, his teammates, other players, the league. Much of the talk was about how he had engaged in “behavior unbecoming to the league”. Alas, not so much talk about the misogyny of what he said. My experience suggests that this kind of talk is rampant among gatherings of men, especially in locker rooms.
When I was in my late teens and twenties, I thought that, were I to have a child, I would want to have a boy. It wasn’t so much that I liked boys better than girls, or that I wanted my name to live on in perpetuity. Rather, it frightened me to imagine bringing a girl into a world that was dangerous and oppressive to women. Now that I have a daughter I have to face misogyny and oppression of girls and women with more focus and intention than I ever have. I have to look at my own socializing, my own misogyny, and it makes me uncomfortable.
Today I am thinking about how she will fit into the world of sport. I gave her a soccer ball for her first birthday. She likes the ball and one of her first words has been ‘ball’ (minus the ‘l’s, however). I’ve also shown her one of my hockey sticks, which she picked up. But can I imagine her playing hockey?
My friend Patrick told me about his qualms of exposing his children and family to the violence that is woven into hockey. For me, as much as I’ve loved playing hockey and used to love watching it, hockey may not be the game to encourage my daughter to play as long as fighting and misogyny are part of the professional game. Of course, there’s always Hailey Wickenheiser to hold up as a role model!