Monday, November 8, 2010

Pioneers of women's hockey get their moment in the spotlight

James and Granato at the HHOF induction ceremony

"It's going to be great for hockey, it's going to be great for women's hockey and it's going to be great for women in sports." - Angela James
As much as women's hockey has grown in the past decade, the NHL, the IIHF, and all other governing bodies of professional hockey are still dominated by men. This was evident to me when 2010 Hockey Hall of Fame (HHOF) inductees Angela James and Cammi Granato stepped onto the ice at the Air Canada Centre last Saturday prior to the Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Buffalo Sabres game for a ceremony to celebrate their inductions. As they walked onto the red carpet they were welcomed by members in the Selection Committee which includes the likes of Scotty Bowman, Pat Quinn, and Dick Irvin - hockey royalty! There are no women on this panel and there was not a single woman on that ice surface. Even the ice crew were guys! In a team's championship picture with the Stanley Cup how many women are in it? Maybe one or two but they hide in the background and some look like they're not even sure if they should be there.  That is why the thought of James and Granato being enshrined permanently in the Hall is overwhelming, amazing, and yet so satisfying and reinforcing for women in sports. Their inductions is proof to us that we deserve the same rights as men when it comes to sports (and life for that matter!) and that if we have a dream to be somebody in a sport we should chase it to the highest level we can.

The inductions of James and Granato are liberating for a sport that is still defending itself from criticism and that is still fighting for its place in the world's greatest event - the Winter Olympics. But as much as it is a big victory for the sport itself, it is also a great victory at a very personal level for both inductees. The HHOF is a world away from where Angela James grew up - in the housing projects of Toronto where she faced discrimination because of her gender as well as her colour (James' father was black and her mother was Caucasian).  She was kicked off of boys' teams when they found out she was a girl and she was told she wasn't allowed to play the sport she loved.  She soldiered on until she made the Ontario Women’s Hockey Association league at age 14 and the Canadian National team shortly after.  Granato grew up in a household that was full of hockey playing brothers but she too faced the discrimination of being a girl. Like James, she continued to work hard and captained the United States team to a gold medal in the sport's inaugural Olympic Games in 1998 as well as a silver in 2002. Granato was the face of US women's hockey and the heart and soul of the national team when, suddenly and unceremoniously, she was cut from the 2006 roster. The decision rocked the team and brought her illustrious career to an abrupt end. For both James and Granato, their inductions are a form of justice for all those years where they were told "you can't do it."

It is a great honour for me to be able to say that I got to witness the first ever induction of women into the HHOF.  And if, by some miracle, Angela James and/or Cammi Granato ever read this blog I would like them to know one thing:

I would like them to know that I am proud - proud not only of the fact that they are the first women to be inducted into the HHOF, but proud also of the fact that they fought for what they loved to do. Every revolution in the world starts with a grassroots movement by a few brave souls.  Angela and Cammi are it.  They are the pioneers of modern day women's hockey.  And while they are basking in the glory of being HHOF inductees today, I know that the events that transpired in their respective careers to get them here have not always been glamourous.  There is no glamour in being told you can't play the sport you love because of your gender.  There is no glamour in being cut from the team to which you gave your heart and soul.  But through this induction they give hope - hope to girls and women who, prior to this, maybe didn't believe in themselves or who felt that they couldn't achieve their dreams because they weren't going to be given the same opportunities as their male counterparts.  Through this induction they have given the rest of us a certain confidence not only in sports but also in life.  I want them to know that in changing the face of hockey they have also, in a small but significant way, changed the world.

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