Monday, 16 July 2018

Post #4000

While Fox hasn't cancelled me, I'm actually pretty humbled by reaching my 4000th article here on HBIC. When I started this blog in 2007, I never expected it to go this long as a site with a daily entry about the major stories in hockey that caught my attention. I thought I might do it for a while, but it has become so much more than a blog. It's a community that includes a number of great people - contributors, contest entrants, and commenters - and I'm grateful for everyone who has helped me get to 4000. But I'm here with a bit of a reflection today on how we, as bloggers and reporters, write our stories.

"The worst thing about North American journalism is its insularity: the feeling that the United States is the world. And this is true even of the New York Times; nothing comes from the perspective of other places…" - Anthony Bourdain to Maria Bustillos.

As I settle in to write a piece that hopefully makes one think, I want to draw special attention to the late-Mr. Bourdain's comment regarding journalism and how we only provide our own perspectives. I'm just as guilty of this as anyone else who may write a story on any piece of news. While we try to be objective, we ultimately tell the story we want to write that we see, hear, and experience from our own point-of-view. It's in this point-of-view that we may miss the story altogether, especially when we write these stories from afar rather than being on the ground and in the mix where these stories are happening. Even then, our own perspectives can change the actual story that should be told.

I want to draw upon two specific examples that are happening in the world of women's hockey right now. Both have immense human-impact stories that will affect the players in a number of ways, yet these stories seem to be nothing more than footnotes if they're mentioned at all. By changing one's perspective, suddenly these stories take on a new angle that changes the entire premise of what is important.

The first story is regarding the removal of funding from Sweden's National Women's Team at the start of July. The Swedish Olympic Committee made the decision to cut off funding to the Damkronorna after some rather lowly finishes at major international tournaments. The end result is that fifteen female athletes are each losing approximately $8100 annually in funding that allows these women to train and prepare for future tournaments.

Now this may seem like a decision that is justifiable when one considers that Sweden has fallen from medal favorite at the Olympics to also-ran, and the team itself has finished at other tournaments off the podium and down the standings. Meredith Foster of The Ice Garden wrote a good piece on this decision and how it affects the program, but the program is nothing without the women and there was very little said about how this decision to cut funding affects the women who are expected to represent the national team in future tournaments.

It is expected that these players will still make time to train and prepare for upcoming events, but the issue becomes a little harder when they have lost a major chunk of money they used to supplement their regular incomes to pay for training, ice time, equipment, and anything else they need to compete at an elite level.

Working shift work or a nine-to-five not only reduces the amount of time for training that these women once had, but it makes traveling as part of Sweden's National Team significantly harder. Holiday time from work, leaves of absence, and finding creative ways to take time off work gets a little harder when these women have to work in order to pay rent, buy groceries, find ice time, buy equipment, and anything else that they need to compete.

No one seems to consider that these women were already giving a significant amount of time to the Swedish program in exchange for the funding they were receiving. Without that funding, these women need to find a way to replace that funding, and asking them to sacrifice the time they're using to make the money they need to pay their bills in order to train and play while wearing the Tre Kronor uniform is extremely shortsighted on the Swedish Olympic Committee's part.

But there has yet to be one follow-up on this story to find out how the women were handling the loss of pay. There is not yet a mention of whether the women were struggling to work, live life, and find the time to train for the national team. There isn't an examination of the effect on the women from an everyday-life perspective when that's where this story truly exists. The Swedish National Women's Team will still exist, but the question is in what capacity if the current team's players can't find a way to make it work?

Granted, it's only been two weeks since this story broke, but there should be some follow-up in the coming weeks to measure the effectiveness and the impact of this decision on the women of the Damkronorna. I say "should be" because I don't know if there will be despite my belief that this story should be followed to the end of the story.

I'm hopeful it will happen because any follow-up with the Swedish women affected by the Swedish Olympic Committee's decision and the fans who support this team changes the perspective of this story entirely from a money-performance issue to a real-life human impact issue. And that's important when trying to understand the struggle that women's sports face when it comes to funding, support, and long-term growth.

The second story is one that happened today. I'll preface it with this.
Yes, it's brutal that the Canadian pro women's league decided to contract the Vanke Rays, and that does mean less jobs for all involved. Some will undoubtedly move to Kunlun Red Star, but Mike makes a point in that six North American women will lose their "hockey ambassador" jobs that paid them a reported $100,000 annually.

The only problem with that sentiment?
The North American players can return to North America and find jobs. While it likely won't be for $100,000 annually, they can return and play hockey and work a job just like every other North American player currently does. The Chinese players on Vanke - a team that seems to have been contracted due to costs - don't have that luxury as very few will be invited to play with Kunlun, and most will likely have to go back to jobs that see them, like the Swedish players above, consider abandoning the idea of training and playing for their national team.

We're sending a dozen women back to the workforce in an oppressive-to-women China, and we should worry about the six North American players losing their hockey ambassador jobs?

Regarding this oppression, as recently as March 7, 2018, reports in China had women earning 22% less money annually than men with the average monthly salary of women being "6,589 yuan ($1,039), while that for men is 8,006 yuan" or $1197 USD. Further to this, Guo Sheng, CEO of, suggested that Chinese leaders should "consider moving up the starting age for school from 3 years old to 18 months old, which can help women put their main energy into work instead of looking after their little children" in order to assist women earn promotions in their chosen field. But those living wages earned by the North Americans sure stand out as the human impact story?

For the first time possibly ever in their lives, fifteen Chinese women were earning money by being exceptional in their field without competing with men for the same job. For the first possibly ever in their lives, fifteen Chinese women were on the largest professional stage for women of their calibre. For the first time possibly ever in their lives, fifteen Chinese women were traveling to North America to play hockey for their country rather than to seek new opportunities away from their country. And for the first time ever today, those opportunities were taken from them.

What do their futures hold? What do these women do when it comes to their hockey aspirations? How do they train to be part of the national team, and does that opportunity even exist now that they aren't playing professionally? We know what Brooke Webster, Emily Janiga, and Zoe Hickel are doing next season after they returned to North American and signed with North American professional teams, but the same cannot be said for Naixin Zhou, Minghui Kong, and Han Gao. Their futures are anything but clear when it comes to playing hockey.

These are the stories that need to be told. I'm not picking on Meredith or Mike in any way. They're reporting factual information and making conclusions based on that information, and that's an important part of the equation when it comes to telling the story. However, in this day and age of "grow the game," we may actually be seeing the game take steps back due to a lack of funding for women's hockey, and that's the piece of the story that seems to be missing from these specific stories.

Again, I'm hopeful there will be follow-ups regarding these two stories, but Mr. Bourdain's comment of "nothing comes from the perspective of other places" is something we seem to lose when telling these stories. As I stated above, I'm as guilty as anyone else for not following up on stories as vigorously as I should, but starting with article #4001 I pledge that I will do more human interest and human impact stories to give the full story when it comes to hockey-related matters. Not only will that pledge happen here, but it will also happen on The Hockey Show in order to bring an understanding of what people in the stories we feature are experiencing from their perspectives.

I have always wanted to tell hockey stories better. Today, I pledge to be a better story-teller.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

No comments: