Wednesday, 31 March 2021

The Things We Think And Do Not Say

"I believe I have something to say" are the seven words end the first line of the Mission Statement that the character Jerry Maguire, played by Tom Cruise, pens in the movie Jerry Maguire. It leads to a 25-page idea that Jerry writes about the entire sports industry, from athletes to agents to endorsements and more. I watched Jerry Maguire this weekend, and it dawned on me that I needed to express a few things after a storm was dropped on my doorstep.

I won't get into the details of that storm, but it occurred to me that the title Jerry chose - the same one that titles this article - matters to me more now than ever before. This world seems to be plagued by people who want to carry out their own agendas with little regard for who they harm along the way. We all know it's wrong whether by moral or ethical standards and we think it's wrong, but how many of us stand up and say "it's wrong" in order to hold those committing those harms accountable?

I never paid much attention to university sports when I was going to university. I didn't know anyone who played on the teams, and I had other things to worry about like my grades and classes. Coming back to a university setting as a radio host had me wanting to be involved more than before, and that wanting to be involved led me to discover the nuances and the fight for equality for women's hockey at the Canadian university level. It "would soon hook me — there was something simple and perfect" about the game that hit home.

We never talk about the sacrifices that these men and women playing university hockey make. For some, they accept scholarships to move across the country to brand new towns and cities with only a brief visit to the campus where they'll be attending. No friends, no family, no relatives to help - they're on their own in a new environment where they're expected to take their games to the next level from high school or minor hockey or whatever sport they're in while achieving exceptional grades, maintaining some sort of social life, possibly a romantic interest, and still finding time to sleep, eat, bathe, and everything else we take for granted.

We never talk about true sacrifices being made by 18 and 19 year-old kids for the first time in their entire lives because we barely pay attention to university sports in this country. South of the border, the kids have a very public microscope on them for the big sports such as basketball and football, but the same sacrifices are being asked of every other athlete in every other sport. We don't talk about these true sacrifices because we can't relate. Very few of us have ever been in their positions where we could relate to the sacrifices any of these athletes make in this high-demand world of university sports and classes.

For those that have successfully navigated the university waters and graduated to find life outside the institutions they once represented, there are too few people keeping them close despite using words like "family" and "team" throughout their university careers. Despite dedicating their lives to the betterment of the sports programs for which these alumni were recruited, some university programs - not all, mind you - seemingly cut the lines on those players who swim out to sea to discover a bigger world, and I often find myself bewildered by this practice considering that they forged the path on which others now follow.

If there's one thing I've learned from writing this blog and doing a radio show, it's that personal relationships matter. People who trust one another and respect one another because they have good personal realtionships are honest with one another, and that goes a long way in attracting future players to university programs when we're talking about words like "family" and "team". Players will tell their friends. Teammates will tell teammates. The cycle is never-ending if these personal relationships are forged.

Let me be clear: I'm not just talking coach-player relationships here. I'm talking Athletic Director-player, broadcaster-player, University President-player, marketing staff-player, coaches from other sports-player, arena staff-player, and so many more relationships that happen on a day-to-day basis. They're still kids, and it's our jobs to help them find their way in a new, strange environment. If we're not doing that, what do we stand for?

If we're not giving our absolute best for these kids, we're cheating them out of the best possible experience they can have at any of the Canadian universities. Each and every one of us involved in the programs - administrators, coaches, office staff, academic advisors, broadcasters, and everyone else - owes these kids the same efforts that they turn in every practice and every game while wearing the school's logo on their chests. We owe it to give them the best possible chance at succeeding not only on the field of play, but beyond the field of play whether it be in the classroom, in the media, on the job, and in life.

That leads me back to the storm that landed on my doorstep this week that had me thinking long and hard about that very question of "what do I stand for".

When people ask me why I commit so much time to promoting and digging into women's hockey at the Canadian university level, it's because there are 25-30 kids at nine, formerly ten, western Canadian universities who won't get to have a Hockey Night in Canada experience. They won't get to be interviewed during the pregame warm-up just like the guys they watch on television. They'll never be featured on Sportsnet or CBC in a pregame show feature. Because none of this stuff will ever happen while they skate at the university level, I feel it's my duty, as a broadcaster, to provide them with the best coverage I can deliver. Anything less would be cheating them of the best experience I can provide.

"What do I stand for" has tumbled around inside my skull for a few days now. I may now be ready to answer that question because it took some real soul-searching to ensure that someone who questioned the very foundation of what I do got the right answer - an answer that I can live with and be proud of when it comes to the very heart of that question.

I stand for equality. I stand for ensuring that not only is equality achieved through the content and quality of our Bisons women with 's hockey broadcasts, this blog's articles, and the content found on The Hockey Show, but that I am actively promoting, fighting for, and ensuring that women's hockey not only has a bright and promising future, but has infinite room to grow. It's about promoting and supporting U SPORTS women's hockey as the best place for women to play to a status equal to that of NCAA women's hockey when girls are deciding where to play. It's about supporting, promoting, talking about, interviewing, celebrating, and honouring the women who have chosen U SPORTS hockey as their place to play while not forgetting about those who have chosen to follow their dreams on another path.

Equality doesn't end with opening doors for more women, though, as there are LGBTQ+ and BIPOC folks who also deserve a say in hockey, and I stand for their inclusion in any and all discussions. These people are often forgotten altogether, and I know we need their voices heard in the sport of hockey. In saying that, I want to do more to include any and all LGBTQ+ and BIPOC people whenever possible, and I will seek opportunities to not only brign them to the discussion, but to ensure they're heard in the discussion and their thoughts and opinions carry equal weight as everyone else in that discussion. I stand as an ally in helping these people find that room in the discussions.

I stand for accountability. I stand for people being responsible for their actions, good and bad, when it comes to the health of women's hockey programs across this great nation, and for celebrating those who make it better while calling out those who weaken it. It's about being a voice for a sport that Canadians claim as their own despite the disparaging comments and the gasp when it's suggested that one spend real money on amateur and women's sports. It's about being a voice to heap praise on those who make this sport so darned good at the amateur and women's hockey levels, and it's about being a voice for those who fear retribution when they've been witness to or have experienced injustices on those fronts. It's about keeping those who are paid to curate this game honest, and to hold them accountable when they've failed in that duty.

While I do stand for other things, these elements are the driving forces behind my hockey beliefs. We have watched the "old boys' club" run hockey for far too long with antiquated views on how the game can grow and be more welcoming to all fans, players, coaches, professionals, and executives. Far too often, I find that people are afraid to speak out and challenge the norms we find in hockey for fear of retribution, mockery, embarrassment, or a combination of the three, yet these guiding principles that I find growing more and more important each day in a changing world are the very things we think, but do not say.

The storm that arrived on my doorstep this week challenged at least one of these principles, and I found myself struggling to go against one of the principles for which I stand. In the bigger picture, I do concede that I need to address this storm with far more delicate gloves than how I may have handled it before, but these guiding principles for which I stand will continue to be the driver for this blog, the radio show, and the hockey broadcasts with which I am involved.

If you've read these thoughts of mine to this point, I thank you for hanging in there with an article that shows a very conflicted Teebz when it comes to the storm I face. I will say that no matter what the outcome is from that storm's passing, I will remain steadfast to the very principles I outlined above. If nothing else, I must be true to myself, and I know where I stand when it comes to the question of "what do you stand for".

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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