For me, it began last week as whispers around the my three youth players’ home association’s rink, from one female hockey parent to another, “Have you seen the video of what happened in Pennsylvania (PA)?” “It’s horrible.” “We feel so bad for that female goalie.” “The coach and referees didn’t do anything.” “Why didn’t someone stop it?”
If you live in the world of youth hockey, high school or girls hockey, as I do, then you may have been hearing similar conversations over the past couple weeks. A whole bleacher section of students spectators (even some adults) from the opposing team chanted and yelled sexual and inappropriate taunts and jeers in unison at a female goalie on a boys’ varsity hockey team during a high school hockey game in PA. The verbal assault went on for two periods and by the end of which the goalie was in tears. We need to really let that sink in, for 30 minutes plus, other spectators, the players, the coaches, and the referees let this player be harassed and targeted in a disparaging and harmful way.
Since this incident became public, support for this female goalie has sky rocketed. Every day I see new posts on social media of hockey teams dressed in white with signs of support for this female goalie, whose name has been not officially published in order to protect her privacy. There have been statements of support made by former and current women hockey players for Team USA, such as Megan Duggan and Kendall Coyne Schofield. NHL teams, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins have voiced support of the female goalie and against such harmful behavior. Upon her return to the ice, this past Monday night, she and her team played in front of a sold out rink and with every save she made, exuberant cheers of support shook the building.
I want to bring focus to the broader picture: everyone who was there should be asking themselves, “why did I not stand up and do something” and “how am I going to handle it differently and better the next time?” The reality is that there will be a next time. We have to do better by our young athletes, especially our young female athletes to have the courage and confidence in knowledge of what is right and wrong to stand up in the moment. My hope is that this incident will spark conversations within hockey organizations of all ages across the country and that the next time we hear of an incident like this it will be due to someone taking action instead of being silent.
Fears of being uncomfortable in these conversations prevents necessary action. Expectations around codes of conduct for players, coaches, officials etc. need to be clearly set and discussed; not only so it is clear what is expected of the individuals themselves, but also what they can expect of others.
This will help them feel empowered to stand up when something is wrong. We need to be supporting the development of vocal upstanders, rather than silent bystanders. When you are silent, you are complicit.
Go forward and have these conversations with facilities, schools, coaches and referees – know what is the expectations of what should happen if a situation like this or similar happened at one of our games and if the response is not what you think it should be, then do something about it. This is how we protect and empower our female players and support their love for this great game.