On the day that the Beauts began their second season, gracing the ice with brand new powder blue jerseys, the tone was one defined by an outpouring of support and encouragement. This was attributed to the courageous step forward taken by Harrison Browne (formerly known as Hailey), with an announcement that resulted in Browne becoming the first transgender athlete in modern professional sports.
Out of respect to Browne, another athlete (and fellow Canadian) also made the courageous decision to discuss their transgender status. Aria McGowan, a quarterback with the Edmonton Storm of the semi-pro Western Women’s Canadian Football League, courageously discussed such a personal decision with Canada Football Chat in the summer of 2015. Considering that many athletes make such announcements following the twilight of their careers, the fact that both have done so in the prime of their careers reflects a remarkable sense of courage, both pioneering individuals.
Having first come to terms with the transgender decision while competing at the University of Maine several seasons ago; Browne’s announcement simultaneously resulted into becoming a household name. With media outlets throughout North America reporting on Browne’s decision, one media outlet may have served as an unexpected influence. ESPN, which also published the annual Body Issue and hosts the popular ESPY Awards, has certainly set a supportive tone for transgender athletes.
Browne had indicated that a key factor in summoning the strength to discuss such a personal element was attributed to Chris Mosier, who was the first transgender athlete to appear in the Body Issue. Caitlyn Jenner (who first burst to fame as a gold medal decathlete known as Bruce Jenner) was also the recipient of the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage at the ESPY Awards.
Undoubtedly, there must have been an elated sense of relief and jubilation for Browne, taking to the ice for the season opener against the Boston Pride, a rematch of the inaugural Isobel Cup Finals. Taking into account that Browne scored Buffalo’s only goal of the game in the third period, spoiling Brittany Ott’s shutout effort, there is definitely a feeling of renewal for Browne, destined to define the empowering season to come.
As the NWHL is also a proud supporter of the You Can Play Project, the league showed the courage of its conviction in supporting Browne’s decision. With one member from each NWHL franchise serving as a You Can Play Athlete-Ambassador, there is a slight tinge of irony in the fact that Browne scored on Ott, who represents the Pride as their ambassador. Of note, Emily Pfalzer, who is also team captain, serves in the same capacity with the Beauts.
For NWHL commissioner Dani Rylan, her empathy in reaction to Browne reaching out to her about such a visceral decision may have served as her finest hour. The fact that Rylan is now working on a league policy regarding transgender athletes (Browne shall not undergo any possible medical treatments until the end of his career) is a remarkable example of strong leadership, demonstrating more than just dedication to the athletes that compose the NWHL’s roster of players, but potentially establishing a template for other leagues to follow.
With the Beauts showing their support of Browne (who is known among teammates and coaches as Brownie) via social media, it was the embodiment of teamwork, which was also exemplified by the roar of applause by the fans on-hand for the Beauts’ season opener. In addition, it served as a remarkable example of women’s sports continuing to redefine social convention, while helping to augment positive discussion.
Whether it be women taking on coaching roles with men’s teams (Liz Sowers with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons, Becky Hammons with the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs, Kori Cheverie with the Ryerson Rams), proposing marriage to their boyfriends at halftime (as linebacker Lauren Fogle did during an Omaha Heart contest) or refusing to succumb to preconceived notions of appearance (as Egypt’s competitors did, staying true to their religious values in women’s beach volleyball at the 2016 Rio Summer Games by remaining covered up), women are serving as role models through example. It is through such accomplishment that the haters shall eventually be silenced.
Despite the scoreboard on opening day reflecting a 4-1 win in favor of the visiting Boston Blades, there was no sense of loss by anyone at Harbor Center. Instead, it was a collective sense of victory, highlighted by Browne recognized as the Second Star of the Game, to a roar of approval by the Beauts’ faithful.
What Browne achieved with this announcement was bringing to light that while athletes can appear as highly conditioned, indestructible icons, they are first and foremost human. For young people who may be conflicted over their own status, they may see Browne as a catalyst of confidence, which would only add to a victorious validation, while working towards an overall sense of acceptance. #transpride
Image obtained from Twitter: https://twitter.com/BuffaloBeauts