08 December 2010

How a Goaltender Taught Me About Social Justice

I could tell you about a girl who stayed up late into the night listening to baseball games on the radio in order to record the most up-to-date statistics on her favorite players. I could tell you about a girl who did her homework on Sundays in front of the television flipping between different NFL broadcasts; a girl whose fifth grade softball team won the city championships; a girl who played road hockey every day after school and spent her weekends traveling the suburbs playing in soccer tournaments. But instead, I will tell you about a girl whose hero was Manon Rhéaume.

In third grade I was hockey mad. I had discarded my figure skates in favor of hockey skates and had proclaimed my intention to play in the NHL – not such a practical dream (my father told me it would never happen), but are dreams ever practical? So in 1993 when the Tampa Bay Lightning put Manon Rhéaume, a twenty-one-year-old woman from Lac-Beauport, Quebec, in net for an exhibition game, I was beside myself with excitement. Yes it was only an exhibition game; she was pulled after less than a full period of play; she was beautiful; and yes, it was probably a publicity stunt dreamed up by the marketing people in a sun-drenched southern city to bring attention to an expansion team and introduce this weird northern sport played on ice. As a grade three girl who dreamed of playing in the NHL, I didn’t care about this logic, I just cared that Rhéaume was playing hockey in front of a national television audience. I just cared that a woman had played in the NHL.

Rhéaume's debut showed me that despite societal barriers you must hold onto your dreams and fight for any openings that allow your ideal reality to shine through.While your culture might tell you that you can’t play in the NHL, and to be frank you probably can’t, you can at least strive to carve a place for yourself outside of the mold. You must dream, have vision and not let society’s constraints stop you from being true to yourself.

I think this was the most important thing I learned from sports. For I was all the girls listed above and even in the late 1980s and early 90s it was odd for a girl to be as sports-obsessed as I was. So from an early age I learned to navigate the world traveling tangential paths, never afraid to take an unusual route.

Sports really had a lasting impact on my life by giving me the perspective to see our world in a different way, to be sensitive to those who do not fit neatly into the mold, and be cognizant of the myriad barriers to access that face so many people in our society. This moral or ethical or perhaps philosophical point of view has made me who I am today and greatly informs the work I choose to do. I currently work at the Ms. Foundation for Women and help to lift up the voices and stories of women, families and communities who are most affected by structural inequity and whose voices are often overlooked in national public policy debates. My experience in sports taught me to see the world as I wish it to be rather than as it is, and has become the bedrock of  values that will stay with me for as long as I live.

Kasia Gladki  serves as communications associate for the Ms. Foundation. She grew up in Toronto and now lives in Brooklyn.

This post is part of the National Women's Law Center's Rally for Girls' Sports Day.

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