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Letting go of hockey’s masculine obsession

By Sonny Sachdeva, October 16 2014

The sporting world has always been obsessed with gender. It may not be openly acknowledged, but gender plays a significant role in how we view sports.

Hockey has traditionally been a game grounded in the glorification of masculinity. Our perception of the sport and its players is often shaped by how they fall in line with notions of toughness, aggression and physicality. We love to see the old boys drop the gloves, throw their weight into open-ice hits and pull out loose teeth on the bench.

This is how the game is played — with grit, tenacity and little room for vulnerability. If a player goes down with an injury, he’s judged as brittle, and thus, less in line with this traditional view of masculinity.

For a sport so caught up in being the most tough and manly, however, hockey is simultaneously a sport that equates greatness with the opposite of these ideals.

The players we view as elite are not necessarily those who hit hardest, fight with the most aggression or even remain the most durable. Rather, the great ones are those who display characteristics that our culture associates with femininity, like grace, finesse and subtlety.

When we look at today’s greats — Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews or Steven Stamkos — we see players who rarely drop the gloves or throw their weight around. They play the game hard, but their greatest talent is in their ability to play elegantly. We remark about their skill in navigating the finely tuned aspects of the sport, gracefully stickhandling through a crowd or effortlessly finessing a shot into the back of the twine. Iconic names of the past may have belonged to heroes who put up numbers and did so with a snarl, but the game has changed.

Hockey has become a sport of duality. The sport has progressed significantly in the last 10 years, moving away from its violent characteristics and towards a focus on skillful creativity.

A player’s true value now lies in their ability to combine these two opposing sets of culturally gendered ideals. To be great is to have not only power but also grace. Not only strength but also finesse.

Hockey is no longer the pinnacle of masculinity, and that’s okay. It’s better than okay. The game has moved forward and has come into a golden age where the obsession with manliness has subsided, giving way to a new sense of balance. We don’t want to see an endless parade of brawls and bone-shaking hits anymore because we’ve seen the value of the other side.

As the game shifts away from this masculine obsession, we as spectators must move forward as well. We must value these players according to a criteria consisting of more than their ability to remain aggressive and unbreakable. Hockey has evolved to show us that the sport consists of far more, and our judgment of it must do so as well.

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