By Maggie Hsu, November 7 2022—
Sports have always been a bright light for many fans no matter the team or sport itself. Sports unite people and inspire many, so it’s no surprise that those who play sports at an elite level would be held in high regard.
Even though we hold professional athletes to celebrity status, they are just human beings. But what separates them from movie stars and runway models is the feeling that anyone can get to their level with enough hard work and determination. They are members of our community, especially in Canada where we take so much pride in those that don the maple leaf on an international stage. We are so quick to claim anyone that calls Canada home because there is still a sense of community despite the vastness of our country. As with many people in the spotlight, athletes become an expectation to be role models. Not only are they models of human physicality, but they are also the faces and names that represent us.
Showing support for a team or an athlete unites us but can also divide people. There are immediate assumptions that can be made and sometimes, there is a need to explain why you choose to cheer for a certain team and wear their colours. Cheering in sports gives us a sense of belonging. If the team wins, their fans feel like they win too. When a nation’s team wins, the nation feels like it won too.
It’s easy to oversee the amount of luck that can put elite athletes on their paths to success and notoriety. No matter how great an athlete’s performance is in their sport, it can’t always mask their wrongdoings and we start to focus less on the sports they play and more on questioning why we are celebrating them at all. More and more, we’re seeing headlines about athletes and the organizations they play under, shifting focus toward greater systemic issues that were once thought to be isolated to one or two sports. Over time, we are coming to understand that no one is perfect.
Over the past few years, many issues in sporting organizations have come to light. We see this throughout the ongoing investigation of Hockey Canada and their mishandling of multiple sexual assault allegations that have brought to light the culture of sexual assault that is so prevalent in hockey that everyone seems to sweep under the rug. The NFL’s concussion protocol has recently come under scrutiny as questions on whether or not it prioritizes player safety has come to light. In addition, the revelation of dangerous and toxic environments bred by Rowing Canada, Bobsleigh Canada, and the National Women’s Soccer League, has continued conversations on whether or not their governing bodies are doing all they can to protect their athletes. And in recent years, we have seen the effects of these toxic environments in figure skating and gymnastics that have caused trauma to multiple athletes that were meant to be protected by these governing bodies.
As a fan of any of these sports or even sports in general, it feels like a betrayal. It doesn’t feel right to enjoy sports anymore with the knowledge that support is being converted into revenue for these governing bodies that are fueling these environments — it feels wrong. How can we separate the athletes from the sports they play when it seems like every other headline is scrutinizing the people that play? How can fans cheer athletes on without wondering if another case will surface and harm the integrity of the sport?
Amidst all of this, the 2022 class of inductees into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame were celebrated on Oct. 6. It’s a beacon of light in all of the darkness lately and serves as a reminder that we can still celebrate and cheer on the accomplishments of some despite the terrible actions of others. The CEO and President of Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Cheryl Bernard, who is a retired Olympic curler describes the Class of 2022 inductees as “individuals and trailblazers who are renowned in the sporting community and instrumental in the growth of their respective sports. Each inductee has gone “beyond the win” to build more opportunities for those who came after them and continue to give back to the community.”
Dwayne De Rosario, the Chatham Coloured All-Stars, Brian Williams, Hayley Wickenheiser and “Father of the Northern Games,” Edward Lennie, are a few of the great Canadians that received the Order of Sport Award. They, among the other five inductees, highlight the importance of diversity in sport so many Canadians can feel represented through their perseverance and resiliency to ensure gender, race, disability and ethnicity are not barriers in sports. They are ambassadors for the Canadian sporting community on both a National and International stage.
By highlighting these athletes and notable names in sports, and recognizing multiple systemic issues with multiple sports governing bodies, we can move forward as fans and understand how to consume our favourite sports more consciously. Money in sports comes largely from public funding and sponsorships. When these cases become public, the pressure to reshape organizations and proverbially “clean house” in these organizations, changes will happen. The trust cannot be recovered right away but it can be rebuilt as these governing bodies rebuild for the better.