Cautionary Warning: This article contains mentions of assault and domestic abuse.
The year I turned twenty-one was a wild year — and not for the “traditional” reasons that turning twenty-one seems to entail for American college students. I wrote my senior thesis a year early, while helping my boyfriend write his own thesis because he was too lazy to successfully complete it on his own. I moved into my first apartment off-campus. I broke up with said boyfriend. A month later, because he couldn’t take the idea that I was free and had said the last “no” to him, he assaulted me and nearly killed me.
Throughout all of this, hockey was a thread, constant and true.
The year I turned twenty-one was a wild year, to say the least. It was the year I realized I was pansexual. It was the year I fought to make my voice heard, despite an abuser, a university, and the police trying to silence me. It was also the year hockey came back into my life and gave me the strength to keep fighting and keep placing one foot in front of the other when everything else had crumbled around me.
Before you think this is a sob story looking for pity, it’s not. I don’t want your pity and I don’t need it; I never have. I chose to write this article because I am not the only assault and domestic violence survivor who loves hockey. I am not the only woman who carries scars from her abuser and looks to hockey as a way to forget when those scars hurt. I am not the only fighter that looks to the NHL players for inspiration on how to keep fighting against all the odds. I am not the only person with PTSD that turns on hockey at two in the morning when the nightmares are just a little too real to fall back asleep.
I grew watching hockey with my parents. My mom was a Calgary Flames fan and loved Wayne Gretzky. My dad loved the sport and his hometown team, the Chicago Blackhawks. My first hockey game was when I was nine; my parents took me to see the local WHL team, the Portland Winterhawks. I fell in love. Out of all the sports we watched in our household, it was the only one I would happily watch. When my parents split and my dad move to Phoenix, he and I would go to Arizona Coyotes games each time I came to visit during winter breaks.
When I went to college, it was a bit harder to watch hockey. The NHL hadn’t released their streaming service yet and the local NBC channel only broadcast the nearby WHL team’s highlights and games that NBC had national rights to broadcast. Going through a phase of rebellion against my dad, I picked the San Jose Sharks to start following as my team. I fell in love again. The scrappy style of play and determination to get the puck to the net against all the odds stole my breath away. It didn’t hurt that the team was founded the year I was born, so I felt a special connection with the boys in teal.
When I started dating the man who went on to become my abuser (let’s call him The Ex for brevity’s sake), he quickly put a stop to me watching anything that wasn’t Dodgers baseball or our university’s basketball team. Too buried with homework and two jobs, I didn’t see this for what it was — controlling and manipulation of my time and energy.
I stayed with The Ex through two years’ of playoffs and whenever I tried to watch the Sharks, we fought. I took to finding questionable streams of the games to watch when he was at late-night classes or off playing in the pep band. It felt illicit and as if I were alive. The final weeks of research and writing for my thesis, the Sharks were facing the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs. The Ex made sure I was unable to watch the games. Being from Los Angeles, he mandated we only watch the Kings games, and that year, when the Kings won the Cup, he never let me forget that a team he didn’t even care about was better than my team.
Flash forward to two months later when I finally woke up, realized the emotional abuse I’d been through with him, and kicked him to the curb faster than Ovechkin’s slapshot. Finally, I thought, I can watch hockey in peace. If you know your Stanley Cup champions, you know that was the year of the lockout that lasted until January of 2013. Fate has a strange way of working sometimes.
The lockout began less than two weeks after I was assaulted. I’ll spare you the details, but to give you an idea of the severity of that night, I walked away with a black eye, bruises from being choked and thrown into two walls and two doors, four tears and joint damage to one shoulder, and three feet of scar tissue along my spine and neck. The university began its investigation into the matter as the lockout dragged on. I testified in court against my abuser. When he stalked me and had his friends and family stalk and harrass me, NHL players went to the minor leagues and Europe to play hockey. I found any and all streams I could get my hands on to watch those games.
For eighteen months, my world crumbled around me. I faced a university that strong-armed me into signing a gag order, more than one police officer who told me “you’re just trying to get your ex in trouble,” and people I thought were friends quite literally spitting in my face and calling me “that bitch that ruined his life.” Through it all, class carried on during my senior year of college, and in tandem, the lockout seemed to never end.
But hockey was still there. When I couldn’t sleep at night, I turned on streams of KHL games and read article after article about the lockout and what the different NHL players were getting up to with their new teams. When the NHL finally came back, I spent four solid days doing nothing but watching NHL games, reading NHL articles, and pretending that the court and university cases didn’t exist for just a little while. I was happy for the first time in months. I bought my first Sharks jersey and put all the game details on my university calendar. I streamed games during late-night classes as we talked about nineteenth century colonial literature.
With hockey back, I started digging into player profiles and stats. I fell head over heels for Logan Couture and Sidney Crosby. I read through the rules of hockey and followed the Sharks on Twitter. In short, I filled every minute of my spare time with hockey as a distraction, as a way to cope, as a way to heal. I’d been left with physical injuries that prevented me from doing anything aside from sitting and standing and the physical therapy three times a week to recover from that was excruciating. The court dates and university investigation derailed any semblance of concentration or attempts at studying.
I discovered watching hockey helped me focus. I started watching not just Sharks games as I studied and wrote papers. I turned on highlights from around the league after PT. I read news on the then-nascent NHL app while waiting to testify. The nights when I woke up screaming from night terrors were when I finally started looking for NHL players like me.
There were none.
I found players who had battled through cancer and illnesses and had gone on to do incredible things. They gave me the physical strength to get out of bed in the morning for class, to keep trying again and again during PT. I found players who had come from low-income backgrounds and had had to fight for everything they had now. They gave me the courage to keep fighting to rebuild my life into something I wanted and to look toward a day when I could leave The Crash (as I’d started calling it) behind me. I found players who were racial minorities, something the NHL only trotted out when it benefited them, and their quiet determination to help others and provide representation reminded me to be kind to others, to listen, and to be an advocate for my own experiences, as they had with theirs.
But there were no out players. My sexual orientation was something I’d realized after leaving The Ex and was a fact I was still coming to terms with. There were no players who identified as part of the LGBTQ+ community. There were advocates, but no role models, not the way Robbie Rogers had blazed trails for the soccer community that same year. I still have hope that someday soon, players in the NHL will feel comfortable coming out. The league has made many strides in the last five years toward inclusion, but there is still so much to be done. Until then, I hope and I wait and I educate.
And, of course, there were no players that were openly survivors of violence. There were players that were survivors of other traumas, medical and otherwise. But none that were advocates for women (and men) like me who had been battered and then silenced. There was no one who I could look to for support or how to educate others about the new normal we survivors face.
As much as that lack of true support and identity-inclusion rankled, I carried on. Hockey became a staple in my life as I graduated college, moved to Italy for six months to heal and get away from The Ex, and moved back to the States for work. I began contemplating the idea of pursuing my pipedream of sports writing, but didn’t know where to start or if it was even a good fit with my five year plan for graduate school. I watched the Sharks win and lose and win some more. I jumped up and down on my couch when the US men’s team won against Russia in the 2014 Olympics. I finally took the leap to start sports writing and Fear The Fin were kind enough to give me a chance.
Fast forward to last year — 2017. Bless my family and friends because they somehow shielded me from the news about the rape allegations against Patrick Kane and the assault and battery allegations against Evander Kane. Not long before I became a writer for Fear The Fin, I came across an article talking about the slowly growing problem of abusers in the NHL. The piece highlighted the silver lining that at least it wasn’t to the staggering levels of players charged or convicted such as is found in the NFL. I felt sick to my stomach. It felt as if the sport that had kept me sane, given me courage and hope to keep fighting, and had been my escape betrayed me.
My heart cracked like the ice on the first day of spring. As I read the details of the allegations against both Kanes, my pulse thrummed much as it had the night I was assaulted. I felt emotionally attacked all over again. My stomach knotted as I realized that the NHL still lauds both men as prodigies in the sport and actively promotes their jerseys and public appearances. Since that day, I’ve watched multiple hockey writers pen pieces to the tune of “Evander Kane makes sense for the Sharks!”
Each time, I’ve taken to Twitter to outline the reasons why such a player does not make sense and should not be lauded for his hockey skills. Every time, I mention that the biggest red flag are the allegations against Evander Kane about assault and battery toward women. And everytime, men come out of the woodwork online to tell me he’s “innocent until proven guilty” and that I should “just not watch the games” if I don’t agree with players like Patrick and Evander Kane being allowed to play without penalty. It’s a gut-wrenching flashback to the university and court cases and the things judges, police officers, and university Title IX investigators said to me in an attempt to silence me and “make the problem go away.”
Hockey broke my heart.
My abuser once said I had ice in my veins, and it’s a badge I wear with fierce pride.
Hockey gave me so much and I will be eternally grateful as a result. However, the NHL has a long, long way to go if hockey is to truly be “for everyone.” February is always a bittersweet month for me as a queer woman due to the lip service that the NHL pays to including the LGBTQ+ community. Don’t get me wrong, they do a large amount of great community work and some of the teams go farther than others with their “Hockey Is For Everyone” night. However, this February, “Hockey Is For Everyone” is more painful than joyful. This sport that I have loved my entire life, the sport that saved my life, has also betrayed me and my fellow survivors of abuse and domestic violence. If “Hockey Is For Everyone” month is to make any impact, the hockey community needs to foster dialogue surrounding domestic violence in sports and hold one another accountable for our actions and words. My hope, now and going forward, is that the NHL continues to strive for inclusion and support.
I hadn’t planned to write something for “Hockey Is For Everyone” month. However, after reading Sie’s heartbreaking and courageous article, I realized it was time to tell my story. The “Hockey Is For Everyone” month isn’t just for the LGBTQ+ community. It’s for minorities and those without voices — or those whose voices have been silenced.
Sie wrote in her article, “Inclusion starts by recognizing our differences and learning about each other’s needs. At the end of the month, I hope we can all walk away a little kinder and a little more open.” If 2017 taught us anything, it taught us that change is real, it’s happening, and it’s happening now. I don’t make a habit of sharing my story publicly, but for this month and everything it represents, I felt it was time. My hope is that we can learn, grow, and come together in support of survivors and lend volume to their voices and their stories. And I hope that someday, “Hockey Is For Everyone” truly is for everyone.
If you believe you or someone you know is being abused, there is help. If you want to know more about the facts, go here. If you want to help, call your local women’s DV shelter and ask if they need monetary donations or item donations.