I know very, very little about hockey. I should point out that I’ve enjoyed a few games live, but I’m not a fan watching games on television. More, my husband occasionally gets tickets to games, and I almost always offer those tickets to a friend of mine who is way, way more into hockey than I will ever likely be.
So. Why am I talking about hockey?
Now, I didn’t really know much about You Can Play, either, until today when a friend on Twitter pointed out that Andrew Shaw (a name I did know, unfortunately) has become one of the ambassadors to You Can Play. You Can Play was a vague, nebulous thing I’d heard about with queer sports or something.
Now, quick info burst for those who don’t want to read the article: Andrew Shaw got suspended and fined for firing off some queerphobic trash during a hockey game, did an apology (which seemed pretty sincere), and has, as far as I can tell from my super-limited exposure, since been pretty good about not outwardly or loudly hating on queer folk.
Having him as an ambassador to an organization promoting queer athletes?
Uh… Not so good?
This actually parallels to some degree my discussion about how the whole “redemption of homophobic parents” is poorly placed in queer narratives (especially queer romance) I wrote a couple of days ago.
So. Let me break down where I’m coming from here.
When you put someone into a position as a queer ambassador and they’re not queer, their history becomes centre stage. In this case? Crappy history. As an imperfect parallel, would you want a football player who was caught, fined, and suspended for, say, animal cruelty or dogfighting to be a face for the SPCA, no matter how much he reformed, apologized, or donated? Likely not.
Everything Andrew Shaw says will come through a kind of filter. When you put a former abuser or hater or queerphobe on the podium, you’ve made it about abusers or haters or queerphobes. Not queerfolk. Even if the message is a good one, it’s no longer directed at the queerfolk, it’s directed at non-queerfolk.
The message of “Don’t be a dick like me,” is a good one. Don’t get me wrong. Because here’s the thing: yes, we totally want queer haters to learn/change. But we don’t have to want to hug ’em after. There’s no prize for reaching basic awareness that queer people are just people and shouldn’t be hated or hurt or unwelcome. That includes us being nicer to you for having made that journey.
Hey, you’ll get polite. Everyone who doesn’t smack me down in some queerphobic way gets polite. Totally. But those high school assholes who roughed me up on a daily basis have changed, too, and we don’t get together for drinks.
I certainly wouldn’t want to play on the same team as them.
And that’s where I think his placement in this role is a misstep. It’s not a welcoming move, so much as it’s a public cautionary tale for those who made (or will make) others unwelcome. “Don’t do what I did.” doesn’t hold a candle to “We want you, please join us.” said to people you’re talking to, rather than speaking to those who did wrong to them.
Andrew Shaw’s story is not an unimportant narrative to have. I just think it would have been a better narrative if another ambassador had it with him. An ambassador with a history of positive queer representation as an ally. Hey, I get it. No one wants to be an out NHL player, apparently (which, hey, take a gander at Andrew Shaw’s previous actions to maybe suss out why). You don’t have a handy queer hockey player to put into the position. And even if you did have one or two of them handy, maybe they don’t want to be reduced to solely being “the queer hockey player.”
But maybe finding a player who has queer relatives might have worked? Or a player who’s a big brother for a queer kid? Or… y’know… someone who doesn’t have a history of being a homophobic ass on the ice?
It’s totally possible I’m missing the mark here, and that other queerfolk would see Shaw as a decent choice. That’s totally valid. And I’m obviously not the target audience. But hey, I’ve learned something about You Can Play, which is good to know about, and I’m at least happy it exists.
But to be clear: As happy as I am I now know about the program, someone like Andrew Shaw—as well meaning as he very well may be—in an ambassador position would keep me away.
Because his voice isn’t “You Can Play.” His voice is “Sorry I Didn’t Let You Play. My Bad.”