Late last week, the Toronto Maple Leafs announced that they hired Hayley Wickenheiser as the team’s assistant director of player development. Manager, Kyle Dubas did his best to downplay the significance of this development, but should he? When it comes to diversity, I tend to want to downplay the idea of people (women, people of color etc.) getting high profile jobs. Mostly because we live in a time when that should be the norm, and we shouldn’t necessarily want to celebrate it. That’s how I feel in corporate America, at least. But in the world of sports, I think I have a different take. Not necessarily because my feelings are different, but because the industry is different. You might disagree with me on that, as the corporate world can be difficult for women. There’s no doubt about it. But in the world of sports, women aren’t taken as seriously as men. Especially when it comes to hockey.
Over the last few years, we have seen an increase in the number of women getting coaching jobs in the NBA. This is certainly something I am excited to see, but I would be more excited if we would start to see it in other sports. Is the hiring of Hayley Wickenheiser a sign that this stereotype is changing?
Wickenheiser is a four-time Olympic gold medallist, a seven-time world champion and has been labeled as “Best in the World” since she was a teenager. She won her fourth Olympic gold medal in Sochi while playing on a broken foot. She was the first female position player to play pro in men’s hockey. She played softball for Canada at the summer Olympics. Lately, she’s been growing the game all over, and as far away as India. And soon, she’ll be Dr. Wickenheiser, after wrapping up her studies at the University of Calgary.
As mentioned she’s currently working on a medical degree, which does raise some questions, about her ability to be present for the team. Is she working under Scott Pellerin (Senior Director of Player Development) because she’s a woman, or because she doesn’t necessarily have the time that the team needs at the moment? I’d like to think that it’s the latter, but I’m skeptical. She certainly has the abilities and the talent, so my guess is that they want her to work with the team, but recognize that her time is constrained.
Will this lead to more female coaches in the NHL? I certainly hope so. As I said earlier, this is something that we are seeing more of in the NBA, and while the positions aren’t head coach, it’s a start. The Toronto Maple Leafs are part of the Original Six hockey teams, which makes you think that they will have an old-school mentality at heart. It was never my intention to debate the merits of female athletes versus male athletes because I think that it’s a losing battle in many ways. Should women be able to compete against men? I think it depends on the sport. Women are physically different than men. Meaning, we have to take these differences into consideration when it comes to competing. But when it comes to coaching? What’s stopping women from being coaches?
Hiring Wickenheiser doesn’t necessarily signal that women will be allowed to play in the NHL. And maybe they never will. What it does is give me hope that the league is heading in a direction where we might see more females in the league at least on the coaching staff.