H8 Is A Four Letter Word

5v5 with Sasky Stewart

There’s been so much news about gays, games and athletes coming out lately, the gang at OutSports might have to staff another bureau.  First it was Kobe, then Sean, Rick, Will… we’ve lost count, but the latest news has Professional Bowlers Association Rookie of the Year, Scott Norton, announcing yesterday. Oddly enough, news of Norton actually surfaced about six months ago, but we assume that since there wasn’t a gay bowling blog to chase the story, it didn’t blossom. In any event, congrats Scott, it’s the fact that you’re an attorney is what bothers us.

Lawyer bashing aside, it’s hockey that matters to us, and it’s the people behind and around the game that we care the most about. The first salvos in the sport’s tolerance battles were fired by Brendan Burke. His father Brian and brother Patrick now carry on in Brendan’s absence. 

Last week we put our tails between our legs and gave Sean Avery a round of attaboys for his continued efforts as a… God, this is still hard to say, a goodwill ambassador for gay men and women in hockey and beyond. 

But there are others out there with far lower profiles who are stepping up and adding their energy and voices to the wider effort that has positioned the hockey community at the progressive forefront of these challenging and emotion debates. 

One such trooper on the front lines is former Caps intern, Sasky Stewart, and a new effort of hers called Hockey Against Hate. Launched not too long ago with a cool site, a burgeoning twitter following and a catalogue of unique merchandise, Sasky and her colleagues Alexa Heinrich, Brynna Owens, Hannah Feliciano, and Sarah Connors are five cool dames that any gay guys could fall for. The groups mission statement is simple and direct:

Hockey Against Hate aims to spread understanding, tolerance and compassion through the game of hockey. It promotes a message of diversity, equality and acceptance on and off the ice in the hope that no one who loves the game should ever feel threatened, demeaned or persecuted for the person they love, the colour of their skin or the team they cheer for.

Sasky and her team raise money by the sale of cool items on the site, t-shirts, mugs, totes and proceeds go to charities that include the Brendan Burke Memorial Scholarship Fund. 

We went five on five with Sasky this week and she talked with us about why they launched the effort and where they hope to take it in the future. 

First we asked about her experience with the Caps during her internship.

Sasky: It was one of the greatest opportunities of my life and really contributed even further not only to my addiction to the game of hockey but my passion for the hockey community and the influence this game can have on people’s lives in a positive way. I was lucky enough to spend time at Fort Dupont with Donald Brashear, Wayne  Simmonds and Willie O’Ree for the Hockey is for Everyone Program with the Caps and this was a big factor in my passion for these kind of projects.

PBs: How did the idea for the project come about?

Sasky: The project mostly came out about in response to the Uptown Hockey drama. I’d toyed with for a while to do something to promote these kind fo values in hockey but it’d never got beyond a vague idea floating around. When I woke up (it was 6/7am ish here when the first tweet hit) and found the shitstorm that was Uptown Hockey and their comments, I was enraged like many others. By the time I’d gotten on my tram and reached work I’d coined the Hockey Against Hate phrase (which started as a hashtag), rounded up the initial group of helpers (Hannah, Sarah, Alexa and Brynna) and raced in to register a domain name.

PBs: Are you all avid sportswomen?

Sasky: I know I am or was – I played State and National level ice and inline hockey here in Australia up until about 2009 when I’ve switched to managing and goalie coaching with teams in the AWIHL and AIHL here. Sarah played Women’s Rugby at Boston University during College and also hockey. Everyone in the team however are mad hockey fans.

PBs: What’s the division of labor like among you colleagues?  Who does what?

Sasky: At the moment we’re still working on this! Alexa has done all our design work – so it’s her beautiful t-shirts and logos that you see. I’ve built the website and store and am currently piecing together our approach to the next phase. Many of our team are finishing up with school for the semester so we’re just holding out a little till summer to get completely thrown into it.

PBs: How would you characterize the reception you’ve gotten?

Sasky: When I first started this I never thought we’d get so much support so fast. We’ve had so much positive feedback from the hockey fans both on twitter and Facebook that it’s been rather overwhelming. People are coming from all over who want to help and be a part of Hockey Against Hate and what it stands for. We couldn’t have dreamed for a better initial reception.

Overtime: Have you gotten criticism or been flamed?

Sasky: I’m sure one day we will but so far we haven’t received a single negative bit of feedback about what we’re trying to do. I think the hockey community is really seeing that we’re a group of people who are trying our hardest to actively make a difference and have gotten us a lot of respect for that.

Shootout: What’s next for you guys? 

Sasky: What’s next hey? Well that’s the big question! Currently, we’re working on getting plans together that will enable hockey teams and organisations to use the Hockey Against Hate banner to hold events that will promote the cause and work we’re trying to do here. These events will hopefully include Tweet Ups within the fan community, actual “Hockey Against Hate” Nights, tournaments and charity events under this banner.

Ladies, the best of luck.  And Sarah, about that little bit of Bruins hating bashing we did earlier this week – we meant every single obnoxious word of it. :)

About Craig

Proudly serving gay hockey fans and players since 2010
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