After suffering from a life-changing spinal injury while playing hockey in 2004, I was left with debilitating chronic pain and little chance of a full recovery. I have always been passionate about safety in hockey, but my injury helped me realize just how important it was to continue pushing for the removal of checking from the game. After recovering enough to regain some of my mental focus, I started looking towards the media as a possibility to remind the public of the importance of safety in sport.
In 2006, the Kingston Whig Standard wrote an article about the irony of my accident, after I had been involved with the removal of checking from the women’s nationals in the 1980s. However, a few months following the article’s publication, a little girl by the name of Jessa McAuliffe responded to my article with a letter to the editor of the Whig Standard, and complained that she would “like to have the same rules for girls as for boys,” and that she was “tired of the wimpy rules of girls’ hockey.”
I replied to Jessa in another article, and explained that I actually agreed with her -- I wanted the girls to have the same rules as the boys too! I just didn’t want those rules to include contact, as I knew all too well by this point how devastating an accident could be. It was one thing for a woman in her 50's to lose her ability to play sports, but I never wanted a child to have to face what I was going through.
Writing back to her, I explained the four main reasons I had lobbied to take checking out of the women’s game in 1982. They are as follows:
1. Removing all contact would unify the playing regulations across the country, creating less confusion for inter-league games and tournaments. That’s because prior to 1982, some women’s games played with contact, some without, some with only hip checks, and some didn’t even allow slapshots!
2. It would put the focus of the game back onto the skill and fitness involved (instead of who could hurt their opponents the most), meaning the game would be won by the most capable team, and not by the one most violent or intimidating one.
3. It would decrease injury rates, making a safer game for all involved. This is THE most important point in my opinion!
4. It would allow the OWHA to promote the game better, especially to kids whose parents were still caught up in the idea that their 10-year-old daughters were somehow not as strong as their 10-year-old sons. It would also make sure that in towns where there was only one women’s team with a wide range of ages, the kids age 9 or 10 would be more inclined to play if they weren’t frightened by being hit by a full-grown woman, twice their height and 30-50 pounds heavier.
We had hoped that by moulding the women’s game, still so plastic in its infancy, we would be able to set an example for men’s teams, and incite them to also remove checking from their games. Many years later, the male program in Canada did in fact push back the age at which boys begin playing contact, although they have yet to fully remove hitting from the sport.
The decision to remove contact from the women’s game was made during the time I sat with the Female Council, the main governing body that had just been created to give women’s hockey a voice on the CAHA (Hockey Canada) Board of Directors. As Director of the Council, I lobbied the representative from each province individually, and managed to convince nine out of the 10 reps to implement this crucial safety measure. Interestingly enough, the only representative to withhold their vote was from my home province of Ontario, and I faced a lot of flak from my OWHA colleagues because of this.
However, I think there is a great lesson to be learned here in terms of leadership: it is so important to take the initiative to stand up for what you believe and kickstart the change you want to see in the world, no matter what you’re up against. It can be tough, sometimes, to stand your ground when the current is flowing against you, when you’re facing double standards, or when it seems your goals are slipping away. But even if we fall back a step, we need to have the courage to stand up and take two steps forward.
As women, we need to raise our voices and start taking concrete action to make our passions and dreams into reality -- whether that’s equality, safety, or something else -- because we are powerful. We are capable.
And we need to demand that the other 49% of the population stand up with us.
We need to be our own leaders if we want anything to change. But what good's a captain without a team?
– Rhonda Leeman Taylor Sept. 5th, 2019