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Shannon Szabados has a good message, but gay female hockey players should be part of the narrative

Shannon Szabados is someone I've admired for many years, albeit from a distance, and it's probably because she's pushed more envelopes than any female hockey player other than Hayley Wickenheiser.

She played with and against the boys in Pee Wee hockey. In Midget hockey. In Alberta Junior A hockey, where she excelled and was anointed the top goaltender in 2007. She played with and against the big boys in the Southern Professional Hockey League, where she backstopped the Columbus Cottonmouths and became the first female to register a win and a shutout in a men's play-for-pay collective.

And, of course, Shannon put a Maple Leaf on her chest and occupied the blue paint for Canada's national women's shinny side long enough to gather a plunder that, between the Winter Olympic Games and world championships, includes nine trinkets—three gold, five silver and one bronze.

There are other knickknacks in her curio cabinet, all of which speak to Shannon's excellence on the frozen ponds of the planet, so suffice to say she has some serious chops.

And that's why I was delighted to see Szabados among the natterbugs on Canada's triple-network coverage of Ponytail Puck from the Ice & Snow Olympics in Beijing. Shannon's is one of the all-female voices during intermission, and she also made a cameo appearance on The Hockey Show, a post-match chin-wag that includes Harnarayan Singh, the engaging Hailey Salvian, and the regrettable P.J. Stock, a former National Hockey League spare part who seems to believe he's on stage at Yuk Yuk's but never utters anything remotely humorous.

Szabados joined their natter on Wednesday and that's the first time she's disappointed me.

After the typical blah, blah, blah and yadda, yadda, yadda about Ponytail Puck and her career, Shannon used her platform to remind us that "visibility matters, representation matters." She was talking about the challenges faced by the racially marginalized in hockey.

"It is our duty as a hockey community to be better," she said, citing Abby Roque of the U.S., and Canadians Jocelyne Larocque, Jamie Lee Rattray and Sarah Nurse. "These players should not have to be their own advocates. We need to step up. We have not been doing a good enough job of it."

Good message.

I just wonder why Shannon limited her talking point to Indigenous/biracial/Black athletes.

Outsports has informed us that there are 12 openly gay players in the Ponytail Puck tournament at the Ice & Snow Games, seven of them on the Canadian roster. Is their visibility/representation not important enough to mention while advocating diversity? Is talking about gay female hockey players taboo on TV?

I mean, I have it on reasonably good authority that many Indigenous, biracial and Black kids are part of the LGBT(etc.) collective, and they need to see and hear about their gay role models, too.

"If you see it, you can be it" isn't just a cutesy catch-phrase. It's the truth.

When a gay kid sees Melodie Daoust decorated as the most valuable player at the world championship, she realizes she can be her some day. Let the dreaming begin. And when she learns that Melodie is married to Audrey and they're parents to son Matheo, she knows that's okay, too.

Same thing when a gay kid sees Brianne Jenner leading the Beijing Olympics in goal-scoring. She knows that can be her wearing the Maple Leaf some day. And when a commentator tells her that Brianne is married to Hayleigh and the two women are parents to a daughter, June, even better.

Shannon Szabados doesn't have to be reminded of this. She knows, because she's played with gay teammates. She's won Olympic/global gold, silver and bronze with them.

"It’s been a culture that’s been built over many years. I don’t think it’s anything new that we do," Gina Kingsbury, general manager of the Canadian national women's team, said in 2020. "It’s part of who we are and the great people who are part of our program. We make sure that we create an inclusive environment that allows people to be themselves and feel accepted, and to feel safe and that environment breeds success, in my mind. Not only does it allow us to be a close-knit team and a close-knit program, it also allows us to be successful at what we do. It also shows that we’ve been world leading for many years in that aspect."

It's safe to say that Canada wouldn't be one win away from another shiny, gold medallion in Beijing if not for the seven LGBT(etc.) players on the roster—Daoust, Jenner, Rattray, Emily Clark, Erin Ambrose, Jill Saulnier and Micah Zandee-Hart.

So it's vital that their "visibility and representation matters." And it should be a talking point on TV.