The battle for inclusion within the hockey community is not just a movement. It is a study in the behaviours, ideologies and rituals within the game.
Particularly in recent times, fans, players, coaches and academics alike have covered the topic with ever-increasing regularity.
Among the later group is Dr. Cheryl MacDonald. Growing up with the game in Moncton, New Brunswick, MacDonald became an ardent fan, first of the AHL’s Hawks, then of the QMJHL’s Alpines and Wildcats.
But it was the realization that females were also participating in the sport – a fact that, sadly, escaped too many people during that era – that truly put her love of the game into overdrive.
A goaltender during her playing days, MacDonald’s educational resume is impressive, with stops at Saint Mary’s University (BA Honours – Sociology) and Concordia University (MA – Sociology & PhD – Social and Cultural Analysis) thus far.
Today, Dr. MacDonald’s history off the ice includes over a decade studying masculinity and hockey, about half of which centered on the topic of homophobia. At times, as a woman attempting to talk with male hockey players about anti-gay attitudes, something of a double threat loomed in the shadow of her research.
First, there were challenges, quite literally, in getting her foot in the locker room door. Then, there was the concept of getting players, coaches and team officials to open up about their thoughts and viewpoints. Thankfully, the second potential issue was, surprisingly, less of a struggle more often than not.
This research has not only led Dr. MacDonald – who still takes in games in the QMJHL when time (and 2020) allows – to be recognized as one of the foremost experts in the field of sexuality in sport, but also has led directly to her current position as a postdoctoral researcher with the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
In addition, her love of the game and desire to enhance it has led her to work with such initiatives as the You Can Play project, the North American Society for the Sociology of Sport (NASSS) and The Hockey Conference in Halifax, N.S.
Much of this body of work leads back to an important commonality; the struggle, successes and next steps required to eradicate the negative behaviours that have historically created issues within the walls of countless arenas, while also keeping the game’s finer points alive and well.
One base message derived from this work and study remains a constant for Dr. MacDonald and other activists and academics alike – we are making strides in a beautiful sport that must seek continual improvement.
Speak to Cheryl MacDonald just once and her desire to leave the game, as well as society at large, better than when we entered it, is evident.
The little girl who chanted “Go Cats Go!” game after game at the Moncton Coliseum has managed to do something both unique and noble; use a lifetime of education and experience to combine passions for both sport and social progress.