Letter-Writing Campaign

Cross-posting this here in the hopes some of you will add your voices. Deadline has been extended until tomorrow (Tuesday, August 2) and I might be able to make accommodations if you need an extra day or two.

https://www.change.org/p/gary-bettman-bill-daly-demand-the-nhl-take-sexual-assault-and-domestic-violence-seriously/u/17359658

All Together, Each Alone

I used to think everyone’s skin got red and itchy when the weather turned cold.

I have something called “cold urticaria,” which basically means I’m allergic to the cold. It’s no big deal – just some irritating but harmless hives – but it’s so much a part of my life that I’d always assumed it was universal. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned that other people’s experience of feeling cold didn’t include rashes. I stumbled on this information when I mentioned to a friend on especially frigid day that the weather outside was “itchy,” and she had no idea what I meant.

Like my allergy to cold, my anxiety disorder has always been here. I’ve experienced physical pain and gripping terror over relatively small stressors, and I spent most of my life assuming everyone else did, as well. Throughout my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood I tortured myself by plunging into stressful situations again and again, believing that to avoid them would be a sign of laziness and a failure of morality. If everyone faced the same dread over these things then any inability on my part to push through them would mean I was weak, spoiled, bad. Every time I experienced an anxiety attack too overwhelming to manage, I hung myself with all those pejoratives and more.

Learning that my physical and mental responses to stress aren’t the same as everyone else’s was a gift. It’s not that the entire world goes to work each morning with a stomachache and tightness in the throat, and I’m the only one too pathetic or entitled to ignore it and soldier on. When other people say they hate going to work, they mean that they find their jobs frustrating or mundane or even worrisome, but not that it routinely causes them physical pain and a constant low hum of panic.

One of the tentpoles of the mental health community is reminding people with mental illness that they aren’t alone. Other people have been though it and come out the other side, and you can too. Other people are going through it right now and they understand you in a way that your friends and family can’t. You aren’t a freak. Your experience is more common than you think. That message is important. Mental illness can be very isolating, so it helps tremendously to find out your disease is just that: A disease, something that can be identified and treated.

But there’s a downside to normalizing things like anxiety and depression. Make these diseases sound too common and you can lead someone who already struggles with identity and self-esteem to believe that they should be able to power past their illness and function “like everyone else.”

It doesn’t work that way. While many people suffer from mental illnesses that share similar features and symptoms, no two people experience depression or anxiety exactly the same way. Just because the person next to you can hold down a job and raise a family while dealing with mental illness doesn’t make you a failure if you can’t, or if you can’t right now.

When I talk about the horror I feel whenever I start a new project please don’t say, “We all feel that way.” I know you’re trying to help, but you don’t feel the same way I do. If you’re mentally healthy you have no idea how I feel, and even if you have an anxiety disorder of your own you still don’t know what it’s like to live with mine. I’m already beating myself up for all the things I don’t – I can’t – do. I don’t need anyone else piling on.

I don’t know what it’s like to live with your mental illness, either, and I recognize that. Our diseases share some commonalities and we can help each other by acknowledging those and discussing strategies for dealing with them; we just need to remember not to let empathy cross the line into inadvertent shaming.

We’re all in this together, but we’re not all the same. If we’re to help and support each other we can’t lose sight of either of those facts.

 

Unmotherhood

 

This is about ME. It isn’t about all single parents, all mentally ill people, all people without tons of money, or all anything else. It’s just me talking about my decision, nothing more.

 

I would like to be a parent, in theory. The thought of someone to nurture, someone who would love me for the rest of my life and, just by existing, would give that life meaning, is more than appealing – it’s beautiful.

And I can’t have it.

Physically I can, or at least I have no reason to assume I can’t, bear a child. My not being a mother is a choice, one that is as clear-cut as it is painful. Not everyone is equipped to be a parent and far too many people have children simply because of personal desire; I refuse to be one of those people.

The problems would begin before the baby arrived. If I wanted to carry a child I’d have to stop taking my psychiatric medication, which would hurt both me and the fetus. No rational person or institution would allow me to adopt a child as a single, underemployed,  mentally ill parent, and I certainly don’t have the money to hire a surrogate. Even if I did, though, once I took custody of the baby I’d still be unfit for motherhood.

I would adore my child and would do everything in my power to protect and care for them. The problem is that “everything in my power” wouldn’t be nearly enough. I lack the financial resources, but that’s not the real issue. I can’t be a parent because my anxiety and depression manifests in a way that makes even relatively small decisions seem mountainous. I doubt myself at every turn and periodically I shut down because I’m overwhelmed by mundane chores. The everyday job of motherhood would be bad for my health and that, in turn, would be even worse for the child.

My child would have only one parent – a mother who could provide love and little else. They would have to navigate around my illness, making their own choices much too young because I wouldn’t be capable of it. No matter how much work I put into trying to keep it from happening, my child would inevitably end up being my periodic caretaker, suffering through my rare but crushing depressions and far more frequent anxiety attacks. My child would grow up burdened, giving far too much to the one person from whom they should only be taking.

I might mourn my non-motherhood more if every single step of the process didn’t terrify me. Still, I have enough maternal instinct that my desire for a child almost matches my understanding of the fact that it would be wrong of me to have one.

I deal in reality, so while I might dream of what it would be like to look into the eyes of my child and feel complete love and joy, I know it’s something I simply can’t have. This is the legacy I choose to leave: That I wasn’t so selfish as to make someone be my child just so I could be their mother.

A Meeting With the Commissioner

Gary Bettman understands what was wrong with last year’s “Katy Perry” chant in Winnipeg. He didn’t see it at the time, but he does now.

I know this because I sat at a table with him on Wednesday and discussed it.

He told me that he, the league and the Islanders were mortified when, just days earlier, an Isles employee tweeted a picture of Sidney Crosby that included blond pigtails and a call for fans to chant “CIN-DY CROS-BY” at him. He listened while I explained how team organists promote casual sexism by taunting opposing teams with songs like “California Girls” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry.” Our conversation was brief – maybe 10 minutes or so – but it felt meaningful and productive. It was far from perfect, and I’ll get to that in a moment, but my main takeaway was that, at least to some degree, the commissioner gets it. Whether that translates into action remains to be seen, but when I spoke he listened. And when he spoke, he said some things I found legitimately encouraging.

Some context: I began a change.org petition in October to demand the NHL suspend players who were under investigation for sexual assault or domestic violence. That petition has since garnered over 35,ooo signatures, which is why I was able to arrange a meeting with NHL representatives on March 18. Present at that meeting were Group Vice President for Communications John Dellapina and Vice President for Special Projects and Corporate Social Responsibility Jessica Berman. Director of Player Safety Patrick Burke, who is a co-founder of You Can Play, also dropped in for the early part of that meeting. The discussion was spirited and wide-ranging, and I came away with confidence that these people truly care about social progress, but that the league is working toward it much too slowly and quietly. I emphasized the importance of the NHL taking a public stance against sexism and misogyny in much the same way that it has openly opposed homophobia in conjunction with You Can Play. I also passionately advocated for taking accused abusers off the ice until the police investigations into their allegations were closed, but I wasn’t able to get much traction on that issue.

Four days later I got an email from Dellapina saying that Gary Bettman wanted to meet. It’s probably for the best that you can’t see someone’s jaw hit the floor through an email.

After some scheduling hitches, the meeting happened on April 6. The bulk of that 2-hour meeting included Dellapina, Berman and Ted Bunch, co-founder of A Call To Men, the organization that administers the league’s newly-instituted educational program to address issues of sexual assault, domestic violence, sexual harassment and sexism and misogyny overall. I’ll probably write more extensively about A Call To Men at a later date, but the bottom line is that I’m honestly inspired by that organization’s philosophy of promoting “healthy, respectful manhood” through education and collaboration between men. Bunch is an impressive and passionate figure and he and A Call To Men treat male violence against women as a men’s issue, and one which ALL men are responsible for addressing. A Call To Men is an independent entity that contracts with a range of organizations to run similar programs; its role with the NHL is to lead an hour-long meeting with each of the league’s 30 teams, and while I question whether they get enough time and ongoing access to players to fully drive home the message, I absolutely believe A Call To Men aims to teach these players exactly what they need to learn. If I understood correctly, Berman was in charge of vetting and selecting a contractor to run the educational program. In my estimation she got it 100% right.

Bettman dropped by more than halfway through the meeting and didn’t stay long. Initially he came across as polite but somewhat defensive, explaining at length why the NHL won’t suspend accused players unless the league has specific information that clearly points to a player’s guilt. He cited both legal and labor roadblocks that would prevent preemptive suspensions for accused players, and while I believe those obstacles can be overcome I also realized pretty quickly that Bettman doesn’t believe it’s in the NHL’s best interest to make the attempt. He and I heartily disagree on that point, but if his mind can be changed it’s going to have to be by someone with better persuasive skills than I possess. I sincerely hope someone more qualified takes a real crack at it, and I’ll gladly do whatever I can to support that effort.

For now, though, I want to focus on what came next: A discussion of the kind of casual sexism that contributes to a culture that views violence against women as inevitable and, to some extent, acceptable. I’m far from perfect and there were plenty of points I wanted to make and issues I wanted to raise that I just didn’t manage to get around to. But we did discuss the topic of “Katy Perry” and I asked, repeatedly, if he now understood why that chant was so alarming. He began with the same basic response he gave when Jesse Spector asked him about it at the time – that it had initially struck him as just another way for fans to taunt opponents, and that gender was less of a factor than Katy Perry’s status as not-a-hockey-player. He posited that a player with the last name “Bennett” might be met with a “Tony Bennett” chant because Tony Bennett, like Katy Perry, is a singer and not an athlete. I countered that that theory doesn’t hold water since it simply never happens that way. I asked him if he realized now that Katy Perry’s gender, and not her occupation, was the source of the insult. He said that yes, that’s clear to him now. I looked him in the eye when he said that, and I believe him. I think he sees the problem and I think he realizes than many of his league’s fans want and need to see him and the NHL address it. I came away with a good feeling about that aspect of our conversation – one which I hope is proven right by concrete action by the league in the near future.

In the meantime, I remain in contact with Dellapina, Berman and Bunch and I expect our discussions to continue. Our work is far from over, but right now I’m just encouraged by the knowledge that it is truly, demonstrably underway.

The Tragic Demise of Hate

Devils fans hate the Rangers.

Aside from the Stanley Cups and the consistently fantastic goaltending and the general thrill of rooting for a team that almost always seems to outpace expectations, hating the Rangers is the best part of loving the Devils. It’s something we all share, something we know about each without ever needing to say it (although we do say it. We say it a lot, and at as high a volume as the situation allows). Hating the Rangers is our birthright and we enjoy it immensely.

Or, we did. I can’t speak for anyone else, but these days I just can’t hate my team’s biggest rival the way I used to.

The spark went out of my capricious hockey hate when I started leaning about all the hockey teams that have earned my disdain through legitimately loathsome behavior. The Los Angeles Kings tried to shield domestic abuser Slava Voynov from punishment at every turn, and continue to maintain ties with him. The Nashville Predators knowingly signed and promoted sex criminal Mike Ribeiro. The Chicago Blackhawks’ treatment of rape allegations against star forward Patrick Kane is well-documented and discouraging as hell. This list, of course, is nowhere near complete.

How am I supposed to wallow in glorious hatred of the Rangers, whose only notable crime is being a doted-upon area rival, when other teams harbor rapists and abusers? At a time when I’ve begun to hate the NHL itself for cause, how much passion can I spare for a franchise just trying to win hockey games.

I’m sure there are some nasty skeletons in the Rangers’ closet, and that someone will try to make a gift of them to me in the same way a cat drops a dead mouse at its owner’s feet. Please don’t. I don’t need another dead mouse. There’s no joy in hating a team for being an actual scourge on society.

People have also gleefully shoved the Devils’ skeletons in my face in an attempt to crush my passion on the topic of sexual assault and domestic violence in the NHL. That’s not going to work, either. Learning about my team’s transgressions made me sad and a little sick to my stomach, but it neither shamed me into silence nor obliterated my love for an organization that has brought me decades of joy. It lessened my joy, so kudos to the messengers for that, but it didn’t destroy the memories nor the excitement of what could be to come.

The irrational love, if somewhat diminished, still remains. Without the accompanying irrational hate, though, my fan experience feels incomplete. I might talk trash with a Rangers fan or take a little extra pleasure in seeing the Devils beat the guys in blue, but there are at least three non-conference teams I can’t bring myself to cheer for when they play against New York. Rivalry-wise, I’m going through the motions.

I want hockey players to stop assaulting women because I’m a decent human being and no more assaults would mean no more victims. I want the NHL and its teams to do something about abuse and abusers for the same reason, and also because it would help combat some of the entrenched sexism and misogyny currently festering in the league (and in most pro sports). There’s a long list of reasons why I want to see progress in this area, and most of them boil down to trying to make the world to be a better, safer, kinder place. But down at the bottom of that list, after all the noble causes and positive aspirations, is the desire to rekindle my wholesome hate.

I want to hate the Rangers again, lustily and with abandon. I want to revel in their failures and boo their stars. I want there to be no doubt whatsoever that if the Rangers made it to the Cup finals I would whole-heartedly root for the opponent, no matter who it may be.

I’ve lost that hating feeling. I just want it back.

 

Insider Trading

For a moment can we forget about the All-Star Game, John Scott’s pregnant wife and the NHL’s complete lack of a sense of humor?

Amid all the conspiracy talk surrounding a distinctly  weird-looking trade between the Canadiens, Coyotes and Predators, one element has been conspicuously absent: Namely, that the NHL might have tampered with the rosters of individual member teams.

The word “integrity” always sounds ridiculous when mentioned in conjunction with the All-Star Game, but in this case it is very much in play. Integrity, as in the one thing that keeps competitive sports from becoming professional wrestling. Nobody is suggesting that the NHL directly fixed games, but no less an authority than Bob McKenzie said this on a radio spot (as transcribed by Chris Nichols):

“I think he feels like there’s no question in his mind – and really, it strains the level of credulity to think otherwise – his inclusion in this trade, in my mind, was absolutely orchestrated to solve the All-Star issue for the league.”

This quote was widely circulated and then, inexplicably, widely ignored except as it relates to Scott and the All-Star Game. Maybe McKenzie was just spouting off, but that’s not really his style. He’s arguably the most trusted journalist covering the NHL, and he just said he believes the league meddled in the personnel decisions of its member teams for the absolutely pettiest of reasons.

Plenty has been said, written, tweeted and generally shouted at the clouds about Scott’s plight, and rightly so, but if the NHL orchestrated any part of this then that’s outright corruption of the on-ice product. It’s as bad as if the league fixed the draft lottery or instructed its referees to favor certain teams over others. Yes, this was a relatively minor trade, but once the NHL demonstrates a willingness to sacrifice competitive fairness at any level, its credibility is shot at all levels.

McKenzie might have been wrong, and I certainly hope that’s the case, but his comment makes a chilling amount of sense. I would love to hear more from him on this issue – really, I’d love to hear more from any of the legion of journalists who cover the NHL on this issue – but it seems they either didn’t notice, don’t care, or actively want to protect the league. None of those options are at all acceptable.

 

 

Petition Update – Please Read!

Hi everyone.

If you’re reading this, you already know I put up a change.org petition a few days ago to get the NHL to finally stop ignoring the huge problem of its players committing acts of domestic violence and sexual assault. A lot of you have signed already, and I appreciate your support more than I can say.

Yesterday I spoke with a couple of that website’s employees, who contacted me because they believe the petition has a real chance of succeeding(!). Their job is to do everything they can to make that happen, including (as I understand it) a good deal of promotion and publicity. The first thing they wanted to do, though, was adjust the writing to a style that has proven successful in getting traction on the site.

That means the wording of the petition has changed.

The spirit is, in my opinion, exactly the same. I read their revision, made a handful of edits to it, and approved the new version only when I was satisfied that it still carried exactly the same message as the original. Still, I wanted to make sure that everyone who signed the original version knows that the structure of the petition is now different.

Here’s a link to the new (and now permanent) text. You absolutely have the option of withdrawing your support, although of course I sincerely hope you like the revised version as much as I do and continue to back the petition.

Thanks, as always, for reading! Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section or address them to @mgeschwind on Twitter.