Hayley Wickenheiser with her four Olympic gold medals.

Hayley Wickenheiser with her four Olympic gold medals.

Knocking a legend

Hayley Wickenheiser is considered a hockey legend by many; but others can't seem to resist taking her down a peg or two.

Two weeks ago, Hayley Wickenheiser—probably the greatest female hockey player of all time—announced that she was retiring from the sport at age 38 to pursue a long-desired career in medicine. In addition to her many hockey medals and trophies (which include four Olympic gold medals in a row; she is one of five people in the history of the Olympics to achieve this feat), she already has a master’s degree in medicine.

A few of Wickenheiser’s other sporting accomplishments include being one of the relatively few Olympians to compete at both the winter and summer Olympics (hockey and softball); being the first woman to score a goal in a men’s professional hockey league; being named the Olympic women’s hockey tournament MVP twice; and being the first woman to play full-time professional hockey in a position other than goalie.

Tributes to Wickenheiser came thick and fast after her announcement, including two pieces in The Globe and Mail, one of them by family friend and 16-season NHL player Andrew Ference. Out of interest, I popped into the comments sections for the articles, expecting to see more accolades for the hockey great, and I was not disappointed.

However, there were also those who felt that Wickenheiser was, shall we say, overrated. “[She] has, indeed, had a long and productive career, although I think in the grand scheme of things it is overrated,” wrote char58. “To imply she is one of the greatest female athletes who pushed the limits of what a women [sic] can do is hyperbole.”

“I think Wickenheiser also has a big ego—as she could have stepped aside and allowed other players to play several years ago (and coached etc)—and in addition she had to carry it one step further and play for a professional men’s European league just to prove she was ‘as good’ as a man—I don’t think she ever saw a microphone/camera she didn’t like.” (milfancan)

“Majority of youth in Toronto which is considered the hot bed of hockey would have no clue who this woman is.” (kaganovitch)

“Great career, though probably should have packed it in a few years ago and let some younger players have a shot.” (Gabriel Allon)

I had to wonder if, had Wickenheiser been a similarly storied male hockey player, anyone would have remarked on her “ego”, or said hockey-playing youth had never heard of her, or complained that, at 38, she should long since have got out and made room for younger players.

There are currently 15 men aged 38 and over playing in the NHL; should they hang up their skates? If a male hockey player talks to the press because he’s good, and reporters want to speak to him, does this mean he has an ego? Are your considerable accomplishments negated if some people haven’t heard of you? It’s like when Lucy in the “Peanuts” cartoons says that Beethoven couldn’t have been that great, because he never got his picture on a bubble-gum card.

Please: let’s stop holding female athletes (and actors, and politicians, and …) to different standards than men. And to Sheep #5491, who called Wickenheiser “the Gordie Howe of woman’s [sic] hockey”: how about if we just call her the Hayley Wickenheiser of women’s hockey, and leave it at that?