Sometimes I have an idea for a blogpost rumbling around in my head, and then something happens in the world outside of curling that helps bring it all together for me. Last week was the European Super League debacle, reminding me of the universal theme of what makes a fan a fan.
This week it happened again.
I have been thinking, for a while, about a few folks that emerged as heroes from the Calgary curling bubble, and not so much for their curling. Colin Hodgson and Darren Moulding emerged as heroes to me, not so much because of what they did on the ice (although both are pretty fine at curling) but for their heartfelt and genuine displays of bravery and vulnerability off the ice. More on them later.
Like many of my blog ideas, this one was vague and a bit all-over-the-place. Then it came together this week with an announcement that—as a Habs fan—truly broke my heart: Jonathan Drouin announced he was taking a leave of absence from the Montreal Canadiens and pro hockey for “personal reasons.”
I will not speculate on the issue, but clearly he’s admitting that he is not okay.
Like many fans, I have watched Drouin with a hint of frustration over the years. He is pure talent, a natural and gifted playmaker. He would display flashes of absolute brilliance; the perfect no-look pass that nobody expected, the excellent stickhandling around a defenceman, the hand-eye coordination. The man is gifted.
But for every three or four-game flurry of brilliance there’s a 10-game slump, where he seems lost and without vision. He has been in one such slump this season (after a great start). “Fans”—and I use the term loosely—berate him on social media and say things like “he has no heart” ... although he surely wants to be brilliant more than anyone else wants it for him.
These “fans” who give him a standing ovation when he flashes brilliance go on to tweet hopes that he’s injured, so the Habs can bring up young Cole Caufield to fill his place.
Montreal hockey fans are both the best and the absolute worst all at once.
I watch him play and clearly Jonathan Drouin struggles with confidence. As someone who tries to play a sport at a high level and has done so for a long time, I can see it on him, just as plainly as I can read a scoreboard. You can see it on his face, and in his play.
As someone who has struggled with confidence in the past, I can tell you it takes one to know one. And while I have often struggled to keep my chin up in the narrow limelight of curling, Drouin struggles quite visibly at $5 million per year in the most critical and overhyped hockey market in the world (other than Toronto).
I don’t know what is going on with Jonathan Drouin, and I will not speculate. But here is a guy growing up in a sport dominated by truly toxic masculinity; a sport where might makes right. A sport that actually encourages you to take discipline into your own hands and fight if someone violates the unwritten “code”… a sport that glorifies guys who play on through broken ankles or players who return to a game after getting stitched up.
And here is a guy brave enough to walk away—a guy brave enough to put his hand up and say “I am not okay.” To me this is a thousand times more powerful than 365 “Bell Let’s Talk” days.
I wish him well, and I hope to see his brilliance on display again.
* * *
Back to curling. For those who do not know Colin Hodgson, he is the charismatic and stylish lead for Winnipeg’s Team McEwen. Colin has become a clear and consistent voice for mental wellness in the sport.
After the Brier, Colin was supposed to re-enter the bubble in Calgary to play in the Grand Slams, and spend another two weeks in relative isolation. Like Jonathan, Colin put up his hand and said No, I am not okay. He chose to stay home. One of his interviews actually brought me to tears. It was heartbreaking and inspiring, all at the same time.
Darren Moulding is, of course, the third for Brier champion Brendan Bottcher of Edmonton. He took it on the social media chin as Canada went through a midweek losing streak at the world championship and then lost to an excellent Scottish team in the quarterfinals to finish sixth. Yet his media interviews were always honest and heartfelt. And even after it was over, he wasn’t afraid to put up his hand and say there were times when he was not okay. His depth and vulnerability were truly touching.
I cannot tell you how refreshing these displays of humanity are to watch. I was born into the “f**k my feelings” generation. Real men don’t cry. Real men swallow their emotions. Suck it up, princess.
Curling, although not as flush with the toxic masculinity as hockey, was just that way too.
If you are sad, suck it up, have a drink. I think of all the men I knew that were not okay, but just could never say so or talk about it. I think of the countless competitive curlers I have known who have self-medicated throughout the years with booze and/or drugs. I’ve had teammates that were alcoholics. I’ve had teammates that were so plainly not okay, it amazes me to this day that they showed up and curled on some days. It breaks my heart to think about it now. And it breaks my heart that I likely did not do enough to have them talk about it.
Thanks to Jonathan, Darren and Colin for showing us there is a better way.