The lack of women in the HHoF might be less surprising in the U.S. (which beat Canada to the punch by inducting Granato in 2008), but more than 85,000 women play in organized hockey leagues in Canada. And nothing in the Hall’s rules has excluded women; past committees just haven’t seen fit to honor female hockey legends until now. Last year, the HHoF developed specific induction criteria for women, paving the way for Granato and James. (Of course, naysayers are loudly complaining that women don’t play real hockey because they aren’t in the NHL. Whatever.)
The committee certainly chose its “firsts” well. Granato represented the U.S. in every world championship from 1990 – 2005 and was captain of the gold medal Olympic team in 1998. You can catch up on her career in the post Heather Hogan wrote when Granato joined the U.S. Hall.
The other inductee, James, breaks more than the gender barrier with her selection — she is an out lesbian mom. She isn’t particularly outspoken about her personal life, but she doesn’t shy from giving her opinion about homosexuality in hockey.
“I am who I am,” she told The Dominion. “I’m proud of my partner and family and the more people that can say that, the better. If people have an issue with this, then too bad. Today, male coaches and [general managers] have gay sons and daughters and when they are very open and supportive, it helps. [But] it doesn’t matter if I’m gay, straight, black, yellow, pink, polka-dot or blue, I’m still the same person every day. I respect people for who they are.”
James has experienced more than her share of sexism and homophobia. She learned to play hockey from the boys in her neighborhood — and was able to outplay them before long. She even played in a boy’s hockey league when she was eight, becoming the league’s highest scorer and MVP. Then she got kicked out of the league for being a girl. Funny how nobody cared until she started winning awards.
As a teenager, she played on senior women’s leagues in Central Ontario Women’s Hockey League and led her team to a number of championships despite her young age. When she graduated, Canada didn’t have a national women’s team and U.S. colleges weren’t handing out women’s hockey scholarships. But in 1990, Team Canada selected James to play at the first women’s championship in Ottawa. It was a League of Their Own-style gimmick, complete with hot pink shirts and white pants.
The focus on the novelty of female players couldn’t overshadow James’ talent. She was so used to having to prove herself that she took control of every game. In 1994, she led the team to a gold medal in the world championships with 11 goals in 5 games. (She also won gold medals in three other world championships.)
But when women’s ice hockey became an Olympic sport in 1998, James was cut from the team going to Nagano. She appealed the decision, but Hockey Canada and the media picked up on rumors about a lesbian relationship between her and the coach.
“Homophobia ruined my appeal because something got all blown up and the direction went there, instead of towards my appeal,” James said. “They were all freaking out. You know, every sport goes through it.”
Even now, James acknowledges that time hasn’t healed the hurt. “It’s a big sink in your stomach,” she told ESPN. “I always say, ‘Well, at least I got to play in the world championships,’ and try to look at all the positive things I got out of the game rather than concentrate on [Nagano]. But really, the bottom line is that I knew I should’ve been there. To me, that’s all that really matters. Life goes on.”
Now a coach for the Brampton Canadian Women’s Hockey League team, Angela James’ life has turned out pretty good. Perhaps her induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame is a sign that, at least in one sport, accomplishments are more important than sexual orientation. Join me in congratulating James and Granato on this historic honor.