On Thursday the Toronto Maple Leafs made an extremely popular hiring when they announced that Canadian hockey legend Hayley Wickenheiser would be joining the organization as assistant director of player development. The move received universal praise for very obvious reasons, not only is Wickenheiser one of the most popular Canadian hockey players of all time, she is also one of the greatest and one of the most skilled.
It can not be overstated just how much experience the four time Oympic Gold Medalist and 7 time IIHF Gold Medalist will bring to the table for the Leafs. On top of that when you consider that she currently sits on the International Olympic Committe's Athletes' Commission she also brings a great deal of international credibility to the table as well. At 40 years of age Wickenheiser still has plenty to give and based on her level of dedication to the game of hockey I think she will be an excellent addition to the Leafs roster.
It should have been an announcement that went off without a hitch, but unfortunately that has not been the case. Comments made by Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Kyle Dubas on the subject of the hire have not sat well with everyone and I must admit that I myself do take some umbrage with them especially considering that I now have the benefit of hindsight.
It was one comment in particular that stood out to many fans and one comment specifically that was the target of all the criticism. First here is what was said by the Leafs' general manager.
"If you're only hiring white males, you're probably leaving a lot on the table in terms of where your organization goes and how it evolves and develops," said Dubas as per Sportsnet's Faizal Khamisa.
Now first and foremost to be completely fair to Dubas he has received a fair bit of praise for these comments as well so it would be entirely disingenuous to suggest that they have resulted in nothing but criticism. On top of that some of the criticism that has come as a result of these comments has been entirely unreasonable, at least in my opinion, and should be dismissed as such. I do however feel that Dubas is doing a disservice to Wickenheiser by making this type of comment following her hire.
I feel that focusing on Wickenheiser's immutable characteristics, and more specifically the fact that she is a woman, is doing a tremendous injustice to her as a hockey player and as an athlete. Wickenheiser was not simply some token hire by the Leafs and any suggestion. or even any insinuation, that she was hired purely on the basis of her gender or skin color is patently absurd. As I mentioned before Wickenheiser is legitimately one of the greatest Canadian hockey players to ever lace up skates and it is this that has earned her the respect and adulation of the Canadian hockey community, not the fact that she was born female.
Now I do not believe for a second that Kyle Dubas meant anything negative when he made the comments, he is after all the man who gave Wickenheiser the opportunity to join the Leafs front office, but I do feel the comments were an error in judgement on his part especially given the response he has received. Wickenheiser earned this job based on her experience as a hockey player and was more than qualified for the position, and these are the things she should be recognized and praised for.