As one of the most popular talk shows on Canadian television, it is commendable that the all-female cast of The Social address the quickly expanding relevance of women as sporting heroes. While there are still many obstacles to overcome on the road towards total acceptance for women in sport, the presence of the three athletic heroes that were part of the interview panel displays that the future holds tremendous promise.
With the effervescent Melissa Grelo and inquisitive Lainey Lui handling the interviewing duties, the result was a pleasant discussion with a group of women that cover a breadth of competition. From soccer goalkeeper Karina Leblanc to hockey blueliner Tessa Bonhomme, along with pugilist Mandy Bujold, each are highly accomplished women in their field.
The most obvious aspect of all three was their confidence. Each has accomplished so much, while placing women’s sport in a much bigger part of Canadian popular culture, their careers are symbolic of why girls in sport should keep competing as they mature.
As today’s generation of young women enjoy the chance to look up to a growing number of positive female role models, there are many redeeming qualities in the likes of Bonhomme, Bujold and Leblanc. Even young women that are not athletic can look at them and admire their ability to excel and challenge social convention.
Coincidentally, social aspects were also a key defining factor in the reasons that these women first became involved in sport. Leblanc revealed that she was shy during childhood, joking that she would not have had her current hairstyle (spiked with a streak of blonde near the top) in those formative years. She further revealed that sport filled a void as well, connecting her with other people. Bonhomme also attested to the social impact as getting to know people and connecting with them as key factors in her earliest sporting roots.
Having announced her retirement in the aftermath of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, which was held on Canadian soil for the first time, Karina Leblanc was one of the most underrated soccer stars that the country ever produced. Although the medal round evaded the ambitious Canadian squad, who were hoping to build on their fairy-tale run to the bronze medal at the 2012 London Summer Games, their effort was a tremendous source of pride, adding another great chapter to sporting Canadiana.
Bonhomme also appreciates the chance to compete in a world-class event on home soil. After a remarkable career with the Ohio State Buckeyes, Bonhomme landed a spot on the Canadian national team, capturing the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Games. During the interview, she mentioned how great it was for Bonhomme and her teammates to hear from parents how awesome they were after the victory in Vancouver.
Perhaps more impressive was her career following such heroic heights in Vancouver. From becoming the first-ever draft pick in the history of the CWHL Draft, to landing on the cover of The Hockey News, Bonhomme would be catapulted into celebrity status after winning the Battle of the Blades, the first female hockey player to do so. Currently with TSN (she once interviewed Will Ferrell with LeafsTV), Bonhomme has become a crossover star, with the likeable potential to become even more famous for her work as a TV personality than her empowering run as an elite athlete.
Proudly displaying her championship belt, Mandi Bujold is part of a tremendous change in the sporting landscape as women are now headline competitors in boxing and mixed martial arts. Holly Holm, who shall be immortalized in the sporting pantheon as the woman who beat UFC champion Ronda Rousey was a former boxing champion herself, having defeated the legendary Mia St. John.
In discussing her boxing career, one very visceral and sobering reality hit home for the guests, hosts and the remainder of the panel. Bujold had discussed how judges that were not deemed competent for male matches were assigned to serve in a similar capacity for bouts featuring women. For the viewer at home, a collective sigh of surprise (and perhaps shock) could clearly be heard as such conditions are demeaning and dehumanizing.
Later in the segment, Grelo made an excellent point of acknowledging that to be an elite athlete, hardcore training was essential, in essence, akin to a full-time job. Sadly, such effort has resulted with being compensated differently, one of the great gender inequities of the modern era. Leblanc had emphasized in the interview that the prize money for the FIFA Women’s World Cup championship team was tens of millions less than the male victors, a real-life example of the effort that lay ahead in the off-field fight for equality.
While there is no question that women in sport have to work harder to be taken seriously, such work will eventually bear prosperous fruit. For the future female sports athletes how grew up emulating the efforts of Bonhomme, Bujold and Leblanc, it will add to a proud legacy. Each one of them stirred the hearts of sports fans, making them proud to be Canadians, and for that, they will always have their gratitude.