Authors note: I wrote this piece in January 2017 after the controversy surrounding the judging of the women’s event at the 2017-2018 US National Figure Skating Championships. In light of Ashley Wagner’s bravery for coming forward with her allegations of sexual abuse, I thought it only appropriate to re-post.
At the time, I had planned on posting another article in my “Skating Club” series, however, two events had occurred the previous weekend and I course corrected.
The first, was the women’s event at the US National Figure Skating Championships. The event was spectacular, and I watched from Starr Andrews’ unbelievable performance through to the last skater, (and gold medalist), Bradie Tennell. From one skater to the next, the momentum kept building, and the ladies did not disappoint. Ashley Wagner skated loose, and free and with passion; her LaLaLand program was a true thing of beauty and nuance. Then came Karen Chen, Mirai Nagasu and lastly Bradie. Each was equally exquisite in their own way, and when the smoke had cleared Ashley Wagner was left off the podium.
The stink of it was; Ashley Wagner made no secret that she was unhappy with her marks. (surprise, surprise) From the moment she flashed the stink eye in incredulity while viewing her final total in the kiss and cry, to her statement about being “furious” that Tenell was marked higher than her in the components scores, there was NO confusion as to her thoughts on her placement.
As a national level coach, I spend a large portion of my time teaching my skaters how to not only win with dignity, but also lose gracefully. We spend hours framing loss as an opportunity for growth, and talking about how to purport ourselves when in the public eye. True sadness at a loss is understandable and honest, but attacking other skaters and judges, in my humble opinion, seems like sour grapes and the mark of being a sore loser. Or at least, I have always thought so.
After seeing this behaviour from Ashley Wagner Friday night, and reading more and more quotes on twitter and in the newsfeed Saturday, I was very mixed in my response to her behaviour.
On the one hand, as a former skater, and now a coach who has been lucky enough to work with competitive athletes, I understand first hand the absolute sacrifice required to make it to the level we see nationally and internationally. It’s not just a few sleepovers and school dances these skaters give up to get to where they are; they give up their very identity.
From the time they are too young to write most of them are getting up early and spending hours at the cold rink, falling over and over again, showing courage and fortitude we don’t see in most adults. As they train, they put up with club politics, coaching changes, constant criticism and financial hardships, often leaving their home and giving up other things most children take for granted because those extra dollars can help to pay for skating. These kids (and remember, they are kids) have a level of dedication and commitment seen in very few.
So, when years and years and years of sacrifice, training and sweat end up in a fourth-place finish there is no greater sting. Fourth place is the worst place to finish; “sooooo close, but not quite good enough” it seems to tell you, as you sit and watch the other three skaters receive their medals.
I empathize and understand Ashley Wagner’s outburst. Still, I thought, by speaking out, I had to wonder if it tarnished the moment for the other three skaters, who had sacrificed just as much, and had simply skated better. Surely, they too deserved their moment, free of controversy and dissension. (for the record, I believe that Chen, Nagasu and Tennell beat Wagner fair and square and absolutely deserve their marks and their placement)
Then I watched the Golden Globes on Sunday night.
I have long believed that there is a war on women. It has been waged on us since time immemorial; from the Salem Witch Trials, to the Suffragette Movement, to the #MeToo Rebellion. I have my own experiences of sexual assault, harassment and discrimination as a young woman in high school, university and in the coaching world to draw from to back up this claim. But my experiences pale in comparison to the plight of women in countries like Saudi Arabia, who to this day suffer unimaginable human rights violations, simply because of their gender.
I can not tell you the strength, comfort and hope the MeToo and TimesUp initiative have given me. Just listening to real women and activists come forward with their stories, sharing what has happened to them, how they felt, and HOW THEY WERE SILENCED elicits the most liberating and empowering feelings. To know that I’m not alone, that people are ready to hear.
That CHANGE is possible.
And the recurring theme at those Golden Globes on Sunday night?
Speaking your truth.
Shedding those bonds of silence we are conditioned with as young girls; NOT to tattle, NOT to be loud, or obnoxious, and for God’s sake, don’t make waves!
So how can I find fault with Ashley Wagner for speaking up for herself when she felt an injustice had occurred? Rightly or wrongly, she became her own advocate. Ashley Wagner used her voice, and she used it loudly and proudly. As is her RIGHT. Whether or not you or I or anyone else agrees with it.
Perhaps if more of us spoke up without fear, change would happen faster, and those of us with a uterus wouldn’t have to work twice as hard to earn approximately only two thirds of what a man does for doing the same job. Perhaps if I had spoken up sooner I would be making what I’m worth in my coaching job instead of still living on the brink of poverty.
Perhaps if we spoke up the next man who feels he is entitled to grab our breast in a crowded bar will think again.
Either way, even though I may not agree with her, I support Ashley Wagner in using her voice to protest. We should all follow her example, to hell with the consequences.
When is the last time you spoke up? Share your stories in the comments!