Today is Pink Shirt Day. It’s a day dedicated to raising awareness of bullying and supporting programs that foster healthy self-esteem in children. Everyone is encouraged to wear pink to symbolize a lack of tolerance for bullying.
TELUS Wise stands in solidarity with Pink Shirt Day. The free digital literacy program empowers Canadians to stay safe in the digital world. Through informative workshops, articles and interviews, TELUS Wise helps Canadians shape positive experiences as digital citizens.
To mark Pink Shirt Day this year, TELUS Wise is spotlighting the issue of bullying in sport. It’s why Hockey Canada partnered with TELUS to create The Code. The Code aims to improve awareness about bullying within the hockey community and help hockey families stay safe online.
Jill Saulnier, a proud Code ambassador, sat down with TELUS Wise to share her perspectives. Jill was an Olympic silver medallist in 2018 and has played more than 100 games in a Team Canada jersey. She is currently training to represent Canada at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship (which is being held in her hometown of Halifax) and the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
Jill shares her insights and experiences regarding women and sport, bullying and sport, her involvement in The Code and why it’s so important to just be kind – at the rink, online and everywhere in between.
Q: How did you get involved in sports? What obstacles did you confront?
JS: Growing up in Halifax, we had a rink in our backyard. I started skating and playing hockey when I was five years old. It was a family affair. My mom and dad both took turns flooding the rink, so we always had a fresh sheet of ice. It was a mantra in our family – wake up, skate on the pond; go to school, come home and skate on the pond.
From a really young age, I had a relentless passion to have a hockey stick in my hand. When I watched the women win the 2002 Olympics, I made up my mind that I would do that someday. I kept skating and playing. There wasn’t a full girls’ team in Halifax, so by the time I was 14, I knew I had to leave Halifax if I wanted to get serious about my training. When I was 15, I went to train in the U.S. and that decision was a real turning point in my career. I then got invited to play for the national team, which brought me back to Canada. I joined the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) and every step of the way, I followed the opportunities to become the best athlete and best self I could be.
Q: According to the Canadian Women and Sport Survey (June 2020), 62% of Canadian girls are not participating in sport of any kind. Based on your experiences, what message do you have for Canadian girls and women about getting involved in and staying involved in sports?
JS: There is a real lack of visibility and opportunity for female athletes. Sometimes, there aren’t teams to play on. I’ve seen it firsthand. I always tell young girls to find a passion in sports – there are so many different options available. Experiment and find what you love to do. Sports have enriched my life in so many ways – it has been a huge source of confidence for me and I’ve made lifelong friends. To be successful in my sport, you need to be powerful and explosive. So to me, there is such beauty in women who are strong, healthy and love what they are doing. With social media, there are so many skewed messages and images about body type and body image. Playing sports changes that narrative and provides an alternative message. Strong is beautiful.
Q: The issue of bullying and sports is an ongoing concern. According to Childhelp, 40-50% of athletes have experienced anything from mild harassment to severe abuse in their sport of choice. What are your personal experiences with bullying and sport both offline and online?
JS: When I was younger, I didn’t experience bullying personally. I was dialed in to what I needed to do. If people tried to get in my way, I tuned them out to stay on track. I had great people around me who provided ongoing support, so nobody was trying to knock me off my path. Cyberbullying is so prevalent now. And I have experienced it. I’m proud of my accomplishments, but there have been times when I felt cyberbullied or was affected by negative comments online.
Sadly, it’s a trend with women and sports. There are people sitting anonymously behind screens trying to tear down strong, passionate people who are chasing their goals. Most athletes are strong enough to detach from that negativity and not give it any power. But there are times when someone sees something online that is upsetting or hurtful and then internalizes it – and athletes aren’t immune. Usually, people that bully others are really good at targeting insecurities. If it happens to you, it is important to reach out to a friend or family member and talk about your experience. Don’t let it steer you off your path. Acknowledge it, talk about it and find the support you need to let it go.
Q: What is The Code and when did you get involved?
JS: The Code tackles the issues of cyberbullying by offering workshops for coaches, players and families. I got involved in 2018. And I am humbled to work with TELUS and The Code team to inspire change. The values of The Code are really meaningful to me as an athlete. There is such a strong tie between sport and the digital world. It’s important to acknowledge these issues and give voice to them. I am very proud to be part of a platform that is educating people and making real change.
Q: What is your advice around how we can #EndBullying in sport?
JS: We need to use the platforms available to educate ourselves and be better. Cyberbullying can be really hurtful. In sports specifically, cyberbullying can affect how people feel and perform. It’s important to have a community of support and to learn skills and strategies to deal with cyberbullying in a healthy, productive way. I also think that properly-enforced zero-tolerance policies can go a long way in driving change and lessening the instances and impacts of bullying.
Q: Has COVID-19 impacted bullying in sports? How?
JS: Since the pandemic hit, we’ve all had a lot more time isolated and inside with our phones. As athletes, we can’t play, train or go to school and we don’t have the same challenges and schedule we’d normally have. So like most people, we are resorting to the internet to pass time. Comparing has been a big issue for a lot of athletes. There is this immense pressure to be better when you’re seeing what others are doing online. Our training has completely changed as well. Earlier this year, we completed our first Hockey Canada camp in a year. We were there for 14 days, with very strict protocols. Many of us had to work out in our hotel rooms. Right now, it comes down to attitude and focusing on making the best of every moment, no matter the situation.
Q: If you could share one message with kids and their parents about Pink Shirt Day, what would it be?
JS: Be kind. Making people around you feel good is so important. There are so many issues online and in our physical world when it comes to bullying. Instead of tearing people down, bring people up. That’s only going to make you a better person. We have so many challenges in our world, especially now. It’s more important than ever to just be kind. I’m incredibly fortunate to be surrounded by wonderful people and athletes. Positive, supportive people bring you up. Don’t let people behind a screen bring you down.
To learn more about staying safe in our digital world, please visit telus.com/wise for the latest resources and workshops available.