On Pink Shirt Day, Olympic silver medalist Jill Saulnier talks about involving more women and girls in sport and what it takes to #EndBullying
Today is Pink Shirt Day. This is a day dedicated to raising awareness about bullying and supporting programs that promote 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 helps Canadians 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 highlighting the issue of bullying in sport. That’s why Hockey Canada partnered with TELUS to create The Code. The Code aims to raise awareness of bullying within the hockey community and help hockey families stay safe online.
Proud Code Ambassador Jill Saulnier sat down with TELUS Wise to share her insights. Jill was an Olympic silver medalist in 2018 and has played over 100 games wearing the Team Canada jersey. She is currently training to represent Canada at the 2021 IIHF Women’s World Championship (held in her hometown of Halifax) and the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.
Jill shares her insights and experiences about women and sport, bullying and sport, her involvement with the Code, and why it’s so important to just be nice – at the rink, online and everywhere in between.
Q: How did you start doing sports? What obstacles did you encounter?
JS: Growing up in Halifax, we had a skating 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 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 very young age, I had an incessant passion for having a hockey stick in my hand. When I saw women win the 2002 Olympics, I decided to do it one day. I kept skating and playing. There was no full women’s team in Halifax, so at the age of 14 I knew I had to leave Halifax if I wanted to train seriously. When I was 15, I went to train in the United States and this decision was a real turning point in my career. I was then invited to play for the national team, which brought me back to Canada. I joined the Professional Women’s Hockey Players Association (PWHPA) and at every step I followed the opportunities to become the best athlete and myself that I could be.
Q: According to the Canadian Women and Sport Survey (June 2020), 62% of Canadian girls do not participate in any sport. Based on your experiences, what message do you have for Canadian girls and women about participating and maintaining participation in sport?
JS: There is a real lack of visibility and opportunities for female athletes. Sometimes there are no teams to play on. I saw it first hand. I always tell young girls to get excited about the sport – there are so many different options available. Experiment and find what you like to do. Sport has enriched my life in so many ways – it has given me enormous confidence and made friends for life. To succeed in my sport, you have to be powerful and explosive. So to me, there’s such beauty in women who are strong, healthy, and love what they do. With social media, there are so many biased posts and images about body type and body image. Playing sports changes this narrative and provides an alternative message. Strong is beautiful.
Q: The issue of bullying and sports is an ongoing concern. According to Help for children, 40-50% of athletes have experienced 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 personally wasn’t bullied. I was connected to what I had to do. If people tried to get in my way, I listened to them to stay on track. I had great people around me who provided ongoing support, so no one was trying to get me off track. 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 affected by negative comments online.
Unfortunately, it’s a trend in women and sports. There are people sitting anonymously behind screens trying to take down strong, passionate people who pursue their goals. Most athletes are strong enough to detach themselves from this negativity and give it no power. But there are times when someone sees something online that is upsetting or hurtful and then internalizes it – and athletes are not immune. Usually, people who bully others are very good at targeting insecurities. If this happens to you, it’s important to reach out to a friend or family member and talk about your experience. Don’t let it distract you from your path. Acknowledge it, talk about it, and find the support you need to let go.
Q: What is the Code and when did you get involved?
JS: The Code addresses cyberbullying issues by offering workshops for coaches, players and families. I got involved in 2018. And I’m honored 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 connection between sports and the digital world. It is important to recognize these issues and give them a voice. I am very proud to be part of a platform that educates people and brings real change.
Q: What is your advice on how we can #EndBullying in sport?
JS: We have to use the available platforms to educate ourselves and be better. Cyberbullying can be very hurtful. In sports in particular, cyberbullying can affect the way people feel and perform. It is important to have a supportive community and learn skills and strategies to deal with cyberbullying in a healthy and productive way. I also believe that properly enforced zero tolerance policies can go a long way to change and reduce the occurrences and impacts of bullying.
Q: Has COVID-19 had an impact on harassment in sport? How?
JS: Since the pandemic hit, we’ve all been spending a lot more time in isolation and indoors with our phones. As athletes, we can’t play, train or go to school and we don’t have the same challenges and schedules that we normally would. So, like most people, we resort to the internet to pass the time. Comparison has been a big problem for many athletes. There’s this immense pressure to be better when you see what other people are doing online. Our training has also completely changed. Earlier this year, we completed our first Hockey Canada camp in a year. We stayed there for 14 days, with very strict protocols. Many of us had to train in our hotel rooms. Right now it’s all about attitude and focusing on making the most 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 nice. 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, uplift people. It will only make you a better person. We have so many challenges in our world, especially now. It’s more important than ever to be kind. I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by great people and athletes. Positive, supportive people lift you up. Don’t let people behind a screen get you down.
To learn more about security in our digital world, please visit telus.com/wise for the latest resources and workshops available.