Saroya Tinker standing and speaking

Just over ten years ago, a 12-year-old girl in Oshawa, Ont. Suffered the trauma associated with a teammate telling her, “Shut up, stupid n—–”, in a hockey arena. cloakroom. This was of course not the first time that Saroya Tinker had disgusted with racism. The first times go back to when she was a little girl on the ice who was sometimes shunned by her fellow skaters, forced to sit in a certain area of ​​the locker room and not always included in off-ice activities. Sometimes the racism was more secretive and ignorant, like the time her Ukrainian-Canadian mother, Mandy, was asked which girl her daughter was, and when she pointed out Tinker, she was told, “Crossbreeds make the best athletes.” . Tinker, whose father is Jamaican, still struggles to understand that the episode really happened.

One would assume that things would get better at an institution like Yale University, a respected fortress of higher education with centuries of history where passionate young minds are going to be broadened and enriched. Yet even after playing for four years on the ice at Yale, Tinker’s overall experience there was far from great. Her time at school did not live up to her expectations, in part because she still felt like an outsider. It ultimately made her stronger as a human being.

It finally got to the point where Tinker wondered if continuing to play hockey was worth it. She decided it was, for which the National Women’s Hockey League (NWHL), Metropolitan Riveters and Black Girl Hockey Club are all very grateful. The Riveters drafted his fourth overall in 2020 and used his talents during their dramatically shortened season. The Black Girls Hockey Club is extremely grateful to Tinker for staying in her sport because she has played a leading role in the advocacy group, using her platform to raise awareness and raise funds.

She took it a step further by establishing a mentoring program through the Black Girls Hockey Club for girls ages 8 to 17 who can benefit from Tinker’s experience and knowledge through Zoom workouts, nutritional counseling and bulletins.

Last January, entering the ill-fated NWHL bubble with the Riveters, Tinker launched a GoFundMe initiative for the Black Girls Hockey Club Scholarship Fund, with the goal of raising $ 5,000. When it finally shut it down in March, the initiative had grown to nearly $ 31,000, which is split into $ 1,000, $ 3,000 and $ 5,000 to BIPOC hockey girls in Toronto, Kenya, helping them cover it all. game fees (BIPOC = Black, Indigenous, People of color). Thanks in large part to his efforts, every player who applied for a scholarship received at least $ 1,000. Tinker cried with joy because she was amazed that people are supporting her initiative, that people hear what she is saying and that her voice is heard.

His voice was heard loud and clear when the Riveters and Tinker found themselves in a controversy when two Riveters players were featured on the Barstool Sports podcast in January. Fans of female hockey have raised concerns about any association between the NWHL and the Barstool Sports website, which has a well-documented history of misogynistic and racist-insensitive conduct.

Tinker was quick to condemn Barstool on Twitter, saying Barstool is an “openly racist platform” that “promotes… white supremacy” and told them to keep their money. This prompted Barstool to attack Tinker, saying she should go to jail for his responsive tweet.

There was serious backlash from Barstool followers and an internal team conflict between the two Riveters players who were guests on the podcast and his teammate Tinker. Some of the things said on social media have been called disgusting.

For her part, Tinker talks a lot now about being an unapologetic new version of herself. The little girl who was stunned when she was called the N word by a teammate found her voice, using it in any way she could. It could be as an advocate for a safe space for BIPOC girls and women in hockey or to call on those whose mindset conflicts with this goal, Tinker is now confident, daring and daring to step out of the door. his comfort zone. She’s learned to love herself and care a lot less about what other people think of her, instead, she’s firmly standing up for what she truly believes is right.

Her Ukrainian mother, Mandy, couldn’t be prouder.

“As a parent, it was really amazing to watch our daughter grow up to be such an amazing human being on and off the ice,” Mandy said. “Her struggles to fit into hockey certainly weren’t easy to see, but she always handled things with such grace and integrity.

Mandy is also thrilled with the way her daughter is using her platform across hockey to advocate for communities in need of help.

“She has become an incredibly strong voice for the BIPOC community on and off the ice. We love to see it. Despite her struggles, she made them triumphs and it is so encouraging to see her grow up and use her voice for good and to make a difference.

DIY the player

We must not forget that this young woman happens to be a very good hockey player. At 5-foot-9 and 155 pounds, Tinker has honed his game during his four years at Yale, becoming a defensive back who excels on the penalty spot. She won a silver medal at the World Women’s Under-18 Championship in 2016 representing Team Canada. Not the fastest skater on the team, she has the intelligence to be an elite player.

If the NWHL continues, Tinker is seen as a potential star player as a dominant, physically strong and very committed defender. Mark Bolding, her former coach at Yale, refers to Tinker as a “high-end hockey spirit,” with a unique understanding of how the game works, possibly the reason she defends so skillfully. When she first arrived at Yale, she was more of a rushing defender, but had to adapt and become more of a defensive and stay-at-home defense. Her coaches have always relied heavily on her to kill penalties.

Interestingly, although his game is more squeaky and defensive, Saroya Tinker has some artistic spice off the ice. When not playing hockey or working with the Black Girl Hockey Club, Tinker trains in Calgary with her partner, Dante Djan, a Canadian college football quarterback. Tinker supplements her salary in the NWHL by selling works of art that she creates with oil paint on canvas. She paints portraits of naked men and women, as well as some favorite musical artists like Lauren Hill and Tupac Shakur. His paintings are generally large in size and typically sell for between $ 300 and $ 1,000 each.

Whether the canvas is ice, the public domain, or a true painter’s canvas, Saroya Tinker will go big and take risks. Portraying the artist as a young woman who plays hockey is still a work in progress, although there are many reasons to excite her for her, both on the ice and in the arena of justice. social.

(Quotes above, courtesy of Oshawa Generals Hockey Club.)

Ihor Stelmach can be reached at [email protected]

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