NEWARK, NEW JERSEY — Hockey pro Miye D’Oench tallied two assists last Sunday as the Metropolitan Riveters secured their second win of the 2018-2019 season. Only weeks before, the third-year forward was skating on asphalt in Kentucky instead of ice in New Jersey.
“It definitely takes a minute to adjust to the pace again, but I feel good,” D’Oench told ThinkProgress after the 4-3 shootout win over the Connecticut Whale.
She hadn’t hit the ice in a game for the Riveters since hoisting the Isobel Championship Cup exactly eight months prior to her season debut last week. At a time when athletes are constantly told to “stick to sports,” 24-year-old D’Oench decided to step away from hockey and spend the past four months working on a political campaign in Kentucky.
“I’ve always been interested in politics,” she told ThinkProgress after practice in Newark last month. “I don’t think I want to run [for office], but [I like] staying engaged and trying to be a well-informed citizen.”
She graduated from Harvard in 2016 with a bachelor’s degree in social studies and spent the two years since working in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. After the 2016 presidential election, she felt moved to more meaningful action.
With her two-year commitment in the DA’s office coming to a close at the same time as the 2018 midterm elections, D’Oench did some research and found a candidate with a platform she could get behind: retired Lt. Col. Amy McGrath, a Democrat who was running for Congress in Kentucky’s sixth district.
It seemed fated — a Riveter working on the political campaign of a female fighter pilot in an election year where many voters wanted more women elected into office. And although McGrath lost, the campaign, “was a groundswell like [Kentucky] hadn’t seen in a really long time, so that was really exciting,” D’Oench said. “But it was hard. It was really hard. It’s long hours and a lot of people time, a lot of frustrating moments.”
In McGrath, D’Oench saw a candidate she believed America needs, one willing to stand for her beliefs without tearing down those who think differently. In sports and politics, D’Oench is still trying to find her own version of that empathy.
“I think the hockey community can be very disengaged sometimes,” said D’Oench. While progress has been made in both women’s hockey, which has been supportive of youth programs and the LGBTQ community, and men’s hockey (the NHL was the first North American sports league to support LGBTQ athletes and fans), glaring problems — particularly when it comes to racism — remain.
“It’s an incredibly white sport. It’s a very privileged sport. I think it’s incumbent on the privileged class to do the work to make sure that you’re talking about things that are going on in the world, especially right now,” said D’Oench. “I would love to see more people speak out about different issues, and one of those issues is the fact that hockey is not open to everybody.”
Throughout a hockey career spanning 21 years, D’Oench, who is of Japanese descent, has often felt that she’s had to ignore racist jokes and problematic comments from teammates, opting instead to focus on the task at hand: winning.
“I can think of many moments when people have made an ethnicity joke that kind sounded off color,” she recounted.
“Those things are awkward and I will be the first to admit … my instinct is to bend to the social pressure of just laughing because it’s awkward not to.”
Yet, since the election that sent Donald Trump to the White House, D’Oench is challenging herself to have difficult conversations with her teammates. “All it takes is just not laughing at a joke, or pulling somebody aside or saying right there, ‘That was not good. That was not okay.'”
That can be hard, given the cultural expectations to keep politics separate from work and athletics. And for her, hockey is both.
Although plenty of women’s hockey pros have taken on social justice causes — Riveters captain Michelle Picard, for example, has participated in a youth hockey program that offers all services for free and retired two-time Isobel Cup champion Harrison Browne has been a strong advocate for trans rights — hockey and social justice, together, are largely uncharted territory.
“I’ve tried my best to use my platform in a way that still respects what we’re here to do, which is to build the women’s hockey game, which needs all the help it can get. But I’ve also, hopefully, pushed people to think about what’s going on in the world,” said D’Oench, who plans to attend Stanford Law School in August 2019 after her final season with the Riveters.
While on the campaign trail, the Riveters forward shared pictures of Rosie the Riveter posters, and encouraged fans to share pictures of themselves registering to vote or canvassing in exchange for NWHL swag.
Two things need to happen: 1) we need to win elections and 2) I need to clean my closet at home. So HEY @Riveters fans! If you tweet me a picture of you registering to vote OR knocking doors, I'll send you a signed old (cleaned) practice jersey #2018Midterms
— Miye D'Oench (@Me_yay_doench) September 28, 2018
“I definitely haven’t done it all that well all the time,” D’Oench said, referring to utilizing social media for activist causes.
But there are other ways she is finding her own pragmatic approach to challenging hockey culture and society as a whole. She and her brother Robin are writing a screenplay about the internment of Japanese Americans in the 1940s (D’Oench’s own maternal grandparents were two of the approximately 120,000 people who were interned during World War II). Rereading that history as the United States continues to cage migrant children and launches tear gas at asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border reminds D’Oench that the U.S. has plenty of lessons yet to learn.
“What were the factors that caused our leaders, some of our most revered leaders, to make this decision? What made it seem reasonable at the time?” she said, referring to Japanese internment. “It was based on a lot of fear mongering, lies, and false reports, and all of that.”
“But you can emotionally understand that when people are overwhelmed with fear they act irrationally. That isn’t talked about enough and it’s exactly what’s happening today.”