Saudi Arabia opening the doors to women this summer is super exciting. I met a young woman who competed in the youth Olympics in equestrian for Saudi Arabia, and she medaled. She wants her dream to come true.
In 1972, the year of Title IX, IOC President Avery Brundage observed that the ancient Greeks may have had the right idea — they didn't even let women watch the games.
Obviously change takes time and patience. Finally, in Sochi, women will compete in ski jumping, and in Rio [at the 2016 Summer Olympics], you'll have women's boxing, women's golf, women's rugby. They're making a push to make sure every sport has a men's and women's division. It's about participation, about equal opportunity. It's a blueprint of what you value.
Some say female athletes just aren't as good as the men.
You can only climb as high as the ladder is high. I competed in a men's professional hockey game a few years ago. That was a great opportunity for me to get out there and prove that I belonged. I'll never compare to a [Zdeno] Charaof the [Boston] Bruins, who's almost 7 foot. I'd be tiny compared to him, and I'm one of the bigger players in my game. But as far as skill — .
Give the same time [and resources] for each team and each athlete to succeed. Women compete at the NCAA level; they have four years of great training and development, [but] then if they don't have the same opportunities as the men when they graduate, they can't continue to develop as an athlete. Therefore the level of women's sports is actually stunted, in my opinion.
For example, a male hockey player plays 70, 80 games in a pro season; they're skating all summer; they have the financial means to only play hockey; they have everything they need to become the best hockey players in the world. The women's semi-pro league, our schedule is maybe 20 or 30 games, so on top of not having the same coaching and salary and other things, you're not playing at as intense a level so you can't push the boundaries the same way men can.
IOC President Jacques Rogge recently said women's Olympic hockey "cannot continue without improvement." Many people interpreted that as a criticism of North American dominance of that sport.
His comments, I think, were more to encourage the International Ice Hockey Federation to support women's hockey. The teams that have great men's programs should have great women's programs. So in Russia or the Czech Republic or other nations that don't support their women's teams or have poor women's teams, they're simply allocating their resources for the men and leaving nothing for the women. He wasn't saying we're going to get rid of [Olympic] women's hockey. It was more, "Listen, these countries really need to support their women's teams."
You're president-elect of the Women's Sports Foundation, which is running a public service campaign called "Keep Her in the Game."
The campaign is saying girls drop out [of school sports] at twice the rate of boys by age 14. The PSA shows a girl on the soccer field, ready to kick the ball, and a loudspeaker comes on shouting all these things that girls get pressured about: how they look in their jeans, their boyfriends, all this peer pressure that boys don't have to the same degree. And then you see her walking off the field.
You got a bachelor's degree in government at Harvard; will you be running for office one of these days?
I'm interested in government. I'm going back [to Harvard] to get my business degree in the fall. Whenever I talk to kids, I say, sports is important, but you need to get your homework done before practice. It's hard for me to see young athletes who've put all their eggs in one basket and don't succeed on the field.
You were on "The Apprentice." You didn't win but Donald Trump offered you a job. Would you take him up on it?
He sent me a really nice note after I retired, wishing me the best. Maybe sometime in the future, but right now my focus is on school.
After you won your first Olympic gold medal in Nagano in 1998, you were barred from playing in a pickup game at a public rink in Michigan that had a men-only rule.
I thought it was a joke. I had my $5 to get on the ice; I was willing to change in the bathroom; they said no. So I contacted Fox 2 News and went back [with] an undercover camera and got them saying that on camera. I went back after they changed the rules. I had 10 goals [against] a bunch of beginner men. It wasn't even the hockey; it was the principle of it.
One reason I've been successful, I think, was because I was cut from a boys' all-star team when I was little because they didn't want a girl. I was 9, playing in Pasadena, they put together an all-star team going to Canada, and I had to stay home. It was, like, we don't want a girl on the team. It actually made me a better hockey player in the long run because from the age of 9 I was determined. I made the national team when I was 15 years old.
I read that years ago you were in an exhibition game in Canada and some guy in the stands yelled, "She's nuts, she's gorgeous, she's my girl." A lot of male fans wore your jersey.
When I see a man with my jersey on, that's awesome; he respects me as a hockey player, not as a female hockey player.
If you could talk to the parents of girls in elementary school about sports, what would you say?
I would say the same thing to parents of a boy or girl: Understand the importance of getting your kids active at a very young age, not only for their health and education but the way they view themselves, the way they view others. It's going to help them in so many areas of life. Especially young girls: Even though there's not a multimillion-dollar [sports] contract on the horizon, [for] the intangibles, support them like they would their sons.
This interview was edited and excerpted from a tape transcript.