In a rare confluence of two of my favorite interests, a weird story involving hockey and museums emerged a few weeks ago.
For those of you who don't follow the NHL, Dougie Hamilton is one the league's best young defensemen, and was traded for the second time in his young career for nebulous "team chemistry/personal character issues." If you didn't feel like reading the linked article, Hamilton was regarded as something of an outlier in the Calgary Flames's locker room - when the other guys would go to a bar or a restaurant, he'd prefer his own pursuits, namely museums.
This subsequently alienated him from his teammates and apparently so undermined team chemistry that it overshadowed his (many, many) contributions on the ice, and he was traded to the Carolina Hurricanes. This story blew up in the NHL community, and to their credit, many reporters wondered why a love for museums should be a mark against a player's ability to fit in with his teammates. After all, these guys all come from different backgrounds and learn to get along - why is this any different?
Hamilton has always been regarded as an extremely intelligent man, but it's interesting that museums were specifically named as his mark of shame, and the named reason for moving on from his team in Calgary. Now, for many, it's perhaps not breaking news that a bunch of multimillionaires in their 20s would rather hit the town than hit the newest Art Nouveau exhibit. That's fine, in a sense - different people have different interests. Hamilton should not have felt ostracized for having these different passions, of course. But it's the idea of "he liked museums" as shorthand for "this guy is a nerd, and who would want to go to a museum anyways, which is why his colleagues didn't like him" that should really give us pause.
These concerns are especially valid in light of this post that was recently back in circulation on Twitter, in which Elizabeth Merritt writes on barriers of entry to museums. These barriers extend far beyond money to a myriad of sociological reasons - put simply, a lot of folks, regardless of income level, race, ethnicity, or geography simply do not feel welcome at, or interested in, museums. This is not good.
Many institutions have made remarkable strides in increasing their relevancy to the populations that they serve as they seek to break down these barriers. We must always continue this work, as it is critical to the sustainability of museums. As a field, we always try to be aware that museums can still be seen as stuffy, elitist, or just plain boring to the general public. Why did a bunch of pro hockey players feel that museums had nothing to offer them? What could these institutions have done to make sure that these guys felt welcome within their doors, and interested in what they had to offer?
The creation of exhibits and programming that offer a welcoming experience to all should always be our goal. Dougie Hamilton should be able to do whatever he wants, but his teammates should have been attracted, at least a few times, to what museums had to offer. Museums should not be a place that only the "smart guys" want to attend, and where only they feel welcomed. I hope that Hamilton is able to convince some of the guys on his new team to join him on his next trip to an exhibit, and I am confident that museums everywhere will continue their vital work of making such a trip appealing to all.
PS - For those interested, a similar case of character assassination happened to Myron Rolle, a wonderful pro football prospect from Florida State who was projected to be a first round pick in the 2009 NFL draft until he was named as a Rhodes scholar and announced his intention to study at Oxford. Coaches and NFL personnel men openly mused over how "coachable" such a smart guy would be, and questions lingered about how important football could really be to Rolle. He dropped to the sixth round of the draft, which cost him millions of dollars, and he was out of the league within a few years. Professional sports are notoriously unfriendly to those who march to their own beat, even if that beat is being an elite intellectual. That said, this story does have a happy ending - Rolle is now a neurosurgery resident at Mass General after returning to FSU for med school. I have a feeling he doesn't regret being told he didn't have what it took to collide with other people.