Ryerson journalism alum is breaking the barrier between social issues and hockey coverage at Sportsnet

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By Ambika Sharma

From challenging preconceived notions of minority representation to highlighting the voices of Black women in hockey, Sonny Sachdeva is challenging the conventional approach to hockey coverage at Sportsnet. 

Sachdeva grew up watching hockey from a fan’s perspective. He never thought of a career in sports as his calling. Instead, Sachdeva focused on music throughout high-school and into his post-secondary career at the University of Calgary.

While at university, Sachdeva pursued classes in music with intentions to transfer into a music program. It wasn’t until he started covering sports for The Gauntlet student newspaper that he realized his interest in journalism. 

“It just kind of took off from there, and I fell in love with it,” he said.

Like many people who end up in sports journalism, Sachdeva played hockey for many years, so his perspective on the statistical and analysis of hockey wasn’t much different than his colleagues. But his lifetime interest and education in music led Sachdeva to a unique lens for covering sports; one that looked at the social, economical and cultural aspects of sports. 

In the fall of 2016, Sachdeva left Calgary for Ryerson’s Master of Journalism program in pursuit of working in sports journalism. “With sports journalism a lot of it is based in Toronto, especially when you are starting out,” Sachdeva said. 

Sachdeva also knew that he wanted to try to get an internship at Sportsnet, a sports media platform that had opportunities in sports radio, TV broadcasting, digital, and until the end of 2016, in print magazine. “I was a big fan of Sportsnet’s magazine and their features,” he said. “The only way to get there for me was to come to Toronto and just kind of get in the door and get an internship.” 

In the spring of 2017, Sachdeva would get an internship at Sportsnet, interning for Sportsnet’s “Hockey Night in Canada” & Sportsnet Digital platform. During his internship, Sachdeva assisted with piecing clips together for Sportsnet’s former “Coach’s Corner” segment, as well as writing the script for the opening of the 2017 Stanley Cup Finals.

“It just kind of took off from there, and I fell in love with it”

As Sachdeva was approaching the end of his time at Ryerson, his major research project caught Sportsnet senior writer and Ryerson journalism instructor David Singh’s eye. His piece “A Better Mirror” highlights the role of Sportsnet’s “Hockey Night in Punjabi” in providing accurate racial representation for the South Asian community in hockey.

Sachdeva got the idea after witnessing the level of work and effort that went into producing the program. Being South Asian, Sachdeva was also able to appreciate the program from a perspective that knew first-hand the impact it had on South Asian representation in hockey. 

Although he acknowledges that “Hockey Night in Punjabi” had been covered before, the narrative was surface level in its portrayal of South Asians in hockey. Sachdeva said most coverage of the program painted brown people playing and liking hockey as some kind of revolutionary idea.

Sachdeva decided to focus on the hard work that went into the production of “Hockey Night in Punjabi” in an effort to make it an accurate portrayal of the South Asian community and making the show accessible to South Asians across Canada.  

“As a person of colour, the special thing was being able to tell that story in a way that it hadn’t been told before, all because I had a different perspective on it,” he said. “That piece was a personal piece because it was about how my community was represented in hockey.”

In July 2020, Sachdeva interviewed Black women in hockey, including Blake Bolden and Saroya Tinker, to produce a story titled “Why True Change for Hockey Depends on Listening to Black Women.”  The story highlights the voices of Black hockey players playing professional hockey but also raised awareness of groups like the Black Girl Hockey Club that are making hockey accessible to Black girls.

The piece came at a time when the sports world began asking questions about the experiences of racialized athletes, especially athletes with intersecting identities. 

“There are so many communities that have been shut out of the conversation,” Sachdeva said. “Black women in hockey sit at the intersection of hockey’s deepest biases.” 

“There are so many communities that have been shut out of the conversation”

For Sachdeva, the story was geared to shed light on leaders who face gender adversity in the male-dominated hockey world in finding opportunities to play at the professional level. Additionally, the article touched on what it is like to be Black in hockey.  

“(Black women’s) voices are pushed in the background constantly,” he said. “If you are going to try to move things forward in hockey, you need to listen to the people who are ignored the most and who have seen the perspective of the situation for their entire lives.” 

Given his personal journey to sports journalism, Sachdeva said he has the responsibility to raise awareness of larger issues in the world of hockey coverage. He added that a lot of credit goes to Sportsnet for giving him the platform to write about the issues he cares about.

“There will always be someone out there who also is interested in having those stories told, and I found that at Sportsnet,” Sachdeva said. “They have given me the platform to tell the stories that I want to tell, and right now there is an appetite for different types of stories in sports journalism.”

For future sports journalists, especially those who think they don’t fit into traditional norms of the workplace, Sachdeva advises them to find their own niche and pursue the stories they want to tell. 

“Focusing on becoming the best you can be at your own thing I think (is) important to find what you want to write about,” he said.

“I found that space, where a lot of my stories lie, and I do go outside of that and write about things outside of that area, but writing about race and social issues in sports is where I fall. Once you find that, everything will fall into place.”

Sachdeva is going to continue to chase the stories that he wants to be represented in sports journalism. 

“I’ve embedded myself in the sport, I feel like I have seen the impact of these issues, and there are so many stories to tell out there that just aren’t being told.”

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