There has always been plenty going on behind the scenes of a hockey spouse’s life, with the responsibilities of managing a household falling squarely on the shoulders of a person whose husband, by necessity, is often absent. But the public and/or the media never seemed to care much about this reality.
There was a time when the public and the media envisioned an athlete’s partner as doing little more than showing up at games, being personable and engaging at public functions, and pitching in on the occasional charity project.
Times have changed. Lexi LaFleur Brown has a Masters Degree in Public Relations, is currently pursuing a PhD in Education, and is savvy when it comes to social media. She’s married to a professional hockey player (they met via Twitter) and she’s an athlete in her own right. And while she doesn’t currently have a job (“Nope. Just going to school and being pregnant,” she said), she’s someone who fits the growing paradigm of the outspoken hockey spouse who proves media assumptions wrong.
Lexi is among the leaders of Bolts Better Halves, an organization comprised of Lightning organization spouses, fiancees, and partners, committed to community service in the Tampa Bay area. “We have meetings at the start of the year and kind of outline the events that we’ll have throughout the season,” she said. “The Lightning organization is always so supportive, so any idea that we come up with, they’re completely helpful. They’re all hands on deck and they really help bring it to life for us.”
“Lexi is an amazing woman”, said Elizabeth Frazier, Senior Vice President of Philanthropy and Community Initiatives for the Lightning. “She wants to do whatever she can to help because she knows how important it is.”
Frazier said the Lightning organization helps the Bolts Better Halves where it can but that initiatives begin with them. “Obviously, the players have their own personal passions and sometimes their significant others share those same passions, but often they’re very different.”
This past season, they held a fashion show. Lexi said, “Sometimes there can be events where you just kind of feel like a prop, standing next to your husband. But we really wanted to create something and take leadership and ownership of it. And the guys did help too; we auctioned them off!”
The fashion show, held on April 1, resulted in a donation of $200K to The Spring of Tampa Bay, a non-profit organization dedicated to preventing domestic violence and protecting victims and their families.
“We took our idea from what other teams have been doing. I think the (Anaheim) Ducks do a fashion show, so I know that there are a lot of women in the league giving back in similar ways or in ways that they can. It was really important to us since we didn’t really have anything, and we needed to start to get some big events in place so that we’re contributing in the community, because it’s important for us to do that too,” said Lexi.
“What we’ve discovered through meetings with the Bolts Better Halves is that three or four things bubbled up as a group, and one of them was domestic violence. As women, the quest to make sure no woman or child is ever a victim is extremely important to them,” Frazier said. “Lexi has had some more inside experience, seeing what happens in shelters in other communities and knows what an important role they play in the lives of women who need them.”
“Dogs and pet adoptions from the Humane Society is another cause that’s important to them so we’re in the process of putting together a Bolts Better Halves players and dogs calendar,” said Frazier. “They’ve also served and cooked meals at the Ronald McDonald house for families who have to live near the hospital because they have a loved one there. So the power of the women being able to say ‘this is important to us, as members of the community, not just as the wife of a Lightning player,’ has just been amazing. And getting to know them and understand why they’re motivated to get so involved has been nothing but positive.”
As the world of sports continues to struggle to form a comfortable relationship with social media, the idea of a Twitter account belonging to a player’s spouse can be a significant source of apprehension for a team’s public relations staff. Miko Grimes, wife of Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Brent Grimes, is someone who has generated headlines and controversy through her activity on Twitter. “So far, I haven’t crossed that line”, Lexi laughed. “I re-read my Tweets and really try to make sure I’m not pushing it too far.”
She’s also not afraid to share her views with her more than 2,700 followers:
As well as her sense of humor:
“I just really love social media,” she said.
She and J.T. are expecting their first child in June. They married in 2015 after a courtship that began on Twitter in 2013.
J.T. is one of a small but growing number of non-white players in the NHL, an issue that he raises awareness for whenever he has a chance. Most recently, he attended and supported a screening of Soul on Ice: Past, Present, and Future, a documentary about the ground-breaking stories of black hockey players.
“I think that’s part of the reason why I’m so transparent online,” said Lexi. “Because everybody’s just been so supportive and I think we do have a unique story to share so it’s all been part of that; wanting to share our story. I know that J.T. has been really passionate about diversity in hockey and promoting the idea that kids that look like him can play hockey too. And for me, it’s that girls can play hockey so I think for us, that transparency has been helpful.”
As the paradigm of hockey spouses diligently working in the shadows fades into obsolescence, Lexi LaFleur Brown is part of a group that is more the rule than the exception.
“I don’t know that there has really been a huge societal shift,” said Frazier. “I think it’s a matter of getting to know people better as individuals and forming relationships and knowing what’s important to them. Of course, there have been changes in leadership over the years, not just with the team but within hockey, and within all sports and within society in general, so it’s just something that’s evolved naturally.”