Brent Sopel has develop into a dyslexia champion and political activist


Ten instances in his NHL profession, Brent Sopel went to Washington.

He went for hockey. He went as a result of his group — which, for 3 years, was the Blackhawks — had a street sport towards the Capitals. He flew in, performed the sport, and left.

He by no means thought journeys to the Capitol itself would ultimately develop into a key side of his post-hockey life goal. But, it has.

“You discuss ‘going to Capitol Hill,’ and clearly that’s historic, being in there, having conversations with individuals which can be representing every of the states,” Sopel stated. “Twenty years in the past, in the event you advised me I used to be going to be doing that, I might’ve laughed at you.”

There’s no laughing now, although there may be loads of delight.

Recognized with dyslexia and dysgraphia shortly after the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning season, Sopel has overcome lifelong vanity points and late-career alcoholism and devoted himself towards elevating consciousness about dyslexia.

The training incapacity, symptomized most prominently by issue studying and writing however disabling in different methods as nicely, impacts an estimated 43 million Individuals and eight million Canadians. That’s about 20 p.c of every nation’s inhabitants.

It nonetheless impacts Sopel, too, and it at all times will. However via the not too long ago fashioned Brent Sopel Basis and the encouragement of numerous affected kids — who reached out within the aftermath of his heartfelt 2017 Gamers’ Tribune article — Sopel’s marketing campaign to unfold consciousness has advanced right into a marketing campaign for political change.

In July, Sopel headlined a panel dialogue in Washington hosted by Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), co-chair of the U.S. Home of Representatives’ dyslexia caucus. Westerman noticed a person bringing all the fervour of an expert hockey participant to a far much less in-the-spotlight topic.

“The factor that comes out virtually instantly, and it in all probability goes again to his hockey-playing days, is his ardour to work on this space,” the congressman stated. “It was nice having him on the panel as a result of we had researchers and educators and other people speaking in regards to the science and the speculation and all of that, after which Brent brings on this down-to-earth, real-life expertise of ‘that is what occurred to me.’”

Sopel and Michael Sanow, a documentary producer and shut good friend, returned to D.C. in September to satisfy with quite a few extra politicians, together with Illinois senators Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth. They’ve one other journey deliberate in November, with extra conferences scheduled.

All the pieces stays within the speaking phases, however two key concepts have emerged: requiring all aspiring academics — not simply aspiring particular schooling academics — to have a semester on studying disabilities; and providing funding for faculties to offer courses that educate Wilson Studying, a sensory-based different studying methodology.

Though most schooling laws is handed in state governments fairly than in Washington, Westerman cautions, Congress does apportion some particular schooling funding, and might play a key function in getting matters comparable to dyslexia mentioned in particular person states.

“No two dyslexics be taught the identical means, though there’s similarities, so that you’ve bought to do what works finest for these kids,” Sanow stated. “For individuals within the middle- to low-income bracket, typically that’s not an choice, as a result of it’s $100 to $200 an hour for a specialist to take a seat there with this little one.”


Sopel (proper), seen right here at a 2008 autograph-signing session in Mount Prospect, has at all times struggled to learn and write due to his long-undiagnosed dyslexia.

That was the best way it was for Sopel. Rising up in a rural space in western Canada, he learn at solely a fourth-grade stage in highschool. He was branded as silly, fairly than dyslexic, by academics.

With a program like Wilson Studying, he believes, issues may have been completely different.

“Telling me that ‘Stan drove six miles…,’ you’ve already misplaced me,” Sopel stated. “The Wilson studying program helps you unwire your mind somewhat bit so you possibly can learn and achieve success in life.”

Hounded by insecurities about his academic points, Sopel centered on hockey, a sport through which he was not solely bodily gifted but additionally mentally well-suited. Most teaching and instructing was achieved visually, via movies or whiteboard sketches.

And whereas his dyslexia additionally prevented him from realizing his proper from his left, he may make do.

“By drills and issues like that, so I at all times tried to not go first and paid consideration to what was occurring in entrance of me,” he stated. “Simply not realizing I had it just about my complete NHL profession, I used to be simply making an attempt to determine methods to handle and cope.”

He greater than managed, taking part in 659 video games as an NHL defenseman from 1998 to 2011. His bruising taking part in fashion and raveled shoulder-length hair made him an immediately recognizable participant on the United Heart ice.


On the ice, Sopel helped energy the Blackhawks’ 2010 surge to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Solar-Occasions file photograph

These black locks are shaved shut now, however when strolling into the U.S. Capitol, Sopel nonetheless stands out. For years, he dreaded the inevitable coming finish of his hockey profession; now that he’s lengthy since handed that time, the platform and stature that being an NHL participant gifted him continues to help his new endeavors.

“It’s positively a dialog starter,” he stated, chuckling. “As I stroll via the door, I don’t seem like your typical politician, so we positively discuss that and I give them somewhat background and historical past.”

Sopel and Sanow have discovered receptive voices on all ends of the political spectrum. Westerman’s fellow dyslexia caucus co-chair, Julia Brownley (D-S.C.), missed the July occasion due to a scheduling battle — however Sopel is headed again to satisfy her in November.

“Dyslexia doesn’t discrimate: It’s not a Republican difficulty, it’s not a Democratic difficulty, it’s a bipartisan difficulty,” Sanow stated. “The dialog is occurring and the concepts are being collected — and it’s not simply coming from Brent Sopel. It’s coming from mother and father, educators, politicians and scientists across the nation.”

The method continues to be fairly awe-inspiring, Sopel admits. On each journey into D.C., he nonetheless half expects to finish up at Capital One Enviornment, not the Capitol.

But he stays pushed by a trigger that he’s realized is so much greater, in some ways, than hockey.

“Everytime you go up there, it’s one thing new, and it’s nonetheless sort of mind-blowing that I’m there,” Sopel stated. “However in the identical breath, my story and what I’m about, it’s not about me. It’s about everyone else that’s fighting this.”





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