TORONTO — Jonathan Toews didn’t become a Buddhist-thinking, Taoism-teaching, Stoicism-preaching, hot-yoga-doing, tiny-dog-toting, self-empowerment-book-devouring, climate-change-battling, urban-gardening, healthy-eating evangelist overnight.
The introspection and endless quest for what he calls “total human optimization” have helped Toews become one of the best and most decorated hockey players in the world. And the self-deprecation and sharp wit have always been on display for those who regularly see him off the ice, away from cameras and microphones.
But at 28 years old, in the prime of his life and the prime of his career, Toews is finally comfortable in own skin. Comfortable with his fame and his platform. Comfortable letting the world in.
“I’ve always known what type of person he is,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said. “It’s not like he’s changed just because he got social media.”
But Toews’ deep dive into social media — the guy never seems to do anything half-hearted — during the Blackhawks’ longest summer in four years has offered fans a glimpse into the real Toews. He’s talking about climate change and growing your own food on Twitter. He’s showing videos of his vacations and his workout routines (and his little dog butt-scooting across the carpet) on Instagram. And he sat down for two lengthy, deep-thinking podcasts with Onnit (a prominent fitness company) founder and “total human optimization” philosopher Aubrey Marcus, in which Toews talked at length about his spiritual side, and what drives him as an athlete.
“I guess it’s just realizing that following, that platform, is there,” Toews said. “It exists. I’d like to think that this is the best time in my hockey career, where I’m most relevant on the ice, [so I want] to take advantage of that. You see a lot of different people using [social media] for different reasons. For myself, [it’s] not only to interact with my fans, but to show that personal side of myself, to develop that brand, as well. Also to promote some things that I do believe in, that I think have made me successful.”
Toews always has been obsessed with nutrition and fitness, and social media has given him a whole new audience to which he can preach. And his Hawks teammates — many of them skeptics turned converts — can attest to his powers of persuasion.
“I’m trying, I’m trying to get into it,” Corey Crawford said with a smile. “He’s pushing me into it. It makes sense to eat right. Get the right food in, you get the right energy out. I’m listening to most of what he says. Tuning out like 20 percent, probably.”
Said Patrick Kane: ““You know, it’s funny. The thing about Jonny is, he does something and everyone thinks it’s weird at first. Then, a little bit later, you find yourself doing the same thing he’s doing.”
Nobody on the Hawks knows Toews better than Kane, who came into the league and transformed the franchise with him in 2007. Kane said he doesn’t spend much time on social media, but joked that seemingly every time he walked into the gym to work out over the summer, people would come up to him and ask, “You see what Tazer posted?”
Kane said Toews’ public coming-out party was a natural progression.
“It’s funny to keep an eye on him,” Kane said. “He’s a smart kid, and he’s kind of grown [comfortable] in his skin, especially as we’ve both matured and gotten older. He’s always had these certain ideas in the back of his head, and now he’s got that platform to put it out to the entire world and speak his mind on certain things he believes in.”
While countless athletes are social-media darlings at an early age — often getting themselves into trouble along the way — Toews laughed when asked what his Twitter feed might have looked like when he was 20 years old. “Boring” was the key word.
“You would have gotten just Captain Serious, and that’s about it,” he said. “I’d like to think there’s maybe a little bit more to it now.”
Toews knows that an occasional funny tweet won’t rid him of the Captain Serious label — a nickname he’s never loved, even though he admits that side of him exists. And he knows he won’t change the world with an occasional Instagram post. But he’s hoping he can coax a few laughs, open a few minds, and let the world see the real Jonathan Toews from time to time.
“I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback off it,” Toews said. “It’s exciting and it’s something I’m looking forward to continue doing.”