We Need To Talk About Amanda: The Kessel Divide

Author Note: All information within is true to the best of my knowledge and research. Great care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of any statements in here, especially those pertaining to current status of the CWHL, including talking to CWHL player’s regarding the situation. If any information is incorrect, please let me know and I will rectify it. 

Sticktap to NBC Olympics

 

If hockey were science, the Kessel siblings would be the perfect experiment. They certainly have the right control elements: identical genetics and family environments, and equally dominant talents.

 

Then there is the independent variable that sets the experiences of Phil and Amanda so dramatically apart: gender.

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On April 10 last year, Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs lost to the New York Rangers in Game 40 of the NHL season. He scored two goals, was the evening’s second star and for his Tuesday-night efforts took home about $50,000.(1)

 

The previous night, Amanda Kessel and Team USA defeated Canada in the gold-medal game of the 2013 IIHF Women’s World Championships. She scored one goal, was Team USA’s player of the game and for her efforts took home nothing more than a medal and pride in (and of) her country.

 

In case you don’t know much about Amanda Kessel, let me break down for you what the 22-year-old has done in the past seven years. In her three years at Shattuck St Mary’s she won two U19 National Championships and in 136 games put up 324 points, averaging 2.3 points a game.

 

In 2010, she started at the University of Minnesota and helped the team to back-to-back NCAA championships (2012 and 2013), including a 41-0 record for the 2013 championship run. In 2013, she was only the fourth female player in NCAA history to break the 100-point barrier, with 46 goals and 101 points in a mere 37 games. That’s 2.7 points per game, on her way to collecting the 2013 Patty Kazmaier Award for the top female college player in the US.

 

The truth is, if Amanda Kessel were male, she’d have left Minnesota long ago (if she’d even gone the NCAA route). An NHL team would have called her name early in the 2009 draft, making good on the scouting reports that had been touting her since her days with the Madison Capitols Bantam boys’ team.

 

Instead, when Amanda Kessel leaves Minnesota, the NHL will not have lured her away, early or otherwise. She will be the subject of no speculation on TSN or HF Boards forum. When Amanda Kessel leaves Minnesota as one of the best players to ever wear the Gopher’s uniform, she will do so with an undecided future that almost certainly promises little financial return.

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Why Does No One Give A Damn? The Sociology of Women’s Sport

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  • In 2013, the Forbes Top 100 list of Highest Paid Athletes contained just two women: #26 Maria Sharapova and #81 Li Na, both of whom earned the majority of their money from endorsement deals.
  • Only one North American professional women’s sporting team has a higher attendance average than a Big Four sports team. It is currently the 150th most popular sporting team in North America.(2)
  • The current operating budget of the CWHL is equivalent to the 2013-14 cap hit of Zenon Knopka.

So why does no one give a damn – or a dollar – for women’s sport?

 

When we as a society look at sport, we ground our assessment of sporting performance in the values and experiences of the male athlete, a standard of evaluation that typically disadvantages women. Subsequently, when we use these male standards to judge female athletes and their performances, we are setting them up to fail by requiring a style of play impossible for them to emulate.

 

This ‘required’ standard or style significantly disadvantages female athletes due to the inherent physical differences between men and women. They play this sport, but they do not play it in an identical fashion to men. Because of this, we, as a society, discredit them, their participation, and their achievements.

 

Women are expected to play sport as men play sport, and the failure to do so negates support. And so, these false narratives – the superiority of male sport and the inferiority of female sport (slower, less aggressive and therefore not as good) – continue to dictate how we value and engage with sport.

 

The actions of the male athlete are defined as the standard for ‘right’ and ‘normal’ within the sporting sphere. As a result, there is an assumption (intentional or not) of triviality in women’s sport compared to men’s sport, which dramatically colours how we engage with and value female athletes.

 

In 2009, a 20-year study of network and cable TV sports reporting by USC and Purdue sociologists found that female athletes are present in only 4% of all sporting news. This seems all the more dramatic when compared against gender participation numbers: girls constitute more than 40% of high school sporting participants (6).

 

The discrepancy between actual participation and the importance assigned to female athletes in media coverage continues to highlight the historical stereotype of male superiority in the sporting realm, diminishing the perceived quality of female athletes and asserting their lack of appeal. In her article, Messner points out that these arguments echo many of the sentiments against African-American baseball players in the early decades of the 20th century. (7)

 

A while back, someone took the effort to go through my old posts on here (there’s only a handful) and leave the following comment on an article about the Sedin twins and my aversion to the sexist nickname ‘The Sedin Sisters’:

 

“I’ll explain it very simply: On average, females aren’t as fast, strong, or athletically able as men. In hockey, if you put the best female hockey players in the world against the best male hockey players, the resulting game would not be a contest, but a drubbing. Indisputably, males are superior to females — as a whole — at hockey. Thus, calling the Sedins sisters likens them to inferior athletes. The insult is based on truth. There is nothing sexist to point the finger at here. Okay, you fucking dame?” – Angry Commenting Guy

 

This ‘comparison’ does exactly what it seems every person who wants to throw darts at women’s sport does: it measures the female athlete in relation to their male counterpart and find them lacking, by virtue of their gender, for failing to meet “a threshold for athleticism bestowed upon them at birth”.(4) In drawing such comparisons we continue to enable the viewing of female athletes as being second-class. In contrasting them with male counterparts we deny them the recognition of “being world-class in their own right”.(5)

 

Equality is a funny and difficult thing. In sport, some suggest that equality does not mean affording men and women the same chances, it means providing them a single, unified field in which to compete (in other words, what the corporate world aspires to). However, this  idea does presume that male and female athletes start from an identical position – and as such it is ignorant of each gender’s physical differences.

 

Our valuation of women’s sport is not dictated by the sport itself; it is dictated by us as a society, and to what – and how – we tend to assign value. This same foundation affects how sport is valued in different countries and cultures. Table tennis, despite being the most popular sport in China, is subject to must derision within North America. Why? Because in North America, the sporting public values aggression, physicality and strength above the dexterity and agility displayed by an elite table tennis player.

 

Like table tennis in China, the depressing reality of women’s sport is the result of social construction and how we assign value to the participation and achievement of the female versus male athlete.

 

It’s not just that almost no one cares. It’s that, for the most part, we’ve never taught them that they should.

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“There’s a Women’s League?” The Women’s Game in 2014

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The Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) is the world’s most competitive women’s hockey league. Comprised of former NCAA and CIS players – as well as the bulk of the Canadian and non-NCAA USA women’s teams (in non-centralized Olympic years) – the five teams (Brampton, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and Boston) compete in a 24-game season. In addition to playing two to three games most weekends, the teams also train on ice twice a week and hit the weight and running tracks numerous times.

 

They receive an annual salary of $0.

 

Since 2010 players have no longer had to pay for their own equipment, but the significant time they must commit to the league means many are left scraping pennies to cover the most basic living expenses as they juggle elite-level sport with gainful employment.

 

Presently, two teams have partnerships with NHL clubs (Toronto and Calgary), which provides some co-branding and $20,000–$30,000 per season to help cover club costs. Both partnerships have been in place since 2012 and represent some of the only individual team sponsorships within the CWHL. Traditionally, the league has favoured league-wide sponsorships that enable funding to be dispersed equally across all teams in the league.

 

The CWHL’s only competition is the Western Women’s Hockey League, a league of two teams: Winnipeg and Minnesota. In recent seasons, the WWHL has gone through several merger attempts with the CWHL and its previous incarnation, the NWHL. It presently exists as a series of exhibition games between its own two teams and the NCAA women’s teams.

 

Most Olympic countries have their own national women’s league in some itineration or other. However, none provide viable employment pathways, and most don’t provide a high level of competition for the most elite athletes among their ranks.

 

In the years leading up to the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, the Russian Women’s Championship expanded to 11 teams and local players could earn up to $1,500 a month during the playing season. But with the teams mostly playing on weekday mornings and before crowds numbering barely in the double digits, it’s easy to believe that with their medal-less performance and the end of Sochi, the backing dollars that have kept them afloat will disappear.

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Where To From Sochi?

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Financial equality with male hockey players is not the goal of the female hockey player. As it is, financial quality is not a reality for many female athletes, especially those in team sports. What these athletes and their supporters strive for is for the game of hockey to become a viable career choice for elite female players. If this were the case, we would never again see the game’s great talents, like Noora Raty, retiring due to a lack of financial security or sustainable income.

 

How do we make this happen?

 

After the Atlanta 1996 Summer Olympics, the NBA, lead by David Stern established the WNBA. Stern strongly believed in the link between sport and society – and the need for the former to reflect the latter. He viewed the women’s game as another driving force in a push to introduce the game of basketball as a whole to a larger audience – an audience where female fans and participants were an ever-increasing part. Although the concept of a women’s league had been bandied around by the NBA for a significant portion of the 1990s, it took the crowds and enthusiasm generated by America’s gold-medal win in Atlanta to really lift the concept off the ground.

 

As mentioned, two of the five CWHL teams currently have NHL partnerships, but there are questions as to how effectively these partnerships work and whether they extend beyond limited financial support. (It’s worth noting that the Maple Leafs contribution to the CWHL this season was 1/33rd of what they will pay Darcy Tucker over the same period).

 

The Leafs partner with the Toronto Furies for promotional purposes yet atleast one high-profile pro-Leafs blogger wasn’t even aware there was a CWHL team in Toronto. In fact, a search of the Maple Leafs website turns up only two mentions of the Furies, and one is a reference to the hiring of Tessa Bonhomme, Fury and former Canadian Olympian, as a presenter for Leafs TV. (Note: Leafs TV did include a base-bar this week during one game that promoted the date for the Furies next home game.)

 

What prevents these two NHL teams entering co-branding partnerships and promoting the players alongside their own during community activities? In Australia, such partnerships have been a long-term strategy to develop the profile of the W-League (our women’s national soccer league). It leverages already strong brand identities and increases the visibility of female athletes while giving teams more diverse participation in their community activities.

 

What stops the Boston Bruins partnering with the Blades to offer discounted or free game passes to Bruins season ticket holders or their children? What about allowing them concourse space to promote attendance at upcoming games or even just engage younger fans? (Note: I have been unable to find a record of this happening, but I cannot confirm whether the Bruins already use this tactic.)

 

There are many ifs, buts and realities here. Could a league with an escrow and revenue sharing arrangement like the NHL ever gain endorsement from enough NHL franchises to support a venture that might slightly diminish the returns promise to its constituent teams? Is it a venture best run by Hockey Canada and USA Hockey and if so, where would such a league leave the remainder of the women’s hockey world?

 

Sporting organisations are not charities. They are, for the most part, businesses – though not always dramatically successful ones. I learnt this the hard way in nearly two years working with elite women’s soccer in Australia and the USA, as we struggled week to week to find new and creative ways to put people in seats and dollars in banks.

 

In part, we, the W-League, were lucky to have organisations and governing leagues that viewed the continued existence and increasing sustainability of professional women’s sport as a necessity for the growth and evolution of the game. Calgary Flames President Ken King echoed this sentiment when his team announced its partnership with the Calgary Inferno women’s team in 2012. King suggested that a large part of the Flames’ decision to support the Inferno rested on it being right thing to do.

 

“It’s really not what’s in it for the Flames. The Flames have a lifetime obligation that we put upon ourselves to support all sports and support the community, whether it’s in sports or not. This is just a natural outgrowth of that. I think cash is important, but I think what is equally important to cash is that their pioneering efforts that have gone on for many years, I think need to be rewarded. They need some breakthroughs and, if we can play a very small part in that, we’re proud to do that.” – Calgary Flames President Ken King (8)

 

It is hard to suggest that something should be done for women’s hockey purely on the basis that it’s the right thing to do (though I wouldn’t argue with anyone who tried). However, with the increasing popularity of women’s hockey (in participation numbers and the viewership ratings demonstrated during the recent Olympic tournament in Sochi) it is hard to believe that we can’t achieve or sustain something bigger – something better – than the current situation.

 

I can’t believe that as a society of hockey fans, we can’t do a better job for the female hockey player than the one we’ve been doing.

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This is a story about Phil Kessel and Amanda Kessel, but at the same time it isn’t. It’s about gender, what the Kessel siblings represent, and how we as a society treat the female athlete. It’s the tale of two Olympic athletes who represented the USA in Sochi on equal terms – and then skated back to completely different worlds. One returns to the spoils and riches afforded by his talent and gender. The other returns to an uncertain future, and the fight for a sustainable relevance that lasts for more than two weeks each olympiad.

 

And in 2014, that’s a bullshit story to tell.

 

Notes:

(1) Capgeek. http://www.capgeek.com/ – Based on $5.1 million for the season, pro-rated across 82 games with a 20% allowance for escrow.[EG1]  (www.capgeek.com)

(2) Average Attendance of Professional Sports Teams in the US and Canada – Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Average_attendances_of_professional_sports_teams_in_the_United_States_and_Canada

(3) Kate Fagan, ‘No Women, Not Even Griner, Could Play in the NBA’, espnW - http://espn.go.com/espnw/news-commentary/article/9133361/espnw-no-woman-not-brittney-griner-other-play-nba.

(4) ibid.

(5) ibid.

(6) M. A. & Cooky, C. (2010). Gender in Televised Sports: News and Highlights Shows, 1989-2009. Los Angeles: USC Center for Feminist Research – http://www.usc.edu/dept/cfr/html/home.htm

(7) ibid.

(8) Leafs, Flames give boost to women’s hockey teams - 13 November, 2012 – The Canadian Press – http://www.cbc.ca/sports/hockey/nhl/leafs-flames-give-boost-to-women-s-hockey-teams-1.1256411

On life..

 

“We are the girls with anxiety disorders, filled appointment books, five-year plans. We take ourselves very, very seriously. We are the peacemakers, the do-gooders, the givers, the savers. We are on time, overly prepared, well read, and witty, intellectually curious, always moving…We pride ourselves on getting as little sleep as possible and thrive on self-deprivation. We drink coffee, a lot of it. We are on birth control, Prozac, and multivitamins…We are relentless, judgmental with ourselves, and forgiving to others. We never want to be as passive-aggressive are our mothers, never want to marry men as uninspired as our fathers…We are the daughters of the feminists who said “You can be anything” and we heard “You have to be everything”

Courtney Martin

We All Have Demons

 

The problem (and benefit – it’s a two sided coin) with the internet, with existing so heavily in a digital space is that you can edit so heavily your reality. People only see what you let them, and if you don’t let them see it, if you hide it away from shame and fear and all of those words you toss around in your mind to denigrate yourself then no one really knows. Just you and you are alone.

For the last 12 months, alone is how I have felt. I have edited this aspect of my life, at least digital, incredibly closely. If you’ve seen me in person, atleast recently, chances are we’ve had a chat about this. I’m trying to deal with it in an open way, trying to put it out there in a hope that it’ll make it easier for someone else one day (or maybe even me).

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Duffy’s Song

A year ago, I was not a football girl.

Beyond the almost requisite season or two in early primary school when almost every Australian seemed to have a crack at the sport (and I too did incredibly unspectacularly) and displaying the same interest everyone does around world cup time (I too screamed and ran loops around my living room when Aloisi scored to send Australia to the World Cup) my football fandom was vague at best.

Then a year ago, I took a job with Football Federation Victoria and with that inherited a role with the Westfield W-League’s Melbourne Victory Women.

It has been a hard winter so far for the W-League and we aren’t even into the coldest part. We have faced the possible loss of one team and another who was also threatened. For many of us, players, staffers and fans alike, we are left to wonder what our league will look like next season and how many other teams stand on this precipice, threatening to send the league which has grown so much in the past 4 years falling back into nothing.

Too many people have thrown away women’s sport as untenable with the justification that because sport is a business and it needs to make money for it to survive the current lack of financial success and support of women’s sport is reason enough to throw it away. I like to think I am far too educated in the ways of the sporting world to believe that without an upwards trajectory, without the prospect and promise of a financially sustainable future any team could continue regardless of how noble the cause. But the W-League, is not, I believe an organisation who should be without a financial sustainable future.

We languish in this grey land – a scenario where we fall short of the standards we are “required” to meet to gain respect and attention because the gateholders of those things we need for our success do not value what we have to offer because , in the first instance, it is not given respect nor attention. .

As Kathryn Wicks said in her great article this week , Our Women are Worth It, the W-League “is an investment, not an expense.”

This team, these girls, are a team in a league that deserves your investment, emotional, physical and financial.

To be a W-League player is not easy. There is none of the glory of the A-League, very little of the recognition they would receive if they were men in the same position. They are incredibly talented young women, some still high school students who balance full time studies and careers with 3 or 4 training sessions a week, recovery sessions, fitness sessions, not to mention travel and games. They are a team, more successful than any of their club’s male counterparts, who’s locker room is not a spacious place in AAMI Park but an overcrowded women’s toilets and semi-change space in inner Brunswick. These are girls who fly midnight red-eyes from Perth after 3pm games to front up at team family days only two hours later.

These young women represent the future of this game, and like many young women in many sport, the future hero’s of our next generation. Everytime we allow their league to be threatened, like any female sporting league, semi-professional, professional, aspiring or otherwise, we threaten the future of any young girl who chooses to take up a sport.We send a message that their participation and aspirations are somehow less important than that of their male siblings, friends and teammates.

They are not.

A year ago, I cared about the W-League from the outside. A year late, the W-League has become so much more to me than I could have imagined.

In the past year I have come to understand how much a W-League team, how much these inspirational young girls can mean to a community who cares about this game. I have watched girls, some only a handful of years younger than their on field idols, shyly ask for autographs, absorb every word and piece of advice shared as if it was gospel and leave a game glowing with the experience. I have seen teams of young female players crowd around players, both home and away, for a photo they would take away. I have the email sent to me from a mother who described the joy of her daughter as they presented her with a signed team poster that wished her all the best on her birthday.

Somewhere in there I got it. I got it beyond the simple belief of equality in sport, as in everywhere else. I got in in a way that now feels so palpable, that every time the thought of what this is is threatened I feel myself shaken at how people could miss it.

A year ago I could not tell you what the offside rule is. I didn’t know my Bayern’s from my Blackburn’s, my Pique from my Puyol and to tell you the truth whilst my knowledge of game play still isn’t great and never will be, that is not the point.

The point of this, of all this, of the W-League, of any other women’s sporting league here and abroad is these girls have a right to play and a right to be respected and aspired to like every other athlete regardless of gender. Even more so, they have a right to the opportunities afforded to their male counterparts by virtue of gender.

What we as a sport, as a society have an obligation to is to help create that opportunity, to stop setting it up for failure by continuing to perpetuate what has gone before. We can sit around and ring our hands and bemoan that sexism in sport exists. We can ask why there isn’t more media coverage, why there aren’t more dollars, why there aren’t more people.

Or we can take this frustration, this anger, this passion and we can channel it into something. Change starts at the bottom. It starts when we say this isn’t good enough and we empower ourselves to start to make that difference in every little way we can.

Today, I can look across a W-League field and see not what is there but what this, like so many other women’s sports can become. I can see what this deserves to and should be. It is that, that vision of I will keep when I am halfway across the world a month from know learning how to make this better. It is that feeling I will remember after the umpteenth 16 hour match, after 4 days of creating posters and team cards and figuring out how to squeeze every single last bit out of ever shrinking budgets.

A year ago, I wasn’t a football person.

A year later, I will fight with everything I can for them and this and I, like so many others I have met along the way, will not go quietly.

 

 

a light..

sometimes you look up and there just seems to be so many more stars than ever before. more. they burn brighter and they shine longer and they never vanish into your periphery when you turn your head. it’s as if they come out for us and to remind us that their light took so long to come to us, that if we never had the patience to wait, we never would have seen them here, tonight, like this.

that as much as it hurts, sometimes it’s all you can do, wait, endure and keep shining knowing that eventually, your light will reach where it is supposed to reach and shine for who it is supposed to shine for.

it is never easy, but it is always worth it.”

-tyler knott gregson

Two years since..

Melbourne Pride Parade – Feb 5th 2012

It’s two years today since the passing of Brendan Burke. In two years, a lot has changed both within the sporting world and with my own involvement with the cause.

Brendan’s message has become louder and stronger as each year passes as not only his family but others take up the cause. They carry on the message that Brendan started with his simple and courageous actions. Patrick Burke will speak today at an Invisible Athlete forum, just one of many, many speeches he has made over the past few months (if you haven’t read it read Bruce Arthur’s great piece here). On July 1st, Brian Burke will once again march in the Toronto Pride Parade on behalf of his son and the cause so dear to him.

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Yesterday, two years to the date in Australia, I marched in my first Pride Parade here in Melbourne as a member of the Victorian Human  Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s Fair go, sport! initiative. I was lucky to march with not only my co-workers from Football Federation Victoria but with fellow sporting people from across our state – Hockey Victoria, Basketball Victoria as well as many local clubs.

As we walked down the street – wedged between one of the major Australian political parties and the Prospective Lesbian Parents Collective – I realised something.

Walking down a street and holding a sign doesn’t change the problems we face no matter how many rainbows we put on it.

What it does do however, is show that we are here, that we as a group (whether it be as FFV, as FGS or as VHREOC or any other group who marched with us) care about this cause and we as a group are doing what we can to change it. It shows that this cause is not invisible, the athletes, coaches and administrators who feel invisible and unseen by the wider community are not to us.

A year ago, I along with some of the most amazing girls I know, started the group Hockey Against Hate, to fight this battle in the sport we love. Trying to change anything is hard and we’ve faced our own problems in trying to find direction, to find which path is best to try and help enact change. Living across, not just different towns or states but different countries and hemispheres can be tough for co-ordinating. At one point last year, we had representatives in 4 different countries and 5 different time zones.

Whilst we’ve got badass t-shirts we now turn towards what we can do as a collective group to truly start making a difference. Do we take an asset based approach that focuses on development of resources internally by individual clubs or do we establish these resources ourselves and focus on distribution and enactment within clubs.

Its these questions we sit with now, trying to figure out how to go forward. They are difficult and it is a slow process, but it is a worthwhile one to us.

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In his eulogy at Brendan’s funeral, his brother Patrick shared the following powerful message:

“[Brendan's] vision of the world was a spark that lit a fire of hope in so many people,” Patrick stated in front of a church packed with family, friends, and many of hockey’s elite. “That fire has not been extinguished by his passing. His memory will fan the flame of courage in all of us, inspiring all of us to be a little kinder, a little stronger, a little better, a little more like Brendan. Through all of us, his hope still lives and his dream will never die.”

What I do know, for both myself as an individual and for those who are part of Hockey Against Hate with me as for many, many others I have already met on this journey, it is Brendan’s hope and dream we carry with us.

Because for us, it is our hope and our dream too.

The Most Influential Women in Hockey are a Public-Policy CEO and Carrie Underwood

“We consult handfuls of industry experts to validate, or deny names we have in mind and to unearth people we may not have considered. And it’s important to us that the lift reflects all aspects of our world: from executives to players; from heads of industry to media; from viewers to doers.”

Jason Kay, Editor’s Notebook – The Hockey News 100 People of Power and Influence

The list is, as all hockey fans know, an annual tradition of the magazine and it is an equally annual tradition of the hockey fan to pour over it and debate the merits of those who appear, the order in which they do and the “snubs”. It’s like the All-star game but a whole hell of a lot nerdier.

For me though (and I’m sure a few other of us crazy pro-women’s types) the tradition follows more along the lines of flick through until you come across the first female (generally somewhere in the 80+ section). Look annoyed. Find the few other stray women crammed in the back end. Feel dismayed. Wait another 12 months. Repeat.

This year, the highest ranked female is a Public-Policy CEO who’s only interest in hockey has been to prevent the sale of the Phoenix Coyotes to Matthew Hulsizer in the public interest of Phoenix taxpayers. Whilst Ms Olsen’s “impact” on the game via this had been significant and an understandable choice, it is #85 where we start to stumble.

The second female to make an appearance on the list is none other than country music superstar, Carrie Underwood, who’s claim to hockey influence is her marriage to Mike Fisher. Now, I like Ms Underwood. I find her music tolerable when on the radio. She’s a decent role model for young girls and nothing about her in anyway inspires me to rage. In fact, by all accounts, she seems like a pretty swell women.

 However, for her to be placed at #85 on the Hockey News list, ahead of such women as Tessa Bonnehomme (who slides in at #89 in large part for recent endorsements, charity work and her appearance on Battle of the Blades) and 4 time Olympian, Boston CWHL’er and IOC Athletes’ Commission member Angela Ruggiero, is frankly, insulting. Hell, Lexi Peters – the teenage hockey player who’s letters to EA Sports finally convinced them to include women in their create-a-player options and who stands as a representative of the grassroots surge in female participation – could arguably sit higher on the list than Ms Underwood.

The summary beneath Ms Underwood’s name suggests she is a placeholder for all of the wives and their role in influencing where their husband’s play and sign. In this context, Ms Underwood’s representation makes some small amount sense, as a “place” holder icon and well known face of this role but as a hockey fan and female player I cannot help but feel slightly insulted or overlooked.

Is  this role more influential or important in the game of hockey than that played by significant female leaders of the sport?

Whilst, two such female leaders are further recognized on the up and coming list – the “next generation” almost with Tanya Foley – IIHF’s newly appointed women’s program manager and Katey Stone – the Harvard Women’s Hockey Coach who recently lead Team USA to defeat the Canadians at the 4 Nations, for the Top 100 of Hockey to feature only 2 females legitimately involved in the sport in a direct and contributing context, with a further 1 representing the growth in participation sliding in at #100 seems dismissive of the the fact that 14% of registered North American hockey players are women (via IIHF).

I guess the very nature of  ”influence” is subjective. What do we define as influence in the context of this game? Is it controlling the future of the game or inspiring others to become the future of the game? Is it building increased advertising revenue or building a league from the ground up? Further, when we talk about “hockey” are we referring to the game itself in a broad sense as played globally or to the NHL as the pinnacle of the hockey iceberg.  The list covers both aspects (Rene Fasel, head of the IIHF ducks in at #26  and Bob Nicholson cracks the early 10′s), however, showing a strong favour to the NHL (logically evident of the fact THN is a North American magazine who’s consumer base is largely North American NHL fans).

It is hard to suggest that maybe a different list should be considered for the women’s game when this seems at odds with the equality those in the game strive for. However, it is foolish to think that the realities between the men’s and women’s game are not as dramatically different as they truly are.  Women’s hockey, in both an international and professional capacity, is an entirely different paradigm with significantly different goalposts for success.

People like Brenda Andress – Canadian Women’s Hockey League Executive Director,  Hayley Wickenheiser, Athlete Ambassador Co-ordinator and Melody Davidson, Coach Mentor Lead for the IIHF Ambassador and Mentors Program are all deserving of the dramatic impacts they are helping make in the women’s game globally and in North America.

At the conclusion of his latest The Hockey News Editor’s Notebook, Jason Kay invited people to pass comment, present their feedback on that issues Top 100 People of Power and Influence list

Well Jason, from me to you, a few more ladies won’t hurt you.

It’s Not Okay to be a Sexist (whether you realise it or not)

 

Last night, Steve Dangle posed the above question to his 8,000+ twitter followers. The response was unlike anything he’d probably seen before with replies flooding not only my own timeline but coming back to him at a rate he could barely keep up with.

Now Steve’s a damn good guy (I’ve had the pleasure of sharing a few drinks and poutine with him on my last trip to TO), and I reckon some people unfairly gave him a shellacking on twitter thinking he may have been suggesting we shouldn’t  be offended. I doubt that’s his position – more so one of general curiosity at where we as a community – the female hockey fan – sit on this issue.

I’m going to pre-face my opinion with two statements:

  • Firstly, I am what people often describe, however misguidedly, as a raging feminist. This means I strongly believe in the notion that women are equal to men and as such should be accorded the same respect, dignity and opportunity in all areas of life. It’s a truly shocking notion, isn’t it?
  • Secondly, I am in no way ashamed of this fact and nor do I ever intend to be.

1. David Bolland’s statement implies that being “female” is bad and an insult whether that was his intention or not.

When David Bolland references the Sedin Twins as “sisters” he does so for the purpose of disparaging their worth as hockey players by likening them to something that is negatively perceived. In this instance, that is to be like a women. By implying they’re girls via the use of the term “sisters”, Bolland attempts to call into question the thing hockey players seem to hold most dear : their masculinity. Because you know, being a girl is completely negative and they could never play hockey. Right?

This is sexism. It may be subtle and it may be unintended but it positions the female gender at a lower and inferior level in the game of hockey.

Now I highly doubt that David Bolland truly believes women to be of a lesser level in society, or to be the weaker gender in the grand scheme but it is this perception that his words perpetrate. Hell, very few people probably think Raffi Torres is actually racist, yet the media and much of the wider hockey community still took the Columbus player to task earlier this season after he appeared at the teams halloween party in blackface, irrespective of his actual intentions when choosing the costume.

When Wayne Simmonds appeared to call Sean Avery a faggot we were all up in arms about the unacceptable nature of homophobic slurs.

Someone is bound to draw a line on this and claim that racial and sexual discrimination is of a much more  serious nature than the petty sexist behaviour and whilst its arguable whether they’re right on this (many will support that they are) it does not make .

It’s not okay to call a black man a monkey. It’s not okay to call any man, gay or staight, a faggot. So since when is it okay to mock someone based on gender?

2. “The Canucks don’t care so why should we?” isn’t an appropriate defence. 

The Canucks don’t really care because being called a women isn’t discriminatory to them. They’re not women.

For women however, to have someone suggest that being their gender is appropriate as a put down? To have someone use your gender as a way to disparage and put down an athlete in a sport you yourself may very well compete in and probably love because being like “you” could only be negative? About that you should care.

3. Whether it “offends” you or not, you should still understand the implications and stop enabling the behaviour. 

Plenty of women tweeted back to Steve to say they weren’t offended and found it funny with many suggesting or admitting that they had used the comment themselves. I’m not offended as the comment a) wasn’t directed to me and b) wasn’t the most sexist comment I’ve ever heard. In fact, it wasn’t really the most sexist comment I’d even heard or read yesterday (that’s a whole other problem).

Offended or not, we still need to understand the implications of what this “implicit” sexism means. Throws like a girl is an all to common phrase in our sporting vernacular to imply a male athlete isn’t living up to the standards we’re setting.  This and many other phrases that are used, by so many without much thought towards the greater social implications. They suggest that as a girl you’re not good enough and chances are you probably not going to ever be “good enough” in their eyes to be taken seriously.  It’s helping perpetuate the negative stereotyping that leads girls away from sport – both as fans and as participants.

Further, as female fans (and as male fans as well) we need to stop continuing to enable this behaviour. Every women who rolls out a “Cindy Crosby”, a “Danielle Briere” and the Sedin Sisters is implicit in this sexist behaviour regardless of their gender. In attaching these labels, it’s done so in the exact same way as David Bolland has done so – to disparage their worth as a hockey player and as a man by likening them to women.

That is something we need to care about.

 

Burning the Boats

Recently, I reread the great articles by both Bruce Arthur at National Post and Andrew at PuckBuddy’s regarding Patrick Burke’s recent speech at the OutSport Toronto Forum.

Patrick Burke, just like his brother and his father, is a remarkable man but like his brother and father probably doesn’t see it that way. He sees what he does instead as a necessary, as something that has to be done because this is what you do. When you are a Burke, you do things the right way, try to set things the right way and this fight against homophobia is another thing on a list of things they must do the right way.

In many ways, it reflects how I feel about homophobia and its continued prevalence in our sporting community.

I am not gay, nor do I strictly define myself as straight either. Instead, I view sexuality as a spectrum which I sit somewhere on but don’t tie myself down to. I grew up the daughter of a sports mad hairdresser and culture loving pool installer who once drove a tour bus for a drag show in what is Australia’s most homophobic electorate (44% of Capricornia believe homosexuality to be inherently wrong). In high school I was the righteous indignation student for gay rights and I’m sure I made an English teacher or two in my conservative, country-like town uncomfortable with my homosexuality-centric feature articles (gay literature, LGBT youth programs so forth). I played on girls inline and ice hockey teams and had gay teammates. I did school musicals and theatre productions and had gay cast mates. It was simply a normal part of life for me.

Sometimes I think, because I’m not “gay”, because I don’t strictly identify myself under the LGBT scope, that my aims and goals somehow seem less honest and real and that maybe I have less of a reason to be so passionate about this cause, to fight so hard.

However, I think maybe this difference is the key. For the attitude towards homosexuality in sport to change, indeed for the attitude to homosexuality anywhere to change it can’t be the just the gays to stand up and promote it. There isn’t enough of them. Instead, it is up to so many of us. The straights, the not quite there’s, the no need for a definitions who need to stand up for our teammates, our class mates, our friends and family and say we need to change this. We must be the allies that will stand beside them and in the grand tradition of Hernan Cortes (a story so perfectly used by Patrick in this context) burn the boats. We must refuse to go back. We must make it work.

That’s what the Burke family are doing. They are burning the boats and refusing to accept things, to let it go back to how it had always been. They refuse to relock the closets. They’re putting themselves out there, for the very reason that this is what they do. They will fight this fight as it is the right thing to do, for Brendan and for the world, both in and out of hockey.

I hope, that via Hockey Against Hate, I can too continue to play a part in kindling the flames to burn.