While there were two playoff games last night with the potential for elimination (the Sens won decisively and held on, the Pens were eliminated in an OT heartbreaker), for many hockey fans, myself included, that wasn't our primary concern. No, our primary concern was some remarks Gary Bettman made during a press conference on Friday morning.
At this press conference, which touched on various issues ranging from Las Vegas expansion to tanking, Bettman was asked to address the discomfort many women feel as fans of the NHL. Specifically, he was asked what he thought about the sexist chants that involve replacing a player's name with a woman's name in order to mock him. (The most recent example of this was Jets fans chanting "Katy Perry" at Corey Perry on Monday, but there have been others in the past - "the Sedin sisters" and "Cindy Crosby" come to mind.)
The implication, of course, is that women are weak and bad at sports (or maybe just bad in general), and so calling a player a woman's name is a good way to insult him. This is the kind of disrespectful garbage that reinforces the idea that women are lesser, and it needs to stop as soon as possible.
Instead of declaring that sexism has no place in the NHL or expressing sadness that female fans feel unwelcome, Bettman simply said that he felt the chants weren't sexist, and that calling a player a woman's name is the same thing as booing a player. These two tweets from Jesse Spector, who was at the press conference, give an even worse angle to Bettman's remarks:
Bettman quickly went to the NHL taking a stand against homophobic chants, but clearly was caught off guard by idea of sexism being an issue.— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) April 24, 2015
Bettman asks how it’s any different than calling a goalie a sieve. It’s pointed out that sieves do not have feelings.— Jesse Spector (@jessespector) April 24, 2015
One thing was made abundantly clear - Gary Bettman does not think sexism is a problem in the NHL.
There are many ways that female fans are made to feel out of place in the world of NHL fandom. From players using sexist language to other fans harassing women at hockey arenas to the dismissive attitude towards domestic violence charges, it can get very exhausting to be a female NHL fan.
You care so much about the sport of hockey, you spend your time and money on your favorite team, and in return, you get benevolent indifference on a good day, active hostility on a bad day. You start to ask yourself: why do I care so much about something that clearly doesn't care about me?
Many women I know have significantly cut back their spending on NHL merch, Gamecenter, and tickets because they don't want their cash to go to a league that couldn't care less about their humanity.
Gary Bettman doesn't have the power to change everything - many of the issues are rooted in player and fan behavior as well as NHL policy. But he could have responded to the question in a way that acknowledged sexism. He could have condemned those lazy, hurtful chants. He could have said something to show he cared.
Instead, he added another remark to the vast pile of reasons why women don't feel welcome as fans of the NHL. I'm not surprised, but I am disappointed.
This is a great post from @gottabe_KD2 on Twitter that has good thoughts on the situation as well as an actionable way to express our displeasure to Bettman, created by her and @wraparoundcurl. She and many others, including myself, are writing letters to Bettman. Yes, the things you mail with stamps.
The idea is that Bettman can easily ignore tweets or online posts, but it's much harder to ignore physical letters. If you are fed up with the NHL's treatment of women, write to Bettman and tell him so. The post even has a template to help you out. Please join me in taking this action!
Other great posts on Bettman's comments:
An account of how all this has affected one woman's fandom.
Featuring full transcript of Bettman's remarks on the sexist chants.
A sampling of comments from men on this situation, in case you were wondering who else agrees with Bettman. Warning: lots of garbage.
In other news:
Flames organization tells fans to stop harassing women on the Red Mile
This is a great example of how to demonstrate to your female fans that you care about them. Take note, Bettman.
Katie Baker always has great takes on the playoffs.
Recaps of last night's games: