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Stick to hockey: An introduction

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On sticking to sports, a changing landscape, and things worth reading this week.

NHL: Calgary Flames at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

At Pension Plan Puppets, we have frequently been on the receiving end of the admonition that we should “stick to hockey.” Whenever we have written about any topic that supposedly strays from hockey, such as sexualized violence and discrimination, homophobia, or the exclusion of women in sports fan communities, we have been told that these topics should not be under the purview of a Toronto Maple Leafs blog.

The suggestion that we should “stick to hockey,” of course, operates under the assumption that hockey is a pure game that is not impacted by the rest of the world. In other words, if you ignore sexism, racism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, or any other oppression, they won’t exist. Hockey is hockey, and taking issue with marginalization is optional.

We respectfully disagree with this sentiment. To put it bluntly, to believe that sports are somehow insulated from the rest of society is a privilege that is not afforded to everyone. It is much easier to think that hockey is apolitical when a lot of the players look like you, when the commentators and analysts think like you, and when your fellow sports fans treat you like you belong in their world.

For many of us, to be a Toronto Maple Leafs fan is to constantly entangle ourselves in excitement, frustration, inclusion, exclusion, love, and reminders that we do not belong. We do not get to simply decide that facets of our identity do not matter when we are hockey fans just as we cannot in any other aspect of our lives.

Given the interest in these issues from many of you in our community, starting this week, I will be aggregating links that highlight the intersections between sports, politics, and society. While my as well as other PPP writers’ perspectives will be reflected here, we want to connect readers to new perspectives and different voices, rather than just our own. We want to highlight the excellent writing that we are seeing on these issues. We want to give our readers a place to discuss these topics.

I look forward to reading more about sports and politics, and engaging with all of you. And of course, if you have written something that you think is relevant to this series, please pass it on to me at @phylliskessel on Twitter.

On to the links:

There is so much important news happening with the negotiations between the USA Women’s Hockey Team and USA Hockey. My colleagues, nafio and Baseball Annie, did a great job discussing this issue, so please check out their commentary and links if you haven’t already:

PPP Women’s Hockey Wednesday: Be Bold For Change

Jessica Luther, a journalist and author I really admire, gave a talk at the University of Connecticut this week. Here is the video if you have some time to take it in:

Jessica Luther talk at UConn on sexual assault and the politics of college sports

Harry Edwards Is Building an Institute for the Modern Athlete-Activist

Saqib Rahim, Slate

"I'm 74 years old. In the next ten years there's a good chance I'll be on the other side of the lawn. ...Then who do you call? Ghostbusters? I don't think so. I think you need something that's more institutionalized, dependable, that's going to be around."

NCAA players should strike at the Final Four

Dave Zirin and Etan Thomas, The Nation

Many people have written about the exploitation of college athletes in money-generating sports. Inspired by recent athlete activism, Zirin and Thomas call for men’s basketball players in this year’s March Madness tournament to go on strike.

Steve Alford’s handling of the Pierre Pierce sexual assault case should make him unhireable at Indiana

Ben Raphel, The Crimson Quarry

Another case of gross negligence by a coach in the case of accusations against an athlete of sexual assault. As UCLA coach Steve Alford is being discussed as a potential hire at Indiana University, some are calling for his past to disqualify him for the job.

Tennis in a colonized land: A trip to Indian Wells, California

Courney Szto, Engaging Sports

I had mostly heard about the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, because of the racist booing that Serena Williams experienced in 2001, leading her to boycott the tournament for 14 years. My NASSS (North American Society for the Sociology of Sport) colleague Courtney Szto wrote about her experience attending the tournament, which is on colonized land, and the disconnect between the land and the lack of Indigenous tennis players who have ever competed in the tournament.

Pride tape and NHL You Can Play Nights: Tales of a postdoc trying to ensure that hockey is for everyone

Cheryl MacDonald, Hockey in Society

Dr. MacDonald is doing a postdoc with You Can Play, and wrote about her experiences working alongside them. I really enjoyed this perspective!

Stars’ lack of acknowledgement toward LGBT community a concern

Josh Lile, WFAA

“By doing nothing while most of the rest of the NHL was engaged during Hockey Is For Everyone month the Stars, intentionally or accidentally, passively sent this community the message that they aren’t wanted. I don’t know that this is the message the Stars intended to send, but until they rectify the situation good people will continue to suffer the consequences”

Top athletes, including Martina Navratilova, take a stand against Texas bathroom bill

Lindsay Gibbs, ThinkProgress

This is such an important issue, and I am happy to see athletes (as well as leagues and teams) taking a stand against this horrifying law. To be clear, none of this is about bathrooms; it is about the trans people having the right to be in public.

Navratilova and almost 50 athletes joined Athlete Ally in penning this statement:

Texas can choose to uphold the values of sport by rejecting SB6 and other anti-LGBT bills, and the negative impact they would have. These bills are answers in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. SB6 isolates, excludes, and others the transgender community and exacerbates many of the issues transgender Texans already face. The only solution that embodies the spirit of sport is to expand equality by embracing diversity. That diversity is inclusive of the LGBT community and is why we hope you will do the right thing and reject these discriminatory bills.