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Stick to hockey: Thinking about inclusion

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Thoughts on representation in hockey, who gets to speak on ESPN, and integrating locker rooms

Montreal Canadiens v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images

Stick to Hockey: Thinking about Inclusion

Fans are united by the object of fandom, but are comprised of people with a multitude of needs and perspectives. The goal of this weekly aggregation of links is to highlight perspectives on sport. These perspectives are political, because indeed, sport is always political.

This week’s links made me think about inclusion in hockey, and sports more broadly. In my experience as a Leafs fan, I often find it challenging to be viewed as a legitimate member of the group. Just recently, when my fiancé Zack and I went to see the Leafs play (lose) in Washington, I started to notice that people kept talking to Zack about the jersey that he was wearing (a Kessel jersey, of course).

Seriously, men kept coming up to Zack to talk to him about the Leafs. This is especially interesting to me because Zack is not a hockey fan-- he comes to watch the Leafs with me because it makes me happy. In contrast, no one talked to me about my Auston Matthews jersey, or the Leafs. They would only do so when I was standing beside Zack, which probably more incidental than anything else.

It’s possible that Zack just looks a lot friendlier than I do, but the sport sociologist in me had a few ideas about why this was.

Now, for those of you who remember how poorly I dealt with the Kessel trade, you may recall that the Kessel jersey is actually mine-- I bought it on sale after the trade after a few drinks, while listening to the Whitney Houston ballad “I Will Always Love You” (and yes Phil, I will). This is something that happens to us a lot when we go to games together for a team that I love: men will try to talk to him about the team that he doesn’t follow, and they ignore the person whose jersey he is actually wearing. This always grates on me. It reminds me that I am an “Other” when it comes to hockey, even as I enjoy a lot of privileges that help me to feel included. This may sound minor, but a lot of minor things over time can start to feel pretty major.

I bring this up because it speaks to how our ways of seeing are shaped by what we know. If men are the ones who are thought to be fans (because it’s always men on TV who are commenting on hockey, because a person mostly follows men on Twitter, or because they only talk to men about hockey), when a person sees a man and a woman wearing Leafs jerseys, they are likely to assume that the man is a bigger fan. Perhaps they may think that the woman is only there because of the man-- not that this is an issue per se, it is just inaccurate to assume that this is always the case.

This is why representation matters. When the people on TV, in the boardroom, and in the newsroom all look the same, it means that the way that they see hockey is thought to be the only way to see hockey. Reading more diverse blogs and following more women on hockey Twitter (especially women of colour) are both good places to start if you are thinking about how to be more inclusive as a hockey fan.

These links below speak to why diversity matters, and how to best address issues of inclusion. I decided to decrease the number of links this week (and probably every week) because I think sharing quality articles with commentary is better than sharing a bunch of links just to get the numbers up. I hope that you like this change!

Ensuring that co-ed hockey is for everyone: Empathy at the rink

Anonymous contributor, Hockey in Society

In this article, the author (who chose to remain anonymous, for reasons that are clear when you read the article) writes about her experience with changing rooms in co-ed hockey. Co-ed teams will either have an integrated, co-ed change room, or more often, space is found for a separate women’s change room, often with the two team’s women using the same facility. On the one hand, co-ed change rooms can be a good way to give teams an opportunity to bond, and to minimize differences between women and men on a team. But on the other hand, some women may not feel that they can use a co-ed change room for cultural reasons. Other women may have a history of violence or abuse that makes co-ed change rooms a fraught and traumatic experience. The latter is the author’s experience, which she insightfully shares.

My favourite part about this article is how well it highlights that being inclusive in sports has to be an active process that brings new people to the table. I would have thought that co-ed change rooms would be a common-sense way of integrating hockey more meaningfully, but clearly this is not always the case. “Empathy at the rink” sounds like a great place to start.

ESPN’s coverage of sexual assault and violence against women is disproportionately provided by men

Media Matters for America study

I’m going to be honest: I am sharing this article because I find this study really horrifying. It starts by reviewing four highly publicized sexual assault allegations that have been discussed in the first four months of 2017. It then examines how sexual assault has been covered by the various ESPN networks. Spoiler alert: poorly.

To start, despite the number of sexual assault stories that are worthy of attention, very little coverage was dedicated to sexual assault and abuse across the networks. So much so that a documentary about the false allegations directed towards to some Duke lacrosse players accounted for about a third of the time spent discussing sexual assault.

And even further, the vast majority of people on ESPN networks who have spoken about sexual assault have been men (74%, in fact). On the one hand, it’s an issue when women get streamlined into talking about “women’s issues” like sexual assault. Women should be able to talk about any part of sports on the air (although they are poorly represented in those ways too). But on the other hand, when women continue to disproportionately experience sexual assault, you would think that their insights into these issues would be valued.

This is bad. It sends the message that sports are a separate thing from politics (talking about sexual assault is political and therefore risky). It also means that how viewers are coming to understand the relationship between sexual assault and sports is almost exclusively through the perspectives of men.