I’m a hockey fan. I watch games all the time. I talk about the sport to the point where I sometimes annoy my co-workers. I live and breathe about this game.
I’m also a woman. For a lot of people, that doesn’t matter. The NHL seems to think so, as February is Hockey Is For Everyone month. As a woman and a fan of the sport, I think they’re missing the mark. I love hockey, but often I feel like hockey doesn’t love me.
I live in Minnesota, a place that calls itself the State of Hockey. To a point, that’s very much true. There is hockey at all levels that is enjoyed by most of the state. As a female fan that tends to know more than the average male fan, my enjoyment is usually a series of quizzes about the game in which I need to prove my fandom to whomever is doing the quizzing at the time.
There have been times I’ll be wearing a jersey and I’ll get stopped. Instead of them saying that they like my jersey, I got quizzed on the player and his college stats. Why? Well, when I asked it was because they wanted to make sure I wasn’t a fake fan and I liked the player for him being good and not because I found him attractive. Instead of opening a discussion on how the player had been playing or just to talk the sport, I got told that I need to know a certain threshold of information in order to be a fan.
Quizzes make me feel like doing this
If I don’t know or I’m not asked a certain piece of information, I’m often explained to, in horrible fashion, what something means and what is happening on the ice. Many times, I’m not asking for that explanation. It’s given unsolicited and often rudely.
Once I was at a high school hockey game, which is something I do often. I’m sitting there on the cold hard bleachers and a guy starts flirting with me. I take it with stride and then he started to explain offside to me. Not only was he wrong, but I was afraid to tell him that. I was getting mansplained a rule in the sport I love and I had genuine fear that I wouldn’t be able to tell him the truth without getting some creepy stalker or hurt in some way.
This fear was bred because often when I’m wrong about something online (we all are sometimes!) I get nasty messages in my DMs that range from harmless (dick pics) to threats for my safety. Who was to say that the harmful effects wouldn’t and couldn’t happen in real life? Thankfully that time I was with some friends and they helpfully got me out of the situation.
That fear carries over into my writing and tweeting. Often I have to stop myself from describing the play on twitter for fear that I’ll get peppered with those nasty DMs and judged. I’m careful in writing anything because I want my writing to be judged equally, not as a woman “trying too hard”. I sit back and wonder if my stats are being used correctly because instead of asking for help, I’ve had to figure it out on my own. If I reached out and asked, the chances of me getting a straight answer and being treated equal would have been slim to none. I even have to be careful celebrating a goal because if I’m showing favoritism or such towards a player, I’ll be accused of finding them attractive. All of this self-doubt has been bred because of how I’ve been treated in the past.
That’s all on a personal level. That’s not counting how the NHL constantly allows abusers and rapists to continue to play. As a survivor of sexual assault and domestic abuse, it’s hard to feel like hockey is for everyone when those players can still play and be used as marketing in almost everything. Seeing that marketing is disheartening and really shows how out of touch the league is when it comes to women issues. In a day and age where #MeToo is an active movement, the NHL has fallen behind and left woman behind in the process.
There are things that can be done to improve the situation though! The first comes from the NHL. If they refuse to get rid of the trash players then they can stop using them for marketing. It wouldn’t be the best fix, but it’s better than nothing.
Fans of the sport could stop sending unsolicited “advice” to other fans. If that person asks, don’t assume they don’t know because of their gender. Treat them as an equal fan and help them out. If someone is wrong, politely tell them. Don’t threaten them, send them inappropriate pictures, or call them puck bunnies/puck sluts.
Let people feel attraction. There are hockey players that look good. It’s only natural to find people attractive. That doesn’t make anyone less of a fan. If someone is a fan of a team because they find a player attractive, that’s ok. Something brought them to the sport and the sport will only continue to grow. You wouldn’t question the fandom of a gay man that found a player attractive. Why do it to a woman?
Actual footage of me reading my DMs on bad days
Hockey isn’t for everyone right now, but the potential is there for it to be that way. It takes more than the NHL just holding one month of activities to change that. It takes the fans of the sport to be more welcoming, the NHL to stop promoting harmful people, and everyone loving everyone a bit more than they do now.
I want hockey to love me as much as I love it. I want to enjoy the sport as an equal fan. I want to be able to tweet without self-doubt and fear that my every word is being judged extra hard. I want hockey to be for everyone, not just the average fan.