By Melissa Geschwind, Guest Contributor
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Dear Mr. Bettman,
Remember a couple weeks ago when fans insulted a male player by calling him a woman’s name?
You probably don’t, and I can understand that. After all, you were only asked about it at one presser – the next day – and nobody has brought it up to you again. And hey, that was back in the first round, which, in hockey years, is like forever ago now that we’re on to the second. So let me refresh your memory: The Ducks were in Winnipeg and the home crowd, en masse, chanted “Katy Perry” as a way to taunt Anaheim player Corey Perry.
It didn’t stand out to you, which again is understandable, since this kind of thing happens literally every day in the NHL. Fans do it, broadcasters do it, players do it, arena opps do it. It’s a non-event, so it’s little wonder you were truly surprised when Jesse Spector asked you about the “Katy Perry” chant. Your answer was that calling a man by a woman’s name is no different than calling a goalie a sieve. It was a dismissive, clumsy, deeply unfortunate analogy that you haven’t revisited since, largely because nobody has made you answer for it.
At the time, you said that you’d never heard anyone express discomfort at these kinds of chants in the past, and I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt about that. Here’s the thing: You’ve heard it now. You heard it from Spector. You heard it in a follow-up question from Sarah Kwak. If you care at all about the fans of your league, you read about it on social media and in blogs after Spector’s and Kwak’s questions brought it to your attention. You can no longer credibly plead ignorance. You know now that many fans – especially many female fans – feel that NHL arenas aren’t entirely welcoming places, and casual sexism is the reason why.
Nobody has asked you about this publicly in several weeks and you may think that means it’s not an important issue, but you’d be wrong; the truth is that those journalists are letting us all down. They might believe there are more pressing issues at the moment, what with the playoffs, hirings, firings, awards, and the upcoming draft – and whatever other matters will turn up between now and the time this letter is published – but that’s the thing: there is always something more pressing. There is always something more immediate, more explosive, more exciting or tragic or politically charged.
The thing about everyday sexism is that we deal with it every day. It’s part of the background noise, familiar and easy to tune out. If we wait for casual sexism to reach the top of everyone’s to-do list, then it will continue on forever in exactly the same manner it has survived all along.
Still, Mr. Bettman, you know as well as anyone that we don’t have to accept the status quo if we don’t want to. The NHL has been an institutional leader in fighting homophobic slurs. It issues fines to players who use racist language on the ice. Hell, you even suspended Sean Avery a few years back for using the phrase “sloppy seconds.” No offense, but I doubt any of that came from a place of deep personal integrity; no, those things happened because public pressure demanded them (except in the case of the Avery suspension which happened because, well, Sean Avery). You’d get to work trying to root out the NHL’s casual sexism if only someone would lean hard enough on you to do it.
It seems that pressure won’t come from inside the league or from members of hockey media, so it will have to come from us, the fans. Here it is, then: sexism is no less offensive than homophobia or racism. If it’s not OK to taunt an opposing player by calling him gay, then it’s not OK to taunt him by calling him a woman. Many, many of your fans are offended by sexism, and we’re not going to let you ignore us anymore.
I know what you’re probably thinking: how can I, a man who fans boo even when I’m about to present their captain with the Stanley Cup, prevent “Katy Perry” chants? Don’t worry, Mr. Bettman, we all know that you can’t. We don’t expect you to. What we do expect is for you to help cut down on the things that make NHL arenas such perfect breeding grounds for those sorts of taunts. We expect you to tell teams to stop parading half-dressed women out onto the ice to shovel snow. We expect you to make arena organists and DJs stop making sexist jokes through their choices of music (no, guys, “Big Girls Don’t Cry” is not clever. Trust me). We expect you to educate broadcast teams about the harm they do when they refer to the “Sedin Sisters” or say someone is playing like a little girl. We expect you to look at the league you run, really look at it, and notice all the ways it tells women that we’re second-class citizens.
So, even if no reporter ever asks you about this specific event again, it isn’t going away. We’re going to keep talking about sexism and misogyny in the NHL for as long as it takes. You can be the guy who we hound about it, or the guy we celebrate for taking real steps to change it. That’s the deal: you’re either a villain (which, admittedly, is a role you seem pretty comfortable with) or you can be a hero who doesn’t get booed every time he’s in a room with more than a dozen other people.
Well, no, we can’t offer that. You’re still going to get booed.
But you can do something good anyway, something to be proud of. You can make the NHL better and by extension make the world a little bit better. You can be a leader in a way that matters. If that’s not your jam, then address our concerns because you don’t want the issue of sexism to overshadow your on-ice product, just like sexism itself is beginning to overshadow the on-ice product for some of your fans.
The complaints have reached your level, Mr. Bettman. Listen to them. Listen to us. We’ll keep making noise until you do.
Melissa Geschwind, hockey fan