(Photo by Eliza Eaton-Stern)
The life of a female sports fan – at least a marginally socially-conscious female sports fan – is full of little indignities that get weighed against the larger balance of joy that participation in the fan experience brings.
Does seeing Andrew Luck throw a gorgeous pass to TY Hilton, in the balance, outweigh the Colts starting the #FutureColtsCheerleader hashtag on Twitter with pictures of little girls wearing Colts gear? Does that pass from Luck to Hilton bring me enough joy that I can ignore the suggestion that this is the only contribution my team can imagine these little girls making?
Is it worth going to a game alone, knowing that I might suffer some creepy guy grabbing my ass – which happened on my very first trip to the United Center, by the way – if I get to cheer and yell and celebrate a win with other fans who aren’t going to treat me like public property?
Will going online to research fantasy sleeper picks so I can try (and, for the record, fail) to beat my husband at fantasy football this year include having to click past pictures of disembodied cheerleader breasts or stories about yet another domestic violence case?
Am I getting enough out of finally getting to watch rugby on TV to be okay with the fact that, in the Collegiate Rugby 7s Championship on NBC earlier this year, the women’s rugby teams playing at the exact same tournament were getting treated like crap?
And now, this: Patrick Kane, still under investigation for rape charges, is expected by the Blackhawks participate in their training camp come Friday.
Does the joy I got from seeing the Blackhawks win a third Stanley Cup in six years outweigh the knowledge that, to the team I support, encouraging an accused rapist to participate fully in team activities is totally cool? That they genuinely do not care about the message that sends to fans? Does the joy I get from watching Jonathan Toews play outweigh the disappointment I feel when he compares a rape accusation to online gossip about extramarital affairs?
No, guys. No. It doesn’t.
Here’s the thing – most women know at least one girl or woman who has been sexually assaulted. Most men do, too, but they may not be aware of it. Rape and sexual assault survivors are everywhere, and some of them are sports fans. The choices being made by the NHL and the Chicago Blackhawks are a slap in the face to the fans who have already suffered enough. Rather than taking the chance to stand up, to show that the NHL takes violence against women as seriously as it has said it does, they apparently choose to ignore the fact that one of their highest paid athletes is under investigation for a crime and go on as if everything is business as usual.
Whether or not Patrick Kane raped a woman, the fact remains that he is under investigation and has no business, superstar or not, taking the ice on Friday.
The business of sports – and yes, I’m aware that it is a business – has realized in the past few years that the money they get from women spends just as well as the money they get from men. Leagues have begun to wake up to the fact that female fans are out there, waiting with open wallets to be given even a fraction of the attention and respect that male fans have been given over the years. When it comes down to it, though, the straight and mostly white old men in suits who make the decisions about everything – from ice girls to welcoming Voynov to practice with the Kings to, at the time of writing, failing to suspend Patrick Kane until the results of this investigation are complete – could not give less of a hot buttered crap about the women who buy the season tickets and gear and raise future hockey fans to do the same. They would rather, in the case of New Jersey Devils CEO Scott O’Neill, block every single voice telling him politely to make good choices about personnel decisions.
We put up with indignities of all sorts because sport brings us joy and is a part of who we are – from childhood, in many cases. It has brought us friends and gives us a catharsis when the little things in our lives are stressing us out. We accept this bargain, because there’s more good there than bad, and because we understand as women that if we wanted to avoid anything that doesn’t treat us totally and completely like sentient beings with full agency and rich backstories, we’d basically have to avoid the world entirely. (Except you, Mad Max: Fury Road.)
But eventually, given enough cause, even the most die-hard will throw her hands up and say, “Yeah, I’m out.”
For many of us – many who have spent significant money on attending games, buying merch, traveling for fan conventions like the one the Blackhawks hold, subscribing to GameCenter, Center Ice, bringing people into the hockey fold by word-of-mouth – we’re at that point.
Your move, NHL. Your move, Blackhawks.
Managing Editor’s Note: Comments have been preemptively closed on this article in response to a history of abusive comments left on every single other piece we’ve ever posted on the subject of women and hockey. We will never provide a platform for that.