Enjoying NHL Hockey as a Queer Fan Who Gives A Shit.
Note: I wrote this mostly for myself, as a reminder, since the NHL season starts today. I thought I’d share it, but you are under not obligation to take any of my suggestions.
I hit a point where I decided I was done. I was finished with pretending the NHL, or any professional sports league, would one day wake up and care about women and victims. Pleading with gate keeping old straight white men to see queer people, rape victims, domestic violence survivors, as human and more important than their bottom line seemed just too much, too exhausting for me. I didn’t have the temperament for it or the ability to polish my tone into something NHL executives would find easy enough to swallow. I admit I didn’t necessarily want that ability, either. I wanted my defense of myself as a fan, and fans like me, victims, queer people, to be sharp and hard. I wanted my words to be cutting, I wouldn’t dull them for anyone anymore.
I shifted focus, then. To myself, to how I could keep something I genuinely enjoyed — NHL hockey — without spending every moment thinking about how little the NHL values women and victims to the point where I just sit facing a corner and cry.
In the end you have to do what is best for you. If you can leave your sports fandom and feel better for having done so — do it. If you can stay, if you can eek out a little joy from this situation no matter the mental gymnastics — do it.
Here’s what I’ve found helpful (and in no way do you have do exactly this).
Surround yourself with friends.
I surrounded myself with like-minded people also trying to dig out a tiny trench for themselves to love hockey without constantly being reminded that the NHL does not think of them at all.
In a way this is so much the history of how women and victims and queer people have managed to survive, and thrive, for decades. We insulate ourselves, protect ourselves, and find ways to cope. I’ve found more ingenuity, understanding and compassion in these pockets of sports fandom than I have ever found, anywhere. More stories of self-acceptance, of being unapologetically queer and woman and survivor talking about corsi charts and hockey gifs than anywhere else in my life and for that I am forever grateful.
Know when to log out
I’m not saying “delete your account” or “if you tweet five swear words in a row, you have to log off.” I’m saying you might find it helpful to know when it’s time to back away from the keyboard and scream into your cat for a while. (FYI, my cat hates this.)
It’s the nature of sports and sports on social media that inevitably someone will say something that will infuriate you. No matter how well you protect yourself there’s no keeping those voices out and sooner or later, though probably sooner rather than later, someone short-sighted and privileged, having never experienced life as a woman or a victim or a queer person or a person of color and lacking the will to empathize with anyone who IS, will be hurtful. It’s helpful to know in those moments when it’s time to pack your shit and leave for a bit, or at least until you’re more likely to respond in a way you’re okay with than you are to tip your laptop out a window. (laptops are not good frisbees, 0/10, do not recommend).
Know when NOT to log out
As an underrepresented sports fan, you bring something undeniably valuable to the table. And while knowing when not to speak for your own mental health is good, knowing when it’s okay for you to speak, and choosing to do so, is also good. Knowing your privilege and when it’s time to throw that around for the benefit of fans less privileged than you is also good. We have all felt pressured to silence ourselves and if you can push back against that — do it.
The mute button is your best friend
I mute more than I block on twitter these days. Block just tends to give trolls a sense that they won. Mute makes them vanish off the face of the planet.
When the trolls won’t stop, do some reading, protect yourself
Crash Override has been an invaluable resource for me when I found myself dealing with a deluge of hateful misogynist trolls. I’ve only dealt with a small fraction of what some have on twitter and I found the experience really overwhelming and upsetting. So. Take care of yourself, and take steps to protect yourself by making use of their resources.
There are good people doing good work in journalism/sports
As just a fan it can be really easy to feel powerless and alone when the mighty force of sports makes it clear just how much they value you as a person and a consumer of their product (not at all). It can help to know that there ARE people working within the system to try and fix some shit. I follow a lot of them and reading their work isn’t possible some days, because I just feel inundated by it all, but other days I find it strangely comforting? Obviously to each their own here, but I recommend the work of these writers:
If you need to quit, you’re not alone
I spoke to some fans who quit NHL hockey after Patrick Kane was accused of raping a woman (and the Blackhawks handled the fallout poorly). Here’s a quote from one woman that particularly rang true for me. Remember this when you think maybe you shouldn’t have stopped watching hockey.
“As soon as the Hawks trotted Patrick Kane out at that sham of a press conference during training camp, I knew I couldn’t support them anymore. It was embarrassing and painful to watch. I’m related to four rape victims and friends with three others. For the time being I’m going to take a step back from the NHL altogether. The league is complicit in this mess and I cannot stomach giving any NHL team my support right now.” — Alexa
If you stick around, you’re not alone
I also spoke to hockey fans who decided to keep watching Chicago’s NHL team even after the rape case against Patrick Kane. A few women said they’d be sticking it out but acknowledged that the Hawk’s treatment of the case left them feeling guilty, conflicted, and confused. Of all the women I talked to, Sarah left the biggest impression on me, probably because she’s a social worker.
“I came from journalism to social work because I wanted to help more directly. You can make yourself weary with caring. In social work, human suffering is your currency. 60% [of social workers quit] within 5 years. I’m still watching because I’m at a point where I’d rather bury my head and enjoy a game. I’m tired of being tired. Of being mad. And I feel like I’m failing in that respect. I know better, I should care more. I do care, but I’m fucking exhausted. I liken it to throwing a plate at a wall during dinner, expect no one sees it break, hears the crash, or even looks at you This is personal. I know the anger is still there, but I can’t get it right now. I just want to enjoy something I love.”
Personally I recognize that the NHL is an organization with huge faults, one that helps to perpetuate rape culture and support a blase non-response to men hurting women. I also will keep watching, because hockey is still something I get joy from, and I don’t want to rob myself of it. The minute I’m incapable of feeling that, I’ll tap out. One thing I will not do is shout down anyone who rejects the NHL because of it’s very real problems in this area. I know too many survivors to engage in that kind of thing.
Find a way to help, if that makes things better for you
I’m personally a big fan of #hockeyfightsdv. I’m pretty proud of hockey fans for coming up with something like that, a way of helping people in need as the league mishandles reports of domestic violence. The league may not be working well in this area, but we can do something. I spoke with Heather, one of the creators of #hockeyfightsdv and here’s what she told me about the conception of it:
“I was in Seattle at Geek Girl Con and a group of us desperately wanted to watch hockey and ended up in a Buffalo Wild WIngs. We talked about how hard it is to be a woman and fan of hockey and our experiences. I mentioned offhand how I wanted to do SOMETHING in terms of donating to a domestic violence organization and be specific that I was doing it because of Varlamov and Voynov. Alex came up with a structure which was basically player times money times stat and donating regularly to a charity.”
That remains the structure of #hockeyfightsdv. Pick a player. Okay, Evgeni Malkin. Pick an action. Unnecessary penalty! Pick an amount of money. Five dollars. Everytime Malkin takes an unnecessary penalty, I sock five dollars away in a separate account and then a at the end of the month or the season, I donate what I’ve collected to an organization in my local community that supports women and victims.
Get recommended resources to research trusted charities, advice on ways to help out if you’re short on cash, and make your own pledge over at the #hockeyfightsdv tumblr page.
Side note: If you’re a Chicago Cubs fan and you’re still with us after last night, you might want to know that Cubs fans have launched a similar effort this postseason to raise money for DV charities. Check out the #pitchin4dv hashtag on twitter for more information.
Do the least amount of harm
I wrote this as a reminder to my queer survivor self, of the things I need to do in order to watch NHL hockey without wanting to run my head into a wall. I do, however, realize allies might read this and also realize that within groups of queer people and survivors are other layers of privilege. While I think it’s important to do what makes you comfortable — keep watching NHL hockey, stop watching NHL hockey, mute the hell out of rapist player’s names — that’s not a license to fail to recognize places where you’re privileged or capable of doing harm. I benefit from being white and visibly femme, so when I find myself at a hockey game, I’m not automatically, visibly, othered by the majority of the crowd. Many people don’t have the option that I do, to fly under the radar a bit. It’s important to me to endeavor to do the least amount of harm possible. I’m not saying I always succeed at that — in fact I have REALLY fucked up in this area, before. I hope I am doing better? Ultimately that’s not for me to say, it’s for others.
Enjoy the hockey
It’s a beautiful game, a fast game, a thrilling game. For as long as you can, if you can, enjoy the hell out of it.