Intolerance in Sports: Sexism in hockey

I have decided to write a slew of articles on the intolerances in sports that are reflected within our Western society.

Up first is sexism in the NHL, and hockey in general. To begin, and point out the obvious, the NHL is a “men’s only” league. To date, there has only been one woman to play in the NHL: Manon Rhéaume. She was a goalie and played in an exhibition game for the Tampa Bay Lightening in 1992. She returned in 1993 in an exhibition game against the Boston Bruins.

Manon Rhéaume in 1992.

Since then, there has been some progress; during the 2013–2014 season, Shannon Szabados, a Canadian goaltender, practiced with the Edmonton Oilers. A few weeks later, she signed a contract with the Columbus Cottonmouths of the Southern Professional Hockey League (SPHL). On November 21st, 2014, she made 34 saves and became the first female goaltender to win a game in the SPHL.

Shannon Szabados in net for the Cottonmouths. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)

In October of 2014, Hilary Knight, a member of the American Women’s hockey team, joined the Anaheim Ducks for a practice.

Despite the progress seen in recent years for women in hockey, there are still setbacks. One of these major setbacks is the lack of exposure of the CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League.) There are only five teams in the league, and none of the players get paid. Playing for the love of the game should be compensation enough, but when men get to make a career out of the sport they love, women should get the same opportunity.

This past December, the CWHL held their first All-Star game in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre. The event was free to attend and drew 6,850 people, which is a modest number. It’s possible the CWHL teams gained over 6,000 new fans. Assuming many of them are local, the team located in Toronto are the Furies. However, even if they began selling out their home arena, the MasterCard centre, the income would not be distributed to the women who worked so hard to draw an audience.

Another way women get exposure for hockey is during the winter Olympics, an event that only occurs every four years. The addition of women’s hockey is relatively new; the event was only added in 1998 at the Nagano Olympics. The most recent games, held in Sochi in 2014, saw a heart stopping gold medal final between two hockey nations— Canada and the United States. Canada trailed 2–0 until about three minutes remaining, and then tied it with less a minute remaining in regulation. The Canadian women scored in overtime and took gold for the fourth consecutive time. The game was huge and saw a ton of hockey fans praising the women— of both teams— for their efforts.

The Canadian women celebrate Marie-Phillip Poulin’s OT goal. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

The Olympics are seen as an amateur sporting event, meaning no athlete can get paid for their performance at the games. Obviously, the exposure draws in sponsors, but the games themselves do not hand out monetary compensation (unless you wanted to sell that gold medal…)

Women’s hockey continues to progress and seems to gain new exposure every year, especially during Olympic years, however, there is still a long way to go. Allowing women to enter the NHL draft, or creating a similar league to the NHL, thus allowing women to make a career out of their passion.

Another issue of sexism in hockey are the “chirps”, or insults, male players use. These insults are used all throughout society, therefore it is not only a problem within the sport, but doing nothing to address it or change it only allows it to continue. Players tend to use derogatory comments, such as “pussy” (vulgar term for a vagina) to refer to someone who is weak, insinuating anyone with a vagina, typically called women, are also weak. The use of these insults creates a sexist environment and makes women feel unwelcome.

The feeling of being unwanted in sports is not uncommon to women. Sports are typically seen as being a “man’s thing.” All of the professional leagues for sports (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) in North America contain only men. Even the coaches, trainers, owners, etc, are predominately men, making it hard for women to succeed in the business side of sports.

With the sexism present in our society, and it reflects in sports. With sports being so popular in Western societies, however, if we start to see changes in these sports leagues, it could incite change within society. If a general manager wants to have a woman play on his team over a man, society would start valuing women and their skills more.