This post was written by Robyn Pennington (@robyn_jftc) as a guest contribution for Puckology. It represents both how deeply the NHL’s attitude towards women is hurting their customers and how personal the choice is to remain engaged with the league. Welcome, Robyn.
Content warning: Domestic violence, sexual assault.
Why Women Should Matter to the NHL
I wrote this piece partly inspired by Sarah Connor’s amazing article at Stanley Cup of Chowder and partly in light of the NHL’s and Blackhawks’ lack of response to the Patrick Kane case.
When Slava Voynov was arrested, the league did the right thing by suspending him immediately. Though the Kings voiced support for the league’s decision, they also violated the conditions of said suspension by allowing him to practice with his teammates. In essence, their actions never quite matched their words. They’re not off the hook accountability-wise, but they have at least taken steps to try and prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
Semyon Varlamov was accused of assaulting his girlfriend and was eventually arrested, yet the league did nothing. Varlamov was allowed to return to practice and even played in games. Though charges were later dropped due to insufficient evidence, the fact remains that the NHL shrugged their shoulders and carried on, business as usual.
What’s worse is the league’s handling of the Patrick Kane situation. Not only was he not suspended, the NHL has stood by his team’s decision to have Kane actively participate in training camp and to take part in what can only be described as the most ill-advised press conference ever. Patrick Kane was given the opportunity to denounce his accuser while representing his team and then refuse to answer any questions about his own behavior.
It’s still business as usual. The league has the power to act under a provision written into the CBA to allow the league to protect its reputation (Article 18-A.2) but they have deemed this not…harmful?
I am sick to my stomach for Kane’s accuser. I hope she finds justice and eventual peace despite this horrifying nightmare happening to her. No one ever deserves to be raped or sexually assaulted.
As for me, I feel like the league is telling me I don’t matter. By their inaction, the NHL has long been telling us that we don’t count.
I had convinced myself that it was getting better, that they were starting to listen and realize that my dollar spends just as well as any man’s. When the Blackhawks said they were listening to their fans and the New York Islanders did away with “ice girls” in favor of a co-ed crew, I thought maybe the league is finally changing.
I was wrong.
If anything, the league is reversing course and actively shutting out the voices of women. By standing around with their hands in their metaphorical pockets, the league is basically saying that it condones violence against women. They are not perpetuating the squeaky-clean image that Gary Bettman boasted about so recently. They’re perpetuating the ugly “boys will be boys” stereotype while doing nothing to support victims of violence.
I’m not talking about financial support but moral support. Something to say, “I believe you,” or, “we will not tolerate rape in this league no matter how good you are at hockey.” An easy start would be suspending Kane, or at the very least, not allowing him a public forum with which to deny the accusations against him.
The league lacks a standard form of discipline. They finally figured it out (kind of) for on-ice conduct with the Player Safety position. If a cross-check to the head deserves a five-game suspension, why does a rape accusation not deserve the same consideration? I’m not suggesting it should be a set amount for a player is accused of doing a horrible act – but why is it not an automatic suspension until the legal matter is cleared up?
Why was it an immediate suspension for Voynov? Was it just because he was arrested? Is it because the NFL screwed up and the NHL wanted to look like they were cracking down on domestic violence and “taking a stand” against it?
Why is the league cherry picking these issues? If a player is formally accused in a legal setting of committing an illegal act, the NHL has a responsibility to its fans to ensure that the legalities are taken care of before allowing the alleged wrongdoer to return to work.
Every 107 seconds, an American is sexually assaulted; one in six women in America has been a victim of either attempted or completed rape in her lifetime; one in 33 men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime.
That translates to approximately 2000 rape survivors in attendance at every Chicago Blackhawks game. (Via Jen LC @RegressedPDO)
I’ve spent countless thousands of dollars on the Kings and the NHL. The league has chosen to turn a blind eye to the extremely serious allegations against a star money maker and I have never felt more isolated, frustrated or incredibly outraged. I feel like I don’t matter.
But the fact is: I do.
And I should matter. Between 32 and 40% of NHL fans are female. At minimum, that is one in three fans. Even better, I live in the same city as my favorite hockey team and I will contribute to gate sales, which are still the biggest portion of NHL revenue. Even from a business standpoint, it is not favorable to alienate part of your customer base, especially one as large as the portion girls/women make up.
Think of it this way: If you’re a business owner with a million customers and you decided to ignore a third of them because “reasons,” you’re not maximizing profits. In this hypothetical scenario, if each person brings in a profit of $10, you’re now losing out on $3 million worth of revenue. This is now a poor business decision by the NHL to make me, a woman, feel like I don’t matter.
The fact that I am not a 45-year-old man with a household income averaging more than $100,000 a year doesn’t mean I don’t matter. It doesn’t mean the league ought to ignore my voice.
So to Bill Daly, Gary Bettman and all the other deniers in the NHL’s front office: I. MATTER.
I will fight for a better, more open, more caring hockey league that tells burgeoning fan bases, “WE CARE. WE LISTEN. YOU ARE IMPORTANT.”
Hockey may be a children’s sport, but it has brought so much joy to my house and opened up new worlds and ideas that I never knew I could ever experience.
I refuse to go away quietly and ignore this issue just because someone else has decided that the game isn’t right for women. I am not ready to walk away just yet and I will continue to tell the NHL that I matter, that all women matter and that we will not tolerate the embarrassing ways they find to exclude us. We will knock down that door kicking and screaming and demanding to be heard.
As a new season dawns on the National Hockey League, I want to remind women that we are valuable and that we shouldn’t let a bunch of old geezers in suits tell us we’re not.
We are important. We matter.