Why I won’t be watching the Stanley cup finals.

I love hockey. One of the things I miss most from Ontario, now that I live in Vancouver, is outdoor ice rinks. Everyone has that one activity they love so much that they can’t remember how much time has passed while doing it. Outdoor shinny is that for me. What has also struck me about this type of hockey is that when I have played with guys I often don’t have to go through the usual frustrations of not being passed the puck and all that other crap that comes with being a female athlete. There’s something about the informal nature of shinny that can momentarily escape gender roles.

I should be an obvious candidate to be an NHL fan – I’ve got the Canadian hockey love! And the nonsensical Canadian hockey nostalgia (my parents are non-skating Americans). Now more than ever I want to be because my current home is location for the unstoppable Vancouver Canucks. During the playoff games the streets (and anywhere without a tv) are empty. Which is actually nice for me because it means more ice time if my hockey game falls on the same night.

So, what’s my beef? Mainly the money, power, and violence.

I saw this episode of the Simpsons recently in which Mr. Burns acquires a basketball team and in an effort to attract an audience he proposes, much to Lisa’s protests of course, that the city builds a huge and luxurious stadium. Mr. Burns gets the vote at city hall and they go ahead with the building. On the opening night Burns shouts over the load speaker: “Welcome to the American Dream: A billionaire using public funds to construct a private playground for the rich and powerful!” The crowd cheers in response.

Watching that made me laugh really hard…and then sigh.

According to Dave Zirin, (awesome political/sport commentator/feminist ally) over 30 billion dollars have been spent since 1990 (not including tax breaks) on stadiums in the States (I’m sure it’s something less but proportionally disgraceful in Canada).  Zirin aptly describes this process as socializing debt and privatizing profit.  The cost of the new roof to BC Place in addition to the original amount to build the stadium puts the overall cost at $835 Million. That makes BC Place the 13th most costly venue IN THE WORLD.

And who can afford to bring their family to a Canucks game? Using the average ticket price for the 09/10 season a family of 4 would have to spend $250 on tickets alone (for my hometown of Toronto: $470 – if you can believe it). And, that’s if you plan to not buy a single thing to eat or drink at the stadium.   For an alternative check out the interesting story of the Green Bay Packers – the only publicly owned, not-for-profit professional sports team in the US (in Canada the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL are publicly owned).

From a feminist angle what really gets my goat about the absurd amount of public money spent on these venues is that women are not even allowed to play in them. (yes, yes except for the odd championship that may be in town). They are overpriced man tents. So, here’s where the power comes in. Rich men own the man teams who then sell the tickets to the rich men. Women are sometimes are welcome…as cheerleaders. I worked a season at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto running beer to the platinum section and I had many opportunities to see the treatment of the cheerleaders at Raptors games.  I also attended many Argo games as a teenager and I don’t think I ever heard the following commentary coming out of one of my fellow fans “Oh gee, that cradle catch requires a staggering degree of athletic prowess” unless that’s what “show us your tits” actually means.

Anyone who has been around professional sport leagues know that it cultivates a macho jock beef cake environment (I’m pretty sure that’s the academic term).  To date, there is not one “out” gay major professional sport athlete in North America (there are some that came out after they retired).  This says a lot about the culture. Namely, that any sign of weakness (i.e. “femininity,” because you know gay guys aren’t real men) is not accepted.  There is long held belief, largely based on proof and experience, that this kind of jock culture cultivates an environment that incites violence against women. Not only are the althletes themselves more likely to physically abuse women than the average male but the rates of domestic violence in home increases during sporting events, especially when the home team loses.  Not to mention the correlation between major sporting events and the rise in sex trafficking.

So, I won’t hate on you for watching the Canucks but this is a little flavour of why I find it so hard to stomach.  (This, and more uninteresting reasons like it would cut into my dystopian novel reading and Fringe watching)

I think it’s about time professional sports stops being the only thing many progressive people are not willing to critique.  Looking critically at something you love doesn’t mean you love it any less. Sport can be such a powerful tool for positive social change; it deserves sincere examination.

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6 Comments on “Why I won’t be watching the Stanley cup finals.”

  • K

    “Looking critically at something you love doesn’t mean you love it any less.”

    What a thoughtful observation… it invites positive, mindful self-reflection and opportunities for meaningful and lasting change.

    I like your honesty. Great blog!

  • Hayley

    Not sure if you’re the same person with the radio show? Thank you for discussing the female fan and the expected role seen by men, the media and unfortunately, women as well. I have played and watched hockey my entire life and I both a hockey player and fan feel under-represented. You have no idea how many times I have joined a discussion about hockey and received one of two responses: complete confusion why a woman would understand the sport or getting hit on (some men take my knowledge of the sport as a desire to get hit on I guess?).

    I LOVE your show, although it pisses me off (in a really good way though!). And will definitely listen again!

  • Leslie

    Hey there F Word friends,
    Thanks for the blog and podcast on hockey playoffs/sport culture. I read and listened. I do have some feedback on a point that was brought up in both: Domestic violence increases after professional sports losses. This point is misguided. Domestic violence happens because men believe they can use power and violence to control women. Not because sports teams lose, stressful days at work, too much to drink, flirting or any other number of excuses abusers use for their behaviour. Men who beat their wives/girlfriends after the Superbowl most likely abuse their partners regularly. Men who are not violent do not. I understand why it may be tempting to make this correlation if you dislike corporate male sports, but police calls for domestic violence also sky rocket at Christmas. Does this mean Christmas is responsible for increasing domestic abuse? Abusers will find any reason they want to abuse, and points like this can indirectlt perpetuate they male “impulse control” myth.
    Also, in the spirit of balanced journalism it may have been interesting to here how a feminist Canuck fan reconciles the complexities of this identity. Hearing multiple admissions of “don’t play/like/watch/care” about sports or playoffs left out a narrative. Aligned with Ellie’s point, you don’t automatically loose your social justice cred by watching sports. I know my friend fans (male and female) love to mock and criticize the Old Milwaukee “bring home the girls” ads and the chest beating super-fans while still appreciating the excitement of the game.
    It has also been a great experience in the women-only (largely Aboriginal women)space where I work to be part of the commraderie and shared commiseration throughout the playoffs. Daily witnessing to the non-conformity of “I watch so my boyfriend will pay attention to me” assumptions of female fandom that were described. There’s no men around, but jersey’s are still everywhere.
    Any how, just a little feedback. Keep up the good work.
    Your beer swillin’, hockey watching feminist ally,

    • Meghan Murphy

      Hi Leslie!
      From my perspective, the point about domestic violence, which was presented as as a 10 second blip/fact in the show, and was based on something reported by the Globe and Mail, wasn’t meant to lead anyone to abandon sports watching (clearly abusers are abusers regardless of whether or not there are sports on), was just to say – hey, how does this impact women? Maybe it’s not, as the dominant narrative tells us, ‘fun for everyone’. I mean, what is happening on the sidelines? Many of the men who play professional sports are violent in their homes, or assault women when they are off the rink/field, that doesn’t mean that playing sports makes men abusive, but it does speak to the culture of professional sports which, maybe, presents/reinforces a kind of masculinity that includes violence as something that is acceptable and that presents women as superfluous. 10,000 prostitutes (including children) were brought into Miami during the Superbowl in 2007 – does this mean all men who watch football pay for sex or don’t respect women? Or like sex with minors? No. But it does speak to that ‘other side’ of professional sport that isn’t presented to us in that ‘THIS IS FUN SHUT UP’ narrative. I think you’re right, having someone in who DOES watch professional hockey and who grapples with their love of the Canucks would have brought an extra layer to this perspective, though I think Ellie did a pretty good job of describing the ways in which sports are and can be awesome and that it is totally ‘ok’ to watch the playoffs, but that perhaps we should note these underlying issues with professional sports. Considering that every single media outlet everywhere and the vast majority of Vancouver (it seems) presents the ‘professional hockey is awesome. period’, I think an alternate perspective, without the presentation of the ‘professional men’s hockey is awesome’ side of the ‘story’ is pretty valid. Even without including Canucks fans in the dialogue. And therein lies the ‘balance’ in journalism. When every other outlet is telling only one side of the story, blindly ignoring all these other factors and issues, I’m not sure that, in the telling of some of those alternative/marginalized sides, it’s really necessary to include that other side (that is already the dominant perspective), covered by all other media outlets and expressed by just about every other human being in Vancouver right now. It feels like everyone is watching hockey in Vancouver right now. Couldn’t it be refreshing to hear from those who *gasp* aren’t?

  • Bort

    Nice one Ellie. Cool as a cuke.

  • I’m not a Hockey fan. Sometimes I wonder if there is a correlation between a nation’s level of democracy and it’s public involvement with commercial sports. I read an interview with Noam Chomsky where he suggests that professional sports is a distraction from the difficult business of making a better, more just society. But that’s straying a little far from this topic perhaps.

    Having grown up in rural Alberta, as a boy, I am inclined to say that there is a link between the prevalence of violent sports, like hockey, and violence from men. Violence, and professional sports, are gendered in our culture. The vast majority of violence comes from men and boys. I guess I don’t know where this train of thought is going. It’s certainly not a very good argument. I can’t help but think that our culture would benefit from caring less about professional, televised, hockey. I for one won’t be watching the final game. Although, I might watch a twitter feed of it.

    Actually, I’ve always wanted to go take pictures after a big game, of all of the men on the street getting drunk and puking and getting into fights. That’s a largely undocumented part of the hockey night in Canada experience.

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