Sexism and the All-Star Fantasy Draft

Danny Gray
January 27 2012 08:03AM

 

Dreams really do come true.

Last night the NHL held the All-Star Fantasy Draft for the second time. While it gives adult fans an opportunity to play Statler and Waldorf on Twitter after each pick, it is really meant for the children. As last year’s Guardian Project demonstrated, the NHL sees the All-Star game as an opportunity to sell the game to its younger fans.  The Fantasy Draft sent a very sexist message to those kids last night.

Young fans, boys and girls alike, tune into the draft to see their favourite players and which team they get drafted to. James Duthie specifically mentioned that the idea behind the draft is to evoke the memories of when the players were young, “tossing sticks into the middle, choosing Captains, and picking teams.” Kids watching at home can imagine themselves up on stage being drafted and putting on an All-Star sweater. Well the boys can. If you’re a young female hockey fan your options for daydreaming are slightly more limited. You can imagine yourself on-stage, dressed in tights and heels silently handing each player their sweater.

There were exactly three women visibly involved in the Fantasy Draft: the two aforementioned sweater shuttles, and Alyonka Larionov. Alyonka was relegated backstage to read off tweets that the Athletes were sending during the draft.

Being a man I’m obviously not the most qualified to speak on these things. And I don’t presume to speak for an entire gender, but what I saw last night bothered me. Female hockey fans have it tough. Their opinions are often marginalized due to their gender and the assumption that they are “Puck Bunnies” who only follow the sport because they have a crush on every player.

Watching last night’s coverage of the draft suggested that TSN feels the same way. While it may not have been TSN’s intention to use Alyonka solely as “eye candy” a quick scan of her mentions on Twitter show that many male viewers did.

 

 

 

 

Fantastic stuff there. 

This may not bother you; it may not even bother Alyonka Larionov. Adults can decide for themselves what they find offensive or objectionable. Children cannot. To the boys and girls watching at home last night the NHL sent a very strong message: female hockey fans and their opinions are not to be taken seriously. Female hockey analysts and reporters are under-represented in the MSM. There are many excellent female bloggers who are passionate about the game and offer insightful commentary. They have no representaton on nights like this. I don't think that's right. 

What's worse is that girls watching at home dreaming of playing in the All-Star game one day were given two choices for when they grow up: handing out sweaters or reading tweets. 

 

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Danny once met Doug Gilmour and it changed his life. Had he met Bret Hart the same day he would not have been able to handle it. He can be found on Twitter @ACatNamedFelix.
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#1 Nigel Tufnel
January 27 2012, 10:48AM
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What's wrong with being sexy?

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#2 metricjulie
January 27 2012, 08:49AM
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Thanks for writing this.

It's a sad reality that messages of discrimination and oppression will always be taken more seriously when delivered by a straight white male.

This is nothing new, although people (who aren't women) being bothered by it might be. It's the same thing in martial arts: in North America, UFC is king, and with no women's division, no female referees or commentators, only ringgirls in bikinis, their message is clear: women are not allowed *inside* the octagon, and their only value & worth lie in their youth, beauty and sexuality.

That seems to be the message in sports in general, though. From female reporters and journalists who actually get air time to the obligation to wear skirts in some sports (badminton, olympic boxing) to the abomination that is lingerie football... sports are clearly still marketed, owned and run according to a patriarchal system.

There isn't a whole lot we can do: none of us want to stop watching sports or going to games. We LOVE sports. I mean jeez, women still have a hard time finding jerseys and hats that aren't pink bedazzled and sparkly. That's not to say no one wants that; it's just that we're put inside a box by the NHL, without nuance or appreciation for women as humans. Women are seen as body props, accessories and eye candy.

So I guess what we can do is keep calling out this behavior when we see it, and I think the blogging community is pretty damn good at that, but also supporting women who are involved in sports, and just in general not describing women in gendered ways. It might not seem like much, but at least it's *something*.

Thanks again -- not for being bothered by sexism and the misrepresentation of women, but for speaking up about it. A lot of the good guys remain silent about this stuff. It's enough. So thanks.

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#3 SarahM
January 27 2012, 09:45AM
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@xkaren08 The problem is that there's no way that the NHL didn't consider that. They had kids riding in the sleds with the trophies during the parade on Rideau Canal, after all. I have to believe that they knew there were less... (I hate the word exploitative because it seems so harsh, but that's the one I'm coming up with, so I'll go with it) ...exploitative ways of handling it, and still chose to put some pretty young girls in tights and heels and have them walk back and forth across the stage all night.

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#4 metricjulie
January 27 2012, 10:52AM
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Where the hell have I ever used sexy pictures to promote blog posts ON SEXUAL ASSAULT?

Or perhaps because I like sex LIKE EVERY OTHER HUMAN BEING and don't think I should be demonized for it, that is too much too soon too fast for everyone still stuck in the virgin/whore dichotomy.

And I don't see what's wrong with me personally liking the color pink and having the audacity to believe everyone - men, women, genderqueer - should be allowed to decide how they define themselves, and not be placed inside a box of stereotypes and oppression.

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#5 SkinnyFish
January 27 2012, 10:54AM
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@metricjulie

Remember Julie, if a man brags/talks about his sexual experiences it's cool and he should be branded a hero to all man. But if a woman brags/talks about her sexual experiences she's a slut and should be branded a whore with a big red letter A on her chest.

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#6 The '67 Sound
January 27 2012, 11:06AM
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@daoust

You are right that there are positive role models for young girls. You are also right that we are in no position to judge women who make a living off their looks.

It's also true that even in sports we are seeing a growing role for women as more than eye candy. TSN has lots of competent female reporters.

Finally, I don't think anyone is arguing that every televised sporting event must have a "substantive" female presence.

I think Danny's point is that in an event aimed specifically at children, it's a little disturbing that the only role for women is eye candy. Swapping kids for "sweater girls", as others have suggested, would have been a huge improvement.

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#8 grodapare
January 27 2012, 08:24AM
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The, so far, overwhelming response by females supporting your article and demanding equitable treatment must bring a tear to your eye. It appears that you certainly have your finger on the pulse of the hockey world and an insightful grasp on the issues that matter to the fans of hockey. Population of Gray World....one.

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#10 kidkawartha
January 27 2012, 08:38AM
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I "accidentally" read the first commenter's handle as "grope-adare". Nice work, Danny.

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#11 Chemmy
January 27 2012, 08:55AM
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Way to go #1. Let Danny know he's a jerk for thinking half of the population can aspire to more than looking pretty.

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#12 Doug Roswell
January 27 2012, 08:56AM
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Good for you for standing up for an issue witches reaches far beyond the NHL and stretches across the entire sporting world. Great article!

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#13 Jeffrey Chapman
January 27 2012, 09:01AM
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@5

C'mon, Sarge. Agree or not, it was hardly 'feeble'

Excellent piece, Danny.

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#15 metricjulie
January 27 2012, 09:04AM
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@9

At least don't post your comment anonymously.

And tell me where exactly I 'walk blindly in the mainstream' and don't call out EVERYTHING that is disrespectful to me and to women in general.

Go ahead, I dare you.

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#17  
January 27 2012, 09:08AM
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@metricjulie

More hot headed bloggers who can dish it but can't take it. Love the Alexa rating by the way.

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#18 xkaren08
January 27 2012, 09:08AM
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I'd have to agree. If they'd had Alyonka Larionov doing something more productive, like interviewing fans, it wouldn't have been so bad. Reading tweets is *always* awkward.

The production decision to include Kane saying 'the blonde is unbelievable' (whether you buy his story he was referring to someone else or not) serves as an admission by TSN & NBCSN they had her there as eye-candy.

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#19 Clare
January 27 2012, 09:09AM
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It's irksome, certainly, to be marginalized, but I'm not sure what the solution could have been last night. It's not like that's a venue for intelligent analysis from anyone, male or female. Did you hear anyone get the chance to make an intelligent, thoughtful, cogent analysis of the process? Add to that the fact that there are so few female hockey TV people, and what could have been different last night for the women?

Long-term, though, it needs to change. There is a huge pool of young girls getting ready to make their decisions about what sports to play and to spend money on. Showing women's hockey on NHLN or NBCSN, hiring some of the very smart young women out there--heck, even getting one or more of our incredibly knowledgeable female bloggers to write for NHL.com would go a long way towards "growing the game" among young women.

My daughter just turned 7. She's been playing soccer but she's starting to think about learning hockey (since we're a hockey household). I hope that she won't feel she shouldn't because she's a girl, but I'm fairly certain that that issue will come up. A role model would do wonders for her.

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#20 Chemmy
January 27 2012, 09:14AM
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Some of the commenters too gutless to use even a pseudonym while attacking others must have missed the irony in the one line of rules before commenting:

Comments are moderated. Pretend your mom is reading over your shoulder.

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#21 Jeff
January 27 2012, 09:14AM
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Grasping at straws. It suppose it could have been Jennifer Hedger hosting, but Duthie is the host of TSN Hockey, and wins all the awards. The panel consisted of the Mckenzie (the top hockey insider), Crawford (NHL coach), and Ward (NHL player). This too is pretty much the same crew for all hockey games.

You are aware that Alyonka Larionov is the daughter of former NHLer and HHOFer Igor, right? She's a fairly accomplished media up-and-comer having worked for a number of hockey media outlets (HNIC, HBO's 24/7, now TSN). It doesn't hurt that she's pretty, but her family pedigree and her experience, accomplishments, and capabilities in the media are why TSN chose her. TSN wanted someone to cover the social media aspect of the event, which is why she was covering the players' tweets. You're right though, she was "relegated" backstage, along with, you know, the ALL-STAR HOCKEY PLAYERS!

To accuse TSN of sexism and under-representing women's talent is pretty bold, especially when they have great talent like Jennifer Hedger, Kate Beirness, Katherine Dolan, Sheri Forde, Holly Horton, Sara Orlesky, and Natasha Staniszewski at the forefront of their national Sports Centre and TSN Hockey broadcasts (okay, Staniszewki is not that great, but the rest are). TSN also covers more Candian women's hockey than any other television network in Canada.

What point exactly are you trying to make when you say, "There are many excellent female bloggers who are passionate about the game and offer insightful commentary. They have no representaton on nights like this." Umm, there are also lots of MALE bloggers who are passionate about the game and offer insightful commentary....they too have no representation on nights like this. The MSM doesn't really cover the blogosphere. Insightful bloggers and vloggers, despite their sex, will get the appreciation and representation they deserve from their readers and viewers on the net; it's not the MSM's job to give laurels to their competition.

No offense, because I'm sure you're a good blogger and writer, but this is a horrible post. Yes, they had some pretty girls to hand out sweaters, and yes, Patrick Kane said that "the blonde was unbelievable". What about the girls who hand out medals at the IIHF championships? Should we scrap them? Such a mountain out of a molehill. What is with the movement that says we have to pretend we live in a sexless world all the time? It's this attitude that would have cheerleaders removed from pro sports, citing sexism. May as well do away with the tradition of bridal gowns, it's sexist to make the woman wear something so visibly different and, *gasp*, pretty! Of course, all of this, including your post, never takes into account the CHOICE of the females who took part in last night's broadcast, whether it be covering tweets or handing out jerseys.

The focus of the broadcast last night was the All-Star players and the draft, not pretty girls. Had it been the latter, you would have had an argument. Please stop creating controversy where it doesn't exist.

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#23 metricjulie
January 27 2012, 09:18AM
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@Clare

It would have been so easy to have a woman who actually speaks French fluently read the player descriptions instead of hearing "une joueur" and "dernière but", or have a guy AND a girl handing out the jerseys, or not just have the "pretty girl" read out tweets, etc.

So many things could have been done differently instead of giving the "prop" roles to women, and anything else of value/substance only to men.

Those things appear small, but change has to start SOMEWHERE for a massive cultural shift to happen. Every little bit counts, including this blog post.

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#25 theactivestick
January 27 2012, 09:19AM
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Thanks for writing this, Danny.

These days it seems like everything is an excuse to fly off the handle and get outraged, especially on the internet and in the blogosphere. Sometimes it's just about yelling the loudest, but quite often it is justified.

Yet when it comes to tweets like the ones you pointed out about Alyonka Larionov, nobody bats an eyelash. Nobody gets outraged. Nobody yells. And so people think there's nothing wrong with it. Which is why I'm glad you're pointing it out.

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#26 LeNoceur
January 27 2012, 09:19AM
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Love #9... "everybody's doing it, so it must be OK." You gotta troll harder than that, son.

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#27 eyebleaf
January 27 2012, 09:20AM
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"it may not even bother Alyonka Larionov.

I don't think "may" belongs in that sentence. It doesn't bother Alyonka. This is her job. If it bothered her, she wouldn't have done it.

Same with those two other women who handed out the jersey. If they had a problem with it, they wouldn't have done it. And we don't know their motivations behind doing it, so who are we to comment on whether the job is sexist? How do you know that claim wouldn't bother them? It might. It could.

My comment in no way means to take away from your other very important points: Female hockey fans have it tough. Their opinions are often marginalized due to their gender and the assumption that they are “Puck Bunnies” who only follow the sport because they have a crush on every player. ... Female hockey analysts and reporters are under-represented in the MSM. There are many excellent female bloggers who are passionate about the game and offer insightful commentary. They have no representaton on nights like this. I don't think that's right.

Valid points, for sure, but using the examples of the three women involved in the broadcast last night, who made the decision to be involved, it just doesn't fly, and that's just me, and my honest opinion, as a 29-year-old male with no children, no daughters. Until I know what Alyonka and the other two women have to say about their role last night, I haven't heard the full story. Know what I'm saying?

I don't often comment, but keep up the great work here, Danny.

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#28 SkinnyFish
January 27 2012, 09:21AM
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The relegation of women in the hockey community to nothing more than scantily clad eye candy goes well beyond what we saw last night.

At TML games, the ice is cleaned by random dudes in track suits. No fuss. On Long Island, it's done by girls in short skirts and low cut tops. Same with arenas like Dallas, Chicago, and New Jersey; the latter of which also incorporates cheerleaders who dance around the stands to amp up the empty seats during stoppages in play.

As Julie pointed out with the UFC, the NHL is making it blatantly obvious that the only ways for women to get involved with the game are by wearing revealing outfits while dancing, carrying a shovel, or delivering trivia questions on the jumbotron during stoppages to other girls wearing pink hockey jerseys.

To answer Sarge's question or whatever: There are no easy solutions here, but also no assumptions made. This is about inducing culture change to the world of hockey and it can be started by simply respecting all hockey fans equally regardless of gender.

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#29 Laura
January 27 2012, 09:22AM
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@Sarge

I don't believe that journalism is necessarily about finding a solution or offering advice. A male advising women in an article that there is an easy fix to hundreds of years of sexism wouldn't have been right or even plausible because there is none.

Great job on the article Mr. Gray.

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#30 SkinnyFish
January 27 2012, 09:24AM
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@Jeff

"The focus of the broadcast last night was the All-Star players and the draft, not pretty girls. Had it been the latter, you would have had an argument. Please stop creating controversy where it doesn't exist."

That's the point Danny's making here; that women have been marginalized time and again when it comes to the NHL. They don't sell regular jersey's fitted to women. They have very few women commentators on the sports shows. And when they are used, it's as pretty looking hood ornaments.

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#31 metricjulie
January 27 2012, 09:25AM
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@eyebleaf

Yes, you're right. They were not forced into taking on that job.

But the point is that those were THE ONLY jobs open for women to do last night.

And the only way for a woman to get any visibility is to be young, beautiful and sexualized. These issues are systemic.

Whether the women involved realize it or not, that's the truth.

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#33 Jeffrey Chapman
January 27 2012, 09:26AM
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Sarge wrote:

No solution was offered. No advice. Just assumptions. How is that effective?

It's a pretty far cry from an assumption that the three women in question were eye candy exclusives.

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#34 Marc/DasNordlicht91
January 27 2012, 09:27AM
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Well written and informed piece. It's also gotten me thinking about whether we'll ever see female players in the NHL, and by proxy, all the other sports leagues.

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#35 metricjulie
January 27 2012, 09:32AM
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@sarge

You think it's okay for men to be allowed to talk about sex all they want without fear of being objectified or humiliated, but that women with healthy sex lives should have that used against them when trying to have their rights respected?

Because I have news for you: sex isn't shameful to you, nor to me, nor to anyone, male, female, transgendered, gay, bisexual, pansexual, etc.

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#36 Jay Bomb
January 27 2012, 09:33AM
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@Sarge

No contribution.

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#37 Jeff
January 27 2012, 09:33AM
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@Danny

Danny, they don't give background for ANY of the analysts. There was no mention of Duthie's or Dutch's Gemini awards for sports broadcasting, they didn't do backgrounds on Ward's playing career or Crawford's coaching career. At best, there are passing remarks during the Quiz, but nothing last night. Bob Mckenzie's name speaks for itself, as would anyone's with his experience and exposure.

Larionov is young, and people will know her soon enough. What would have made last night an appropriate time to do an expose on who she is or where she comes from? THAT'S MY POINT, it wasn't about her!

Most of the talent I listed above are field reporters. I suppose TSN could have had Beirness or Hedger in the place of Dutch, but they didn't. Who knows, maybe it was offered to them and they refused it? I don't know the reasons why, but I don't think it's a systematic silent oppression of the female voice at play.

I'm not saying there isn't more room for more female analysis at all, but I wholly disagree with your post that last night was a sexist broadcast leaving little girls with no aspirations but to become puck bunnies. Come on! I know the culture that exists in the hockey world, but it's not TSN that's perpetuating it.

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#39 wan ihite
January 27 2012, 09:36AM
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Good thoughtful post. I first thought that your point was a little too obvious, but judging by some of the ignorant comments it's attracted, I was 180 degrees wrong. I guess it just goes to show the old truth that discrimination tends to be invisible to those it favors.

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#40 SarahM
January 27 2012, 09:37AM
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One of my first thoughts last night during the draft was, "Man, how great would it have been for some little kids in Ottawa/Gatineau minor hockey to have been carrying out those jerseys to the players?" Thrill of a lifetime for them, and honestly, it's not like these players can't find pretty girls to look at on the 364 days of the year. It's not that it offends me so much as it makes me roll my eyes because it's so predictable. And that's the worst part -- as female fans we don't expect any better (though I think it's fair to say we deserve it).

As for Alyonka... My main problem with her is that she's terrible. Truly, if she was excellent at her job -- knowledgeable and charismatic and funny -- then I wouldn't mind so much that she's also "a babe." It's the perpetuation of the stereotype that a woman's most important contribution to the world of professional sports is her looks that drives me crazy.

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#42 metricjulie
January 27 2012, 09:39AM
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It's like I always say:

As a woman, either you like/have sex, or you respect yourself.

It can't be both.

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#43 xkaren08
January 27 2012, 09:40AM
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@SarahM what a great idea about having local kids do it! Maybe next year...

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#44 SkinnyFish
January 27 2012, 09:42AM
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@Sarge

Why not just shorten your 'argument' to "Well that's the way it's always been so why change it?" Further is very disingenuous to say that 'men are sexist'. Some men are sexist, and as Danny pointed out, some of those are the decision makers for the NHL and TSN.

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#45 xkaren08
January 27 2012, 09:43AM
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@sarge- you're honestly suggesting we shouldn't complain about systemic discrimination and marginalization *because* it's systemic?

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#46 xkaren08
January 27 2012, 09:52AM
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@SarahM I'd like to *think* they at least considered it... either way, the subconscious or deliberate exercise of male privilege like this flat out sucks.

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#48 SkinnyFish
January 27 2012, 10:03AM
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@Sarge

Please enlighten us on things you are currently doing to curb sexism in sports. I wait with bated breath.

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#49 pussies
January 27 2012, 10:15AM
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No contribution. Likely a misogynist that wears Axe and refers to sex as 'getting it in' or some other Jersey Shore-ism.

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#50 SkinnyFish
January 27 2012, 10:18AM
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pussies wrote:

No contribution. Likely a misogynist that wears Axe and refers to sex as 'getting it in' or some other Jersey Shore-ism.

You call us feminists as if that's an insult.

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