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The Straight Edge: Professional expectations shouldn't rule women's game

The Canadian women have won gold in the past two Olympic Games.  (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

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The Canadian women have won gold in the past two Olympic Games. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Women’s sports have been in the headlines several times in the past week and unfortunately the news couldn’t have been construed as positive in either case.

The more well-known item concerned University of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert, whose over-the-line physical play against BYU made her an instant Internet sensation. Perhaps “sensation” isn’t the right word, but reactions varied from vilification to titillation to outrage directed towards the establishment that would impose a double-standard on a member of the wrongly termed “weaker sex,” so it’s hard to nail down one phrase.

But the subtext was obvious: An overly aggressive woman was weird to people; they didn’t know how to handle it.

On a more local level here in Toronto, a big news item was the lack of ice time being granted to a girls’ minor hockey league in favor of beer-leaguers and elite boys’ teams. The City of Toronto eventually intervened and plans for new arenas (lack of ice time is a problem in hockey-mad T.O.) are in the works, but the damage was already done and the girls’ teams were out of pocket a lot of money because they had to go to more expensive private rinks in order to play the game.

Again, the subtext here was obvious: girls’ hockey was deemed inferior to boys’ hockey and, therefore, if they didn’t like the limited window they were being granted, too bad.

What struck me about the two situations is how many out there just didn’t seem to take women’s sports seriously in either case; they were ‘cute,’ a novelty, a phase.

We need to recalibrate our thinking on the matter.

I would posit that the main philosophical stumbling block here is worth in sports now is based so much on professional aspirations – and since men’s pro hockey is so much bigger than women’s, the female game gets short shrift.

After all, other than at the Olympics and maybe the occasional international tournament, you can’t watch women’s hockey on TV. So who cares if these little girls have to pony up more money than boys to play the game, it’s not like we’re going to see them on Hockey Night in Canada anytime soon, right?

Well, let’s all just cool out there for a second. Let’s think back to the intrinsic values that are gained from us playing hockey in the first place: friendship, sportsmanship, building character, structure.

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Sports on a grassroots level provide so many amazing learning opportunities for youth, it’s almost obscene to think of them as a means to an end. The reason women have just as much of a right to play NCAA sports as men (the Title IX legislation in the U.S.) is that no matter what the audience or how much revenue the team pulls in via ticket sales, the ability for a young woman to get a full-ride scholarship and earn a degree while playing sports at an elite level is an amazing thing. It’s not something that should be short-changed due to the fact a lot of people out there still can’t handle the idea of females acting outside of 1950s gender roles.

There are entire NCAA and major junior hockey teams that will not graduate anyone even close to making the NHL, but that doesn’t mean the journey was pointless for the young men who went through the programs.

Alright, I’m sufficiently worked up now. So here’s the bottom line: There’s no reason the next generation of daughters should be denied the dreams of sporting glory. Even if there’s no Stanley Cup to compete for, the Olympic gold medals are just as shiny on the women’s side and those trophies at the World Championship feel just as amazing when they’re hoisted over your head.

Most of us are better for playing sports when we were kids. So why the continuous sabotage of those who really are playing for love and not money?

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appears Monday and Wednesday, his column - The Straight Edge - every Friday, and his prospect feature, The Hot List appears Tuesdays. 

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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