Human rights verdict great news for transgendered players, hockey

Adam Proteau
Patrick Burke (Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images)

Score another one for progress and understanding in the hockey community: as part of a settlement with a Canadian human rights group, Hockey Canada has agreed to allow transgendered minor hockey players in Ontario to choose which dressing room they use before stepping onto the ice.

The settlement ends a human rights complaint filed in August of 2013 by Oshawa, Ont., native Jesse Thompson, a 17-year-old who identifies as a male and who faced numerous obstacles in finding acceptance in the hockey world. Thompson’s mother, Alisa Thompson, told The Canadian Press her son was thrown out of dressing rooms by unenlightened coaches.

“Parents would come in and kick Jesse out of the girls’ change room because it was for girls only,” Alisa Thompson said. Read more

Hey NHL – let’s treat women as equals and ice the ice girls

Adam Proteau
Colorado Avalanche Ice Girls (Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)

The hockey world has made great leaps and bounds in social awareness issues in recent years: the anti-homophobia You Can Play Project was embraced by players and teams, and racist epithets hurled at certain players are met with increasing disgust from the majority of fans. But there are still some areas in which the sport – and in particular, the NHL – can do better. One of them is in eradicating the misogyny, explicit and casual, that exists in the sport.

And one of the easiest places to start is by getting rid of half-dressed ice girls.

This issue isn’t about the cheerleaders themselves. It’s about what we ask them to do under the guise of “entertainment.” We ask them work for next to no money in frigid arenas with their shoulders, midsection and/or legs exposed. We ask them to objectify themselves – to be ogled and leered at by strangers – and never stop smiling. We ask them to reduce their contributions so that they’re little more than eye candy.

And really, why? What purpose does it serve? Nobody has demonstrated teams that employ ice girls sell more tickets than teams that don’t. Nobody leaves a game and says, “The best part of the night didn’t have anything to do with the action on the ice – it was when that cheerleader jumped up and down in co-ordination with other cheerleaders and said something positive about the team!”

More importantly, let’s look at what the presence of ice girls does to the paying female customer. Read more

HBO’s 24/7 hockey series is toast – for now – but its impact was ‘humongous big’

Adam Proteau
An HBO camera team films at the 2012 Winter Classic in Philadelphia. (Len Redkoles/NHL)

Reports indicate U.S. cable giant HBO will not produce a 24/7 reality series in advance of the NHL’s 2015 Winter Classic game as it has for the past three full seasons. It’s a shame, as everyone involved in that program helped put together one hell of a show.

The 24/7 series gave the NHL an NFL Films-type treatment, and those who appeared in front of the cameras – first, in 2011, when the Capitals and Penguins squared off in Pittsburgh; then, when the Flyers and Rangers played the following year; and finally, last season’s showdown between the Red Wings and Maple Leafs – were better for it. Okay, maybe that’s not true of Bruce Boudreau (NSFW language at this link) and Randy Carlyle:

But even with their imperfections laid bare, the coaches, players and league benefitted from the behind-the-curtain glimpse the series provided to a fan base that couldn’t get enough. Read more

Ray Rice saga should spur NHL to be proactive in condemning domestic violence

Adam Proteau
Janay Rice and Ray Rice (Kenneth K. Lam/Baltimore Sun/MCT)

The sad story of National Football League star Ray Rice and his deplorable assault on his then-fiance-and-now-wife continued to unfold Monday when full video of him savagely punching her unconscious in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino was released to the public. Rice’s gutless act cost him his job with the Baltimore Ravens (who cut him from the team hours after the new video footage came out) and perhaps his NFL career altogether (the league suspended him indefinitely after initially bungling the situation badly by suspending him just two games in late July). But the issues the case brings to light – domestic abuse, victim-blaming, and a professional sports league more concerned with churning out product than the human beings behind the product – aren’t going to be solved simply because one man wound up with a small measure of the punishment he was long past due to receive.

No, if we’re truly outraged about the pathetic sight of a man driving his fist into a defenseless woman’s face, we all need to do more. All public figures should use their platform to decry the destruction wrought by those who believe it’s fine to lay their hands on a spouse because of some warped perception of what love is. And all sports organizations profiting from a system that pushes their athletes as role models ought to be making as strong a condemnation as possible of that attitude – and taking immediate measures to ensure they handle future cases of domestic violence far better than the NFL did.

Yes, I’m looking at you, NHL. Not with an accusatory eye – indeed, Gary Bettman’s league should be commended for the strong position it’s assumed on social justice issues including homophobia in sport – but with a plea for proactivity. The NHL can take a stand here as well and show its fans domestic violence can never and will never be tolerated. Read more

What would a 32-team NHL realignment look like?

Matt Larkin
One proposed realignment would put the Jets and Canucks in the same division, reminiscent of their Smythe days. (Photo by Lance Thomson/NHLI via Getty Images)

Talk of NHL expansion just won’t go away. It’s pluckier than the ice bucket challenge, despite Gary Bettman’s claims last week that expansion talk was “complete fabrication.”

Investigative reporter Rick Westhead’s story for TSN is plenty interesting. It asserts that, Bettman’s stance be damned, several senior NHL team sources suggest expansion will be a serious discussion topic at the NHL board of governors meetings Sept. 30. Sources also told TSN a team in Toronto would command a North American sports record $1.2-billion expansion fee via auction. Wow. You need Grand Canyon-like pockets to make the Toronto dream happen.

Let’s say it does, however. I’ll borrow from colleague Rory Boylen and call the team the Toronto Toros. And let’s say one of the other rumored expansion franchises comes through – Quebec City, Seattle or Las Vegas. What would a 32-team NHL look like? With a 16/14 imbalance between the East and West already, realignment would be a near certainty once a second Toronto team arrived. Eight divisions of four teams spread across two conferences makes plenty of sense. Assuming Rich Uncle Pennybags shells out $1.2 billion at an auction, I’ll draw up the NHL with Toronto 2.0 and one version with each of the other candidates. My assumed playoff format would differ from the NFL’s, in that I’d still put 16 teams through. But would it be best to have the top two from all eight divisions comprise the playoff picture, or just the division winners plus four wild cards? I’m guessing the latter.

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Steve Moore/Todd Bertuzzi settlement proves NHL can’t justify culture of revenge

Adam Proteau
Steve Moore (David Cooper/ Toronto Star)

More than a decade after it began, the Steve Moore/Todd Bertuzzi saga has come to an end. You don’t want to call it a merciful end, because the story of these two players, whose names will be bound together for the rest of time, never had much mercy at all.

This case was about the individual vs. the collective, and the terrible consequences birthed by a revenge culture that over the years has jutted out its chest and preened about how great it was, but that turned tail and scampered into the darkness when it was asked to defend its existence. Hockey players are among the toughest athletes on the planet, but the settlement announced between Bertuzzi and Moore late Thursday proves the game’s power brokers have no confidence in justifying professional hockey’s more contentious elements in a public forum that’s beyond the NHL’s control. Read more

NHL players hit their peak by 29. How wise is the eight-year contract?

Jason Kay
P.K. Subban will only be 33 when his eight-year deal expires (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images).

The NHL took a hard stand during the 2012-13 lockout when it came to maximum contract length, fighting fervently for five years, then compromising at eight (for re-signings).

Since then, up to the pact agreed to by P.K. Subban in early August, 11 players had won max term. In the big picture, it’s a small number, representing a tiny fraction of all deals. But due to the dollars and profile involved, the question remains: is eight great?

The answer depends on your perspective. If you’re demanding equal value across all seasons, prepare to be disappointed. The evidence shows that, apart from notable exceptions, returns diminish on players beginning in their early 30s.

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NHL expansion is coming, just don’t hold your breath

GTA Centre Markam

The NHL has gone a full 14 years without adding a single expansion team, which is the longest period without growth since the league ballooned from six to 12 teams in 1967. The business of hockey is stronger than it has ever been and hockey’s global reach has ensured that the league would be less watered down by adding teams than it has in the past.

So, yes, the NHL is ripe for expansion. That’s probably why a published report that the NHL is going to add four teams by 2017 was met with such enthusiasm. To follow some accounts, expansion to Las Vegas is a “done deal” despite the fact there is no ownership group in place yet and the league will have new teams in Las Vegas, Quebec City, Toronto and Seattle by the time it blows out the 100 candles on its birthday cake. Read more