How the NHL can do a better job of welcoming women

Adam Proteau
Female fan (Derek Leung/Getty Images)

Earlier this week, You Can Play Project co-founder and NHL director of player safety Patrick Burke tweeted an interesting thought:


Burke’s question makes the point clear: pro sports could be doing a much better job of engaging with and cultivating female fans. But how? I’m not qualified to speak for them, so I solicited answers from female friends and women on social media. Here are some of the best responses:

1. Don’t market specifically to women. Market to hockey fans. This was by far the most popular answer and speaks largely to the fact women don’t want to feel singled out among the larger pool of hockey fans. It makes perfect sense, given that sports fandom is an exercise in tribalism; as soon as you start carving the tribe into sub-groups, the alienation process kicks in.


Arriving at this end would mean doing away with promotions such as “Ladies’ Nights” and “Hockey and High Heels” initiatives, but in doing so, the league would strengthen its bond with women who already love and understand the game and aren’t turned off by a patronizing approach.

2. The color pink doesn’t define the female gender. The NHL’s decision to aggressively market pink and/or bedazzled versions of team jerseys doesn’t sit well with many women. They’d prefer to wear the colors of their actual team and not conform to tired gender-assigned hues.


3. More variance and fairness in merchandising options. Speaking of jerseys, the lack of proper-fitting team wear for women is a real problem. So is the idea women should be charged more for clothing than men. That crap may fly in the hairstyling industry, but sports is supposed to be different. They don’t charge women different ticket prices than men and the same ought to go for things such as t-shirts.


4. Hire more women. The NBA Players Association just hired its first female executive director. Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees hired a female assistant GM in 1997. But there are no women to be found in positions of prominence in NHL team management circles – and for that matter, there still aren’t enough women covering hockey in the media.


There are two possible explanations for this – either there are no women who have insight on the game, or teams and news organizations aren’t doing enough to integrate one gender into the mix – and one is absolute nonsense. The sooner more is done to show women there’s a place for them in all corners of the game, the better off the sport will be.

5. No more ice girls/cheerleaders. The Florida Panthers recently discontinued their cheerleading squad, and that’s only going to help them in the eyes of women who see half-dressed females promoted and instantly feel objectified. Unless teams are willing to establish Chippendale teams of male cheerleaders, equality should rule – and cheerleaders/all-female ice crews should be a thing of the past.


6. Basically, don’t do anything that makes women feel different, and do more to establish a culture of inclusion. That’s a simple enough message, right? Women aren’t The Other. They’re as varied in their background, experience and perspective as men are, and just as devoted to and passionate about hockey.


If the NHL really wants to do more for its female consumers, removing as many labels as possible is the key. For the sport to continue growing, there has to be an improved sense of equality and stronger efforts to emphasize similarities between the genders. My friend – we’ll call her ‘C’ – encapsulated this mentality perfectly in this email:

I may be in the minority, especially of those you encounter on Twitter, but I look at the “marketing” a little differently than a lot of my peers on Twitter.

I’m not insulted by being called a “female fan.” I also have no problem with Hockey n’ Heels nights (though I wouldn’t go to one because it’s below my knowledge level, not because of the concept). I’m not offended by pink merchandise nor will I complain about the “cut” of a shirt or ice girls.

I just see it differently.

People spend so much time hating on each other. My saying these things must mean I’m not a “feminist” or I’m not as good of a “feminist” as someone who stands against all these things.

Neither of those are true. I simply believe that everyone is different. There are women who enjoy pink clothing (otherwise it wouldn’t sell), there are women who get a lot of benefit from the introductory information provided at hockey n’ heels style events and there are women who aspire to be ice girls. Either way it’s okay in my book.

The truth is marketing is a business. If people didn’t buy pink shirts they wouldn’t sell them. If women didn’t attend hockey n’ heels teams wouldn’t host it.

Instead of ripping on teams and the league for producing merchandise that sells or events that people attend maybe we as women should look back at ourselves and do a little less shaming of each other.

Instead of belittling the people who like these events or wear the t-shirts, saying they’re wrong or ignorant or not real fans or feminists, why not offer a culture of support and celebration?

Why not enjoy that people are enjoying the game?

Well said, C. When hockey gets to a point where men and women can enjoy the game without reminders of their chromosome makeup, it will have done all fans a tremendous service.

Tom Renney faces huge challenges at Hockey Canada

Tom Renney

When Bob Nicholson took over as president and CEO of Hockey Canada in 1998, few people outside the hockey industry knew who he was. Over the next 16 years, Nicholson went on to create a corporate monolith that generated millions of dollars in revenues and won countless gold medals on the international stage.

That will be an enormously difficult act to follow. That the board of Hockey Canada has reportedly handpicked Tom Renney to do it is, well, a little curious. Renney is a man of enormous integrity and has a coaching resume – particularly in the international game – that would rival that of anyone in the world. But this is the thing. Hockey Canada is not a hockey team. For the purposes of the president and CEO, Hockey Canada is far more a business than it is a hockey organization. Read more

Woeful Oilers land big off-ice free agent in Nicholson


NEW YORK – When Bob Nicholson stepped down as president and CEO of Hockey Canada in May, he made it clear he was looking for another challenge. Well, if that was his desire, he certainly found one. And while the Edmonton Oilers have had all kinds of trouble attracting big free agents for their on-ice product, they appear to have succeeded in landing the most prized free agent hockey executive in the world.

A TSN report has been confirmed by that the Oilers have a news conference scheduled for Friday in which they are expected to announce that Nicholson has been hired to be CEO of Rexall Sports, which owns the Edmonton Oilers. As first reported on Twitter by Wednesday night, Nicholson chose the Oilers over offers from the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks. It’s believed the Capitals offered the most money, but the challenge of being a part of rebuilding the Oilers on the ice appealed to Nicholson. Read more

Gay female Olympic hockey players are increasingly comfortable coming out – and that’s great

Adam Proteau
Charline Labonte (Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

As someone who has regularly covered elite women’s hockey over the years, I’ve grown accustomed to hearing snide remarks about the sport from other journalists. If I wasn’t getting an arched eyebrow from some crusty old colleague who unfairly wanted to compare the quality of hockey to men’s hockey, I heard “jokes” about how all the women who succeeded at the highest level of their chosen sport were all lesbians, butchy, abrupt and unfeminine.

Of course, I knew how idiotic all that garbage was. I knew there were straight and gay female players from all walks of life, and I knew they were as friendly and multifaceted as any other group of people. I knew how that hateful mindset said everything about the anger and confusion a head and heart must be entangled in to arrive at those baseless conclusions, and said nothing about the targets of that hate.

But what bothered me most wasn’t each individual bonehead who was compelled to quietly reveal their bigotry to me. Rather, I was troubled to think female players would have to stay in the closet for the years and decades to come as irrational loathing was passed down from one homophobic generation of backward people to another. I could see how careful players on the Canadian or American women’s national team were when discussing their sexuality and I fully understood why. When you could leave a rink or a media scrum without having to worry about the very essence of your soul being judged and challenged by people who didn’t know you, why wouldn’t you do that? Keeping your private life to yourself was the best way to keep a semblance of order in your day-to-day existence.

However, as society has moved rapidly to accept gay people and give them the full spectrum of human rights to which they’re entitled, that sea change has extended into the hockey world. And it’s absolutely wonderful to see these incredibly accomplished women of hockey speak out with pride and confidence about who they really are.

To wit: Canadian national team goaltender Charline Labonte has written an inspirational first-person story in which she describes her life, her hockey journey and her girlfriend (Canadian Olympic speedskater Anastasia Buscis). The 31-year-old, who won three Olympic gold medals in a playing career that ended after the 2014 Sochi Games, made it clear that, although she was always open with her teammates, even the dressing room culture in the women’s game – which has been understanding and accepting even as the world around it failed to do the same – had room to evolve and improve. Read more

Team USA’s Meghan Duggan, Red Sox fan, mocks Yankee pitcher Michael Pineda before opening pitch

Matt Larkin

Score one for the trolls.

Meghan Duggan, captain of the American women’s Olympic team, did an ingenious job poking fun at a controversy surrounding the New York Yankees Thursday night. Duggan, a Massachusetts native, was on hand at Fenway Park to throw the game’s ceremonial first pitch, clad in a Red Sox jersey. Before she popped the mitt, she made a cheeky little gesture, touching her neck:


Duggan first pitch

Photo by Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY sports


She did so in reference to Yankees starting pitcher Michael Pineda, who was busted a night earlier for having pine tar on his neck. He was dabbing his fingers with it to improve his grip on a cold night. It’s a wise move in theory, but it’s technically cheating and he did so with the subtlety of How I Met Your Mother (Yep, I went there. Vastly overrated show.)

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Golden boy Nicholson has NHL in his future


There will be no need for Hockey Canada to give Bob Nicholson a golden handshake or a gold watch when he officially announces his departure on Friday. Nicholson already has approximately as much gold as Fort Knox.

Under his watch as president and CEO of Hockey Canada, his country has won seven Olympic gold medals (three men, four women), five World championship golds, 12 World Junior golds and 10 World Women’s gold medals. And speaking of gold, he has presided over Hockey Canada becoming a money-making monolith, both in terms of attracting sponsorship money and generating revenues from events. For example, the WJC in Montreal and Toronto could make a profit of up to $30 million, 50 percent of which goes to Hockey Canada. Read more

Clarkson channels The Ellen Show with sweet selfie

Ryan Kennedy

When you make history, you want to remember it. So when the Clarkson University women’s team won the school’s first-ever NCAA title in any sport, they took a picture. And since this is 2014, the players jumped on the trend that talk-show host Ellen Degeneres started at the Oscars this year and took a big group selfie:


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