Monthly Archives: February 2009

NHL: Now With More Estrogen!

(Photo from Yahoo! Sports and Club Scarlet)

February remains the dead month in terms of sports (hence the tragic lack of posting around here), but you know I couldn’t let something like this slide. Never one to bypass flaunting an opinion you know I have, I was emailed a version of this article by no fewer than three people. Said people know that I love hockey and am also, shockingly, female. Therefore, I clearly have something to say on the topic.

For the uninitiated, the Washington Capitals have started Club Scarlet, which the team claims is the NHL’s first women’s only fan club. The site boasts such things as meet ups with other female fans, player information, women’s fan gear, and access to articles and blogs written by other women fans. These things? I have no problem with. Hockey is a great sport and if women want their own club in which to enjoy it, go for it. Hell, I’ve been annoyed by male sports fans before who want nothing more than to educate me in the ways of the game, assuming that my boobs negate any sports knowledge I may possess. I usually just move to another bar stool. But I can certainly understand the desire to eliminate men from the equation altogether. And publicizing the writing of more female sports writers is a great thing in my book.

Where this starts to fall apart for me goes back to the pink hat debate. Besides steroids, this was seemingly the most polarizing debate in sports. In December of 2004 I wrote a long-winded rant about the pink baseball hats and my take on them. It remains my most commented-upon piece. I made many enemies. However, my perspective hasn’t changed. I still dispute the marketing to women by “girli-fying” the sport and it’s trappings. Club Scarlet encourages women fans to “Rock the Red” which I have no problem with. This is fine. This is not. (For the record, I am 100% okay with this because causes like that go beyond fashion.) But again I must ask, what’s wrong with team colors? You don’t choose your teams because of the color of their uniforms. And if you do, I’m pretty sure the fan clubs of the New Orleans Hornets and Baltimore Ravens must be lousy with 11-year-old girls.

Then there’s the matter of objectifying the players like the proverbial hunks of meats. I am certainly not going to pretend I don’t objectify players. Have you met the Patriots’ quarterbacks? (Both of them?). I don’t call Jason Varitek Lord Thighsmore for my health. And my borderline illegal crush on Milan Lucic is well-documented. But a player’s looks have very little to do with my appreciation of them as players. That, I think, is the important distinction. Alexander Ovechkin is the best player on the Capitals, hands down, perhaps the best player in the NHL (oh, Pittsburgh, we are soooo getting into this), but he’s not the front and center player profiled on Club Scarlet. Presumably it’s because Ovechkin, for all his goal scoring and high flying prowess, is kind of a doofy-looking dude. It’s much easier to market goalie Jose Theodore or defensemen Mike Green (above) because of their boy band-ready looks. Yes, I root for the football team that famously allowed this to happen so perhaps I don’t so much have a leg to stand on here, but at least we can all agree (again, enough out of you, Pittsburgh), that Tom Brady is good at his job. It’s not to say that Theodore and Green aren’t, it’s just that perhaps Club Scarlet would do well to focus more on their on-ice talents – which should be appealing to both genders – than on the players’ ability to grown impressively sculpted facial hair.

It seems odd to argue for the sanctity of athleticism in sports when it comes to the male players but these men work extremely hard to get where they are professionally. And if the intention of organizations like Club Scarlet is truly to create more female fans of the game, then perhaps more attention should be paid to the game itself. There are many derogatory names for women who become athlete groupies, and I worry that that’s what team-sanctioned groups like this one are aiming for.

As Amy said in an email yesterday, “Yes, sometimes I just want to giggle about Ryan Braun’s goofy little smile as opposed to the fact that he broke like every rookie offensive record…but I can do that. On my own. Without the Brewers’ help. And you don’t drink Cosmos at sporting events. See, that’s the problem – you can reach out to women all you want, but why does the fan experience have to be so different?”

And that, as she says, is the problem. Why are professional sports organizations assuming that women can’t and don’t appreciate sports the same way men do? Granted, my female friends and I are pretty hardcore about this kind of stuff. We don’t wear pink stuff to games, we can school most anyone on Prince Fielder’s slugging percentage and we wouldn’t be caught dead drinking white wine at a baseball game. But we do understand the importance of a replica jersey that doesn’t make you look like the linebacker you’re honoring. We just want it in team colors. We would also love an opportunity to meet Alexander Ovechkin without being forced to pose for a calendar shoot.

This is, perhaps, one of the ways in which I will always be at odds with the marketing world. I do understand how valuable bringing in a new audience can be, especially for the NHL, a league that has perpetually marketed itself poorly. And I know that a women’s dollar is just as good as a man’s. But I think said marketing executives are focusing on the wrong things. You want to create a whole new segment of female Caps fans? Show them this. That should be enough to make anyone’s jaw drop, regardless of gender.

And if the women still need a place to call their own, more power to them. But they shouldn’t be discouraged from elbowing their way into the boys’ club and staking out a space for themselves among the beer guts and peanut shells. In professional sports, the athletes are overwhelmingly male, but fandom should have no gender bias. Chances are the guy on the stool next to you expounding on Welker’s ability to throw a block has about as much of a shot getting a tryout with the pros as you do. Now, just let him know how you’ddesign the flea flicker.

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In which we answer the eternal question: shark vs. bear


(Hockey Hair Extraordinaire
)

Unfortunately for those of us in attendance last night at the Garden, the answer appeared to be “shark.” Or rather, bear has shark in a choke-hold for the first two thirds of the battle but then bear decides to get lazy and sort of half-assedly swats at the charging shark intent on stealing the bear’s delicious salmon but maybe the bear is kind of full anyway and is sort of defending the salmon out of principle but he’s not really up for a fight anymore and just sort of wants to lie down and take a nap, full of delectable salmon so for the remaining one third of the battle, the shark dominates and ends up devouring the sleepy bear and annoying all the zoology aggression fans in attendance. Aaaaand I think I’ve stretched that metaphor about as far as it can go.

The good news, however, was that the above picture is a genuine one, taken with my craptastic camera phone which depicts the positively miraculous hockey mullet seated two rows in front of me and my dad. So the evening wasn’t a total loss after all.

That and Milan Lucic at least wishes to please me. Two goals in the first period and he certainly kept trying for the hat trick for the remainder of the game. Honestly, his crush on me is starting to border on embarrassing. Clearly he had to sell all those other jerseys and number tees to the beefy gentlemen in attendance to throw them off the trail. Good thinking. That’s one 20-year-old who thinks on his toes.

Yeah, that’s right. Twenty. TWEN-TY. As in, years old. Fully half the Bruins roster is younger than I am which is distressing because I had been laboring under the impression that I wasn’t aging. At least the Sharks have employed 43-year-old Claude Lemiuex to make me feel like the proverbial spring chicken. Of course, they also wear a distressing amount of teal. And we know how I feel about sports teams that wear teal, right, Carolina?

So at least for Round One, Shark emerges victorious. But the way things shook out last night, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see these two lined up for a rematch.

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Whole New Can of Worms

(Photo from ESPN.com)

So you may have heard of this latest kerfuffle involving that Alex Rodriguez fellow and his alleged positive steroids test is 2003. You know, maybe. Not like there’s been any news about it or anything. He’s not really a high profile player or anything. They tend to keep these things on the down low. Certainly don’t resort of “GERMANY SURRENDERS” level headlines in the newspapers and on the interwebs or anything. Calm and measured, that’s been the response. Yes, siree.

But here’s the thing – and you may not expect this from as rabid a Red Sox fan as myself – but this is bad. This is all-around bad. Bad for A-Rod, bad for his current and former teams and bad for baseball. So despite what might seem obvious for someone who usually delights in the schadenfreude of all things Yankee and Yankee-adjacent, I’m not actually happy about this. There are a number of reasons, of course, not the least of which being that I would be ecstatically happy if we never had to talk about steroids in sports ever, ever, EVER again, but also because there are other names on that list. And while A-Rod may be the biggest, he’s surely not the only one who holds impact. And sure, I’m afraid of what Red Sox players may or may not be on the list as well, but more than that, I’m disappointed with the fact that an entire generation of kids now has a tainted idol. Now, especially, on the heels of Barry Bonds’ recent shenanigans and just when we thought we might have a clean future home run king. Sure, A-Rod is prickly and temperamental and sort of seems like a miserable human being most of the time who maybe needs to take a page from Lebron James’ playbook and realize that he plays a little boys’ game for a living most of us cannot even fathom. And, you know, look like he’s enjoying himself once in a while. And sure he’s prone to fits of slaptastic ridiculousness and his behavior often makes him the butt of many jokes but, I don’t know…I don’t take any delight in this. I mostly just feel sad.

I can’t be the only one, can I? Despite all that I’ve said – and I’m sure, will continue to say – about Alex Rodriguez, I’ve never once questioned his talent. A-Rod has always sort of been one of those players on the fence, personality-wise, in the sense that, unlike Barry Bonds, you could always find someone to defend him. Bring up Bonds and his questionable years of dominance and most people would feign an intense interest in their shoelaces or suddenly remember they left the iron on. With A-Rod, you could always find someone willing to engage in debate. And the thing is, they weren’t wrong. That’s why it was always such a good debate.

And that, I think, may be the tragedy of this whole thing when all is said and done. That is, of course, assuming we ever reach an end point with this. Baseball, more than any other sport, is the most static, the most unchanged, the most classic. As such, discussions and arguments about the relative merits of players through the ages have always seemed more valid than those about other sports. We’ll never know, for instance, whether the 2008 Patriots were better than the 1972 Miami Dolphins, but we can venture an educated guess about A-Rod’s comparisons to Ripken or whether or not Babe Ruth could have taken Roger Clemens deep. And whether or not steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs actually do affect one’s performance in a tangible way is not really the issue here. The issue is that we will never know and that not knowing clouds all discussions and arguments and barroom displays of one-up-manship.

As a Red Sox fan, I’m perfectly happy to see A-Rod fail at the plate or in the field. I take delight in his E5 fielding miscues or his non-clutch playoff performances. I even snicker when he seems unable to get out of his own way at times as though the pressure in New York is eating him alive. But as a baseball fan, I take no delight in this current revelation. Not because it could just as well be one of my guys (and may still be), but because baseball is supposed to be – bucolic and idealistic though it may seem – one of the simple things in life. We are supposed to argue about on base percentage vs. batting average and the merits of Moneyball. We’re not supposed to have to preface everything with discussions about syringes or doping cycles. It’s supposed to be simpler than that.

What I think it comes down to is that personally, I love the game of baseball so much, that continued coverage of this sort of thing runs the risk of de-legitimizing it as a sport and I can’t stand to have people hate or dismiss something I love so much. Maybe that’s it. Maybe I just feel like this – whether it be A-Rod or anyone else – does untold damage to something I care deeply about. Surely there are other players who feel the same way and who want nothing more than to just play their little boys’ game.

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