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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