By Jeanne Biggs
At a bitter cold hockey rink in Long Island, New York, a little girl sits in the stands watching boys skate back and forth. She tries to stay focused on her two older brothers as they race around the rink listening to the directions of their coach and father. Hockey consumed her life, from having to wake up at 4:30 in the morning so her mom could drive her brother to practice before school, to eating dinner in the living room while watching her dad’s excitement as the New York Islanders scored a goal. Because of all the exposure, hockey became her biggest passion. Little did she know how much discrimination she would personally have to face as a hockey fan in 2015.
Hockey is a brutal sport that captivates the attention of millions of men and women across the world. Although many women love the sport, like many other sporting venues, there isn’t always a place for them. Lack of respect and understanding towards female hockey fans comes from all aspects of the sport; from being verbally disrespected by fans and players, to the lack of support and seriousness for women hockey players and leagues.
Most notably, the biggest sign of disrespect towards women in hockey is the stigma of the “puck bunny”. This term is used to describe a woman who only watches hockey to look at the attractive players with the hopes of sleeping with them. Although there are women that fall into this category, the word is used to describe the female fan base as a whole, which true fans claim is inaccurate. “This term is a stigma on women, male fans don’t take us seriously, and our opinion and passion is overlooked” NHL fan Kristina Nolan said. For me personally, I have felt the disrespect when stating my own views and opinions on the sport. If I say something, it isn’t taking seriously, but if a man says exactly what I said, it is a point that everyone pays attention to. Although I am not a hockey player, I grew up around the sport and have a deep understanding of it. Do I find the players attractive? Of course I do, but the players are not what keeps me watching; it is my passion and understanding for the game that keeps my eyes glued to the game.
Beyond the other hockey fans not being accepting, women have to deal with some players that they idolize committing crimes against women. In recent years, NHL players have been in the media for arrests involving assault and domestic violence towards women. In the case of Los Angeles Kings player Slava Voynov, the forward was suspended from the league after he was arrested for domestic abuse against his girlfriend. Although it was right for the league to suspend him, that is not always the verdict involving the league’s star players. Chicago Blackhawks superstar and Stanley Cup hero Patrick Kane was arrested this summer after being accused of rape. While he awaits trial, rumored to take place in December, the league has allowed him to play this season. By allowing a player to participate while awaiting a trial to see if he is guilty not only makes the league look bad, but it also sends a message to their female demographic that they care more about ratings than protecting and respecting women.
Women are currently making strides to gain respect in the hockey world, recently beginning the inaugural National Women’s Hockey League season. In its infant season, the NWHL has four teams including the Boston Pride, Buffalo Beauts, Connecticut Whale and New York Riveters. Although it won’t be able to compete with the ratings and fan base that the NHL receives, the NWHL is providing young girls with women they can look up to and idolize. As more teams come into the league and more media surrounds it, more girls will be introduced to hockey and its culture. The world saw an influx in female hockey players after the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, where Women’s Hockey overshadowed some of the men’s games.
As more women and girls come into the hockey fandom, acceptance and respect is key. Treating women the same as men and giving them the respect they deserve may be the difference in taking the game to new levels. Hockey is an exciting and action-packed sport which was meant for the enjoyment of an audience, no matter the gender.