Imagine turning on the TV to find a live broadcast on TSN regarding the NWHL and the excitement of fans for the win of game 7 of the Isobel Cup finals. Let’s think back to a few things mentioned in the line before: NWHL, excitement, game 7 and the Isobel Cup. All three of these concepts together probably sound foreign to you, as they were to me, until recently.
The National Women’s Hockey League is the “first professional women’s hockey league in North America” (NWHL, n.d.). This league is similar to the NHL, but this hockey league is for the other gender, women. With the popularity of the NHL, you would hope that this league would have a similar opportunity and popularity connected to it. However, in reality, the two leagues are on opposite poles of the spectrum. Let’s look at this distinct difference between the two genders in this sport; the current trends and popularity of women’s hockey leagues and compare it to the positioning of men’s hockey leagues currently in our society. Finally, let us determine the probability and steps required to attain equality in this realm of sports for men and women.
Photo Credit: NWHL Website
Firstly, it is essential to understand the history and popularity of the NWHL. It was founded in 2015 with a mission to empower girls by providing female role models and to create a strong brand for women and hockey (NWHL, n.d.). Players join this league to play for the Isobel Cup which is named after Isobel, the daughter of the person the Stanley Cup is named after, Lord Frederick Arthur Stanley. Since its commencement, there are four main teams, all of which origin from various areas of the United States. The main sponsors of the NWHL are Dunkin Donuts, Cheddar and Twitter and this league has no official television partners (NWHL About, n.d.). When listening to these details, let’s give this a thought. What comes to mind? A hockey league that is so small, Canada is not even in the picture, so insignificant and frankly, barely surviving. CBC (2016) released an article shortly after the commencement of the NWHL discussing the cut of salaries of the players in half due to declining attendance at games (CBC News, 2016). There are only four teams, all from the US, no TV partners and now declining salaries, how upsetting.
For one second if we take our minds off of the NWHL and look at another more substantial example, the Canadian National Women’s Ice Hockey team is a great example of a strong team, full of driven players. This team has brought home gold medals four years straight for the Olympics and for multiple years throughout the World Championships (Hockey Canada, n.d.). Even when we try to view a stronger, more well-known women’s hockey team, it is hard to ignore the popularity of this team in comparison to the NHL or the Canadian Men’s National Ice Hockey Team. Excitement towards a women’s ice hockey game has no comparison to the spirit and excitement revolving around men’s ice hockey games for the Olympics. We can even think back to the 2010 Olympics games to relate to this statement.
I hear my brother talk about Sidney Crosby, the ways he is so amazing and talented. Can you recall anyone in your life: boy or girl, teenager of any age, young adult, adult, or even elder talk about a female hockey player to such a degree? Is there a Wayne Gretsky for women? Unfortunately, as a female myself, I can’t think of anyone either.
Giese (2017) talks about a brother and sister who grew up loving hockey equally to eventually play for large national teams. However, the striking difference in their salaries is tremendous. Phil Kessel played for the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs, earning $9 million dollars per year whereas Amanda Kessel played for the NWHL New York Riveters earning $26,000 per year (Giese, 2017). The prominent difference between the salaries is a significant example of the deeply engraved inequalities within our society (John, 2007). Wallace (2016) mentions another example of funding for even college sports, “law [states] that any school receiving federal funds cannot discriminate based on sex, [however], there are still huge disparities, […] with men getting $190 million more per year in college athletic scholarships than women” (para.11). College sports technically come before professional sports so if the biased funding is evident from that age, perhaps we cannot be surprised if it is continuous throughout professional leagues. Money is just one example, even browsing through social media or the most popular TV Channels, NHL is a popular sports league to watch and followed religiously by many people around North America. On the other hand, NWHL shares three ways to watch their hockey games including going to the game, streaming online or again, watching through Cheddar on Sling TV, Amazon, Facebook or Twitter live (Furlong, 2016). In these three options listed above, there is no mention of CBC, CNN, TSN, or any other popular television broadcasting service. NHL to the contrary is broadcasted on TSN, TVS or RDA including other providers depending on your region, and of course, live streaming is another area of its own (NHL Live, n.d.). On Twitter itself, NHL has 6.24M followers whereas the NWHL only has 30K followers. Popularity for one gender is distinctly evident in comparison to the other, especially in terms of funding, news broadcasting, and opportunity.
Photo Credit: CBC News
Compton (2015) highlights the concept of the spectacle that is created most prominently in professional sports. A spectacle is an illusion that forms as a justification for the conditions and aims of the current existing system (Compton, 2015). It is a worldwide view that everyone follows blindly without questioning the base, validation, or results of this view. The spectacle of professional sports has been created and men’s professional sports are at the forefront of this spectacle. “The production of the mega-sporting spectacles is constitutive of the capital’s need to accelerate the time of production, distribution and consumption in order to remain competitive and increase profits (Compton, 2015, p.50). As long as the reputation of the government is upheld, and money is flowing into the economy, there is no regard for women’s hockey in the current position it maintains that is barely existent. Jackson (2014) discusses another concept called “corporate nationalism, a process whereby [companies] seek to capitalize upon the nation as a source of collective identification and differentiation” (p.901). Professional sports are one these techniques of differentiation, for example in Vancouver it is the Vancouver Canucks. Once when I was researching ideas for a gift to give a friend who lives in another country, I was hoping to give something representative of Vancouver. One option that came up on Google for a representation of Vancouver was a good (statue, keychain, or t-shirt) related to the Vancouver Canucks. This example shows that the full men’s ice hockey team is a representation of this city and it will continue to be a representation as long as money will be flowing back into the economy, women don’t matter as long as money is still in the picture. Professional sports have turned into purely a capitalist scheme, where making money from the popularity of these sports is most important (Budd, 2001). While social struggles are consistently being overlooked for this spectacle, this deeply carved inequality of women in sports is an example of the social struggles that is perpetuated by not only the society and educational institutions, but also by our nation’s policy makers, the government.
It is time to leave the gendered sports categories that are created for women such as gymnastics that is “traditionally feminine” or tennis as it requires less physical strength and capabilities. (Heywood, 2003, p. 27). With time, women are allowed to finally play these ‘masculine’ sports however, with this opportunity, “sports [are still] ‘‘adjusted’’ to convey women as fragile and weak” (Gilenstam, Karp, Henriksson-Larse, 2008, p.236). There are continuous disputes regarding body checking as a banned act in women’s sports whereas in men’s sports it is always permitted (Weaving, 2012). These rules continue with the title we have given women of being delicate and maternal individuals while men are aggressive and tough (Fraser, 2018). These stereotypes are accentuated not only in households but in areas that are not directly related to emotions, like sports.
Throughout time, women have consistently been below men. This is not only prevalent among sports, it is seen in our society regarding careers, jobs, education, intelligence and the list continues. While the deeply carved inequality is very evident, there are a few key ideas at play here as discussed earlier. Funding for women’s sports must be equivalent to men’s sports. Sports communicate about the society we live in, the body is as a mode of communication, a tool and a resistance (Personal Communication, January 15, 2018). If we continue to allow professional leagues to be made into a capitalist reality, there is no way women will ever be treated equally to men. Exposure and opportunity also coincide seamlessly with funding; news broadcasting should cover both women and men’s professional sports. The core of the change required for this prevailing inequality is ultimately the mindset of the entire world. It is time women are viewed equal to men. Wallace (2016) mentioned a poll that was taken questioning if men are better at sports, results agreed to this statement with “32% of women feeling that way and 47% of men” as well (para. 17). Women do not believe in other women, society has created a culture and mindset where one gender does not believe in themselves and their capabilities. There needs to be a change here, and once this gender is addressed, the other gender should be addressed. It is time for men to see women for everything they are capable of, not the capabilities society has attributed to women.
Ice hockey leagues need to move away from the capitalist scheme and strive to provide equal opportunities to both men and women in the world of professional sports. The NWHL is a strong example of women’s position in our society and the opportunities that are given to them to excel, inspire and explore their talents. The changes that are necessary begin with the mindset of people. The mindset of both women and men in the capabilities of women; their strength and power as humans, to a different degree than men as undoubtedly both are different. However, it is essential to give women the prominent position they should acquire in our society, as equals.
Budd, A. (2001). Capitalism, Sport and Resistance: Reflections. Culture, Sport, Society, 4(1), 1. Retrieved from https://web-a-ebscohost-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/
Compton, J. (2015). Mega-events, media, and the integrated world of global spectacle. Retrieved from https://www.canvas.sfu.ca
Gilenstam, K., Karp, S., & Henriksson-Larsén, K. (2008). Gender in ice hockey: women in a male territory. Scandinavian Journal Of Medicine & Science In Sports, 18(2), 235-249. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2007.00665.x
Gruneau & J. Horne (eds.), Mega-Events and Globalization: Capital and spectacle in a changing world order (pp. 48-64). New York, NY: Routledge. Retrieved from https://web-a-ebscohost-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/
Heywood, L. & Dworkin, S.L. (2003). Sport and the Stealth Feminism of the Third Wave. In, Built to Win: The Female athlete as cultural icon (pp.56-85). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Retrieved from https://www.canvas.sfu.ca
Jackson, S. (2014). Globalization, Corporate Nationalism and Masculinity in Canada: sport, Molson Beer Advertising and Consumer Citizenship. Sport in Society: Cultures, Commerce, Media, Politics, 17(7), 901- 916. Retrieved from https://www.canvas.sfu.ca
John, E. (2007). No place for a woman. New Statesman, 136(4859), 28-29. Retrieved from https://web-a-ebscohost-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/
Weaving, Charlene. (2012). Checking In: An Analysis of the (Lack of) Body Checking in Women’s Ice Hockey. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport., 83(3), 470-478. Retrieved from https://web-a-ebscohost-com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/