By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Being a Chicago Blackhawks fan has been pretty dang cool the last five years or so. Two Stanley Cup championships. Two superstar players signed to lengthy contracts guaranteeing perhaps the NHL’s best one-two punch for years to come along with a familiar solid core that has endeared itself to one of North America’s best hockey towns. The Hawks have been the saving sports grace as the Windy City endures an NFL team that has underachieved for a while now, two promising baseball teams currently undergoing growing pains and multiple premature heartbreaks and soap operas in the form of Derrick Rose and his knees.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: A Sunny Start Friday
The Hawks are the franchise in the NHL right now, both talent-wise (the majority of American and Canadian publications have them atop the preseason power rankings and/or listed as Cup favorites) and TV-wise (they have a league-high 20 nationally televised games this regular season). Their international influence is unprecedented.
What has been even more appealing about the Hawks is their identity as a team. Their style of play is fast and silky, if not downright as sexy as Xs and Os can be. It isn’t the stereotype of Slap Shot (see: parody). Despite the coming and going and return of Daniel “Gorilla Salad” Carcillo, whose function on a team led by Captain Serious is apparently hockey Falstaff without any intentional humor, they are just about everything a fan could ask for between the whistles.
Unless you’re a female fan and it’s after those whistles. Because that’s when the sexism takes over.
The biggest non-hockey news of the Blackhawks summer was the organization’s decision to finally ditch the song “The Stripper” when a woman (specifically, a hand-picked woman for certain obvious reasons) is participating in Shoot the Puck contest during intermission of home games. This came only after the RedEye ran a piece following the Blackhawks’ annual fan convention in which it described the less-than-respectful attitude the team seemed to have toward its female fans. Other places backed that piece up, including the sharpest Blackhawks blog in town. Without much of a to-do, John McDonough and Co. quietly axed the song made famous from the Paul Newman hockey cinema standard.
It’s certainly not enough, though. The Blackhawks aren’t only the NHL’s best product but also a microcosm of the league in terms of the message usually sent to more than 40 percent of its fans. Unfortunately that message is often, “We respect your money, ladies, but not so much you yourself.” More female fans are watching hockey, buying merchandise and patronizing sponsors, but a la the NFL, the NHL hasn’t much seemed to care if women feel disrespected by some aspects of hockey culture. The league that was at the forefront of battling homophobia in sports also managed to neglect the sexism and misogyny that lingers in the fabric of the fan experience in the 21st century.READ MORE: Boy, 8, Shot And Wounded In Lawndale
First and foremost would be the continued existence of “ice crews” comprised of scantily clad women functioning as eye candy more than the critical need for slush shovelers. I’m a big fan of attractive women (they not so much of me), but not when they come at the detriment of all women. Ice girls (and the way-too-underdressed-for-a-hockey game Shoot the Puck choice) exist to satisfy some animalistic fantasy of drunk manchildren in the audience while subtly sending the message that women belong where the star players belong so long as those women look a certain way. For me, it’s uncomfortable and superfluous. For many female fans, it’s offensive, reductive and belittling. And if your reflex is to roll your eyes and call this the work of feminazis, know how members of those ice crews are treated by their employers and what you’re then in favor of for the sake of crushing those who might take away your sex on ice.
The objectification doesn’t end there, though. The fantasy-style draft of the NHL’s All-Star Game — a really innovative and cool idea — still has had the only female presence be sex kittens handing sweaters to players. The demeaning continues in hockey’s most popular video game, definitely played by fans of all genders and many ages, where women fans are depicted as confused by game rules but in it for the totally cute dudes.
What do you expect, though, when a major men’s magazine just published a piece just this week on navigating the dense, dangerous jungle of talking about sports with chicks. Not to mention ESPNW — the female-specific branch of the sports juggernaut — looking way down on broads trying to wrap their boobs around fantasy sports and a New York Rangers blog catastrophically telling dames how to watch the team.
Because, ya know, girls can’t possibly know sports like us fellas, especially hockey. Well, except for Jen LC, Chicago’s best writer of advanced hockey analytics who inevitably has to deal with emotionally small men scared of a woman being sports smarter than them and taking away their magical superiority. And except for each and every woman that Corey Masisak linked to for info on each team in this power rankings piece. And, like, the many other women who know way more about hockey than you and me. And the many other women who are as justified as you and me in enjoying the game with being made to feel unworthy or different.
Or, in specifically the Blackhawks’ fans cases, all the women who see Bobby Hull shaking hands and kissing babies and a funny, talented reporter being fired for not living up to team standards of ladyhood (which is shoveling with a bare midriff or something, I guess).
All hockey eyes will be on the Blackhawks this season as they march toward what many expect to be a chance at a third title since 2009. As the marquee team in a league with its fair share of issues with a big chunk of its fans, how that organization chooses to serve those fans could set the tone for culture change leaguewide. Or they can continue to sell the sex after the whistles and sell out many who love the game.MORE NEWS: Business, Restaurant Owners Propose Chicago Give $1,000 Bonuses For Workers To Return To Jobs
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimBaffoe.