Game Misconduct

I think it’s safe to say at this point that sports hasn’t been exactly charitable to women, and that has been put on display time and time again recently.  Yet for all the many high profile cases where various leagues and teams have completely failed women and their growing female fan bases, we tend to gloss over the various day-to-day miserableness that women who enjoy sports have to put up with.

Recently, I’ve started following a lot of people who talk hockey on Twitter, and the majority of those new follows are women.  They’re smart, funny, and know their sport, as least as well as, and typically better than, their male peers.  There’s probably an argument to be made that they do because they have to be better to be taken seriously, but I’m not even talking about bloggers here – just casual fans who are independently commenting on the sport that they love.

Most of these women I’ve started following because they said something intelligent about hockey. What keeps me around is that they’re, each and every one, pretty awesome people.  Turns out most of them are passionate about other things I am passionate about, non-sports related things (please see the image at the top of the page for a random sampling). I tend to get a little mad when people I consider awesome are dumped on simply because of their plumbing.

Nearly three weeks ago, someone I respect on Twitter (despite the fact that she persists on rooting for the wrong team) called out a paid commentator of the team she roots for on yet another entry in his long documented history of being an absolute scumbag in his treatment of women.  His response was, predictably, to cast himself as a victim and then double down on being awful.

I can imagine that there’s a temptation to look at the firestorm that ensued as a neutral observer and say “just a random fan getting into it with a shock jock,” but that’s not what it is. I say ‘is,’ because nearly three weeks on and it’s still going on, despite now being an entirely one-sided affair.  Called on his awfulness, the commentator started by deflecting and claiming he was terribly wronged in a way that he was obviously not, and then very quickly ramped up to full-blown threats against her career in order to silence her.

Let me recap – A paid mouthpiece for a professional sports franchise overtly threatened a fan of that franchise with actions that could have lead to dramatic loss of income because she accurately pointed out he was being a misogynist bully. Can you guess what the reaction from that franchise was?

Oh, sorry, I left this box of crickets here.

Eventually, while not exactly concerned over the threats, she locked down her Twitter in order to remove herself from what was an unresolvable situation that was being tacitly supported by said franchise.  But he was having none of that, preferring to mention her on Twitter in a manner akin to a third-grader playing “I’m not touching you!”  Mind you, this is someone who has nearly 70,000 Twitter followers, many of whom “mobilized” on his behalf to back him up, horribly wounded victim that he is.  He gets to amplify his signal many many times over to people willing to step into the fray for 30 seconds. While she has a number of people willing to actively defend her, the effort that they have to expend in defense is far and away more taxing than all of the offense combined.  This is a gross power imbalance, and most of the people on the short side are already weary from having to deal with this kind of shit every day.

We’ve seen this type of behavior from various big-name GamerGate supporters who mobilize their flocks to anonymously peck at their targets while casting themselves as the real victims.  The difference here is that, despite the distributed nature of GamerGate, there actually is a central authority to appeal to here – the team itself.  Unfortunately, that team doesn’t seem to care.  I’ve imagined they’ve done the math already and concluded that even passing acknowledgement of the issue would generate a backlash they don’t want to waste the time addressing.  “So what if the commentator was harassing someone? He interviewed our favorite player and we like him!”  This calculation effectively sells out 40% of their fanbase that, due to various social reasons, tend to be less vocal (and less heard when they are) in favor of not upsetting a rather small minority existing in the other 60%, a minority that gets shriller and more aggressive even as it grows smaller.  Eventually that math is going to look very bad, but the damage is going to be long since done.

Hooray Sportspuck!

Hooray Sportspuck!

I’m a pretty crazy hockey fan.  I take my hockey obsession to the nerd level, analyzing numbers, watching stats, and basically getting technical on every aspect of the game.  They say that jocks are just sports nerds, but I’m not a jock.  I’m just a hockey nerd.  The NHL season is days away from starting, after almost being cancelled for the second time in seven years.  That’s right, for those of you who don’t follow sports, the National Hockey League has had three work stoppages in the past 18 years, one of which cost them the 2004-2005 season.  All three of those work stoppages have been lockouts, which is fundamentally different from strikes. In a lockout, the owners try to hold the players over a barrel and demand concessions.  In a strike, the players do the opposite.  I’m supportive of strikes, not so much of lockouts.

Now, people start to get weird when discussing labor disputes where the laborers in question have an average salary that starts with 6 figures and goes up from there.  I can understand why people like to describe them as “millionaires arguing with billionaires over money.”  The economics are still the same: The owners, after making record sums of money, demanded salary and benefits concessions from the players.  In the 2004-2005 lockout, the league, citing economic hardships (of which there certainly were), forced the players into a 24%, off-the-top pay cut on every contract.  The previous CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) had players making 76% of all league revenues.  The 2005 CBA dropped this number to 57%.  Last September, the League’s initial bargaining offer dropped that further to 45%.  Let me reiterate: The NHL wanted to drop the player’s share of the revenue from over 3/4 to under 1/2 in the span of seven years.  That’s a pretty sizable pay cut, even when you consider that the league made $3 billion last year, a record high.  Understandably, the players said “no thank you.”

This dance continued for over four months before the two sides brokered an agreement.  This included federal mediators, secret meetings, and the announcement of a deal by the Player’s Association that was cut short by a phone call from the League as the press conference was happening.  It ranged from the comical to the frustrating, but a central theme throughout seemed to be that the League had no desire to bargain fairly, or even ‘bargain’ at all.  They wanted what was in their initial offer, and they were going to get it.

They didn’t get it.

Commissioner Gary Bettman declared that a 5-year contract cap was the “hill we’re going to die on,” and they wound up with a 7-8 year cap.  Granted, that’s lower than the complete lack of a cap (with some 15-year contracts floating around) that had been before, but to resort to battlefield terminology was just ludicrous.  Players started with 50% of revenues, showing a complete willingness to bargain from the outset.  In the end, the players managed to fend off the worst of the League’s demands.  The real problem, however, goes unaddressed.  The owners are a fractious group, with about 10 teams making the bulk of the revenue and steadfastly refusing to share it.  In the 90s, the League, bolstered by the star-studded success of the Los Angeles Kings, decided to expand into markets that one doesn’t associate with ice hockey.  Teams sprung up in Florida, Georgia, and, Tennessee, and a few teams moved from Northern climes to Arizona, North Carolina and Texas.  Nearly all of those teams have struggled financially, some even after winning the Stanley Cup.  Additionally, more established teams were still struggling to make ends meet, and the League as a whole was loosing money.  In 2004, the owners had no intention of discussing revenue sharing, which is a staple in other leagues.  A rising tide lifts all ships, as they say, and the strong support the weak to ensure a robust league.  The NHL owners don’t seem to have grasped that, because they steadfastly refused any concept of revenue sharing this time around.  The negotiations essentially boiled down to thirty different owners trying to screw each other and the players.

The new CBA is for 10 years with an opt-out after 8, so there’s a good chance we’ll be back to this madness in 2021.  I’m one of those suckers that will keep rolling back in regardless, so I’m just happy they’ll be back to the ice on Saturday.  I’m just scared that they’ve done even more damage to the sport’s perception, which they cannot afford.

But hey, sportspuck is back!