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.