Friday, March 9, 2012

Dear SI : not all female hockey fans are puck bunnies

Dear Sports Illustrated,

We get it. Some days are slow news days and you fish around for story ideas, and somebody said, "Hey, I have an idea, let's do a pictorial about puck bunnies." Pictorial/slide shows get a lot of site hits, especially if they raise a little controversy, or they contain pictures of hot women. You produced one recently called "NHL Puck Bunnies", and the tag on the opening slide reads as follows:

"Hockey fans come in all shapes and sizes, but few are as passionate as the league's female fans (aka - Puck Bunnies). Whether it's proposing to a player through the boards or painting their stomachs with the name of their favorite team, these ladies are not shy about expressing their devotion. In this gallery, SI pays tribute to the NHL's Puck Bunnies."¹


Let's get a few things straight, SI. First of all, the moniker "puck bunny" has traditionally been reserved for those female fans who go to hockey games (or practices) primarily because they want to sleep with hockey players. In fact, the Canadian Oxford Dictionary defines a puck bunny as "a woman who goes to hockey games for the sole purpose of 'scoring' with one of the players afterward". Puck bunnies are a subculture of the female hockey fan demographic; NOT all female fans are puck bunnies (NOT, by a long shot indeed). Think of puck bunnies as the hockey equivalent of rock groupies; in fact, most female hockey fans regard the label of "puck bunny" as derogatory.

There's websites and message boards dedicated to puck bunny-ism. Chances are good that if you start typing a player's name into a search engine, one of the top auto-suggested categories that will pop up is "(player name) girlfriend". The top link if you hit that search term usually leads to talk-sports.net, a bulletin board site dedicated to ... well, talking about hockey (and basketball and football and and...) players and giving a forum to these kind of fans. And reading those boards is like the awful fascination of watching a train wreck: ongoing discussions about the hotness level of players; speculation about players' ... equipment; analysis of players' wives and girlfriends ("WAGs"); etc.

There's books out there on the subject too, such as T.J. Anderson's "The Dirty Truth: Hockey and the Puck Bunny: a True Subculture" (published 2010). Anderson's book focuses primarily on the Canadian junior leagues and how sexually open these youths - and the puck bunny culture - are. One of the items in the book is a letter from a proud puck bunny who talks about how she (and others like her) are doing these players a "service" - giving them a non-judgmental place to go for strings-free sex and affection; how they don't care about players' WAGs (or, for that matter, if the player has children); how eagerly many of the players come to them. They're aware that players talk about them, and they might even encourage passing along their contact information. Some of them actively aim to sleep with every player on a given team, or every player of a certain nationality, or every player who's reached a certain point in their career - whatever it is that floats that particular bunny's boat. (If I had to draw a comparison, I would say that some puck bunnies seem to view themselves as modern-day courtesans, minus the whole "getting paid for sex" part of the equation.)

So, frankly, SI, you're incorrect by lumping "the league's female fans" all into the "puck bunnies" category. Are you going to tell me that the 82-year-old grandmother of twelve is a puck bunny? Or the cute little 10-year-old with her "I (heart) Patrick Kane" sign? Even if a woman is 22, as smokin' hot as a Victoria's Secret model, and has painted her face or stomach with her team's name, doesn't mean that female fan is automatically a "puck bunny".

Here's the other thing: not all puck bunny women are as "hockey dumb" as they're painted to be. Yes, there are some of these women who really are more interested in the players than the sport. But hockey is not exactly a cheap sport to go watch. Of the women I've met who would admit they fall into the "puck bunny" category, many of them grew up in a hockey-friendly household. Maybe their brother played on a league or simply hockey was the dominant sport in their town. At any rate, there's few things more amusing from a female fan's perspective than to watch a male fan dismiss a woman's hockey knowledge based on how the woman is dressed or acting, and then to see that female fan (puck bunny or not) turn around and absolutely school the guy with their hockey knowledge.

That's the problem though, isn't it? Female fans are rarely, if ever, credited on the same level of knowledge as the male fans, regardless of the sport. Guys think it's "cute" if girls say they're a sports fan. And of all the sports out there, perhaps no sport is more misogynistic than professional hockey.

The fact is that women's hockey teams have been around nearly as long as men's - at least in Canada. There's a little argument over where the first women's game took place - in Barrie, Ontario, in 1892, or in Ottawa in 1889. The point is that despite a strong women's hockey culture in the early decades of the sport, it declined for most of the mid-20th century before finding a revival beginning in the 1960s. Canadian intercollegiate women's hockey started in the 1980s and the NCAA in 1993. In fact, ever since the first Women's World Ice Hockey Championship in 1990, the sport has boomed for women.

But if you look at pro hockey as a whole, it still remains a bastion of testosterone. Barbara Williams became the NHL's first female skating coach in 1977; she still remains a well-respected name within hockey circles. But team coaches? No. Even female college hockey teams remain predominantly coached by men. Hockey is regarded as the ultimate of "man's man" sports, a tough and rock-'em-sock-'em sport that's defined by The Code and where any given night might see two of the players slugging at one another in an accepted - and expected - part of the sport. It's even rare for women to be team owners - be it partial or whole ownership - of a hockey team.

On the media side, women do not have a lot of role models to look up to when it comes to hockey broadcasting. Sherry Ross was the first woman to provide play-by-play announcing for an entire NHL game - on November 25, 2009, for the New Jersey Devils. Full-time female professional hockey play-by-play announcers or color commentators remain few and far between. Canada's home of hockey coverage, TSN, has had female sports newscasters for several years, but only more recently has the NHL Network and American stations begun recognizing the opportunity - and potential - for having female hockey broadcasters. Kathryn Tappen, NHLN's current lead female host for some of its hockey programming, got her sports career started with NESN in 2006. She's a very attractive woman who - gasp! - can also speak very knowledgeably about hockey.

It's all too easy for men to claim that women are only interested in hockey for the men. Of all the athletes out there, hockey players are without a doubt the best-conditioned. You don't see pot bellies on hockey players; or guys pushing 400. But let's also face it: hockey players also wear so much gear that really the only thing you see of them is their face - and their head is covered with a helmet most of the time.

So why on earth would women possibly like hockey, if not just for players looks?

The answer is the same for women as it is for men: it's an exciting, exhilarating sport. You don't have to know every single rule to enjoy a hockey game. At heart, like soccer, hockey is a far more simpler game than say, football: there's a net on either end of the ice and you score goals by putting the puck in the net. There are not a lot of interruptions to the game's flow, and there are few sports spectacles more thrilling than when a tightly contested game goes into sudden death overtime. The action is fast and maybe you even get to see a few fists fly.

Even as sports fans, however, women will be women. Those of us women who aren't puck bunnies also aren't going to deny when we find that a man is attractive. What it comes down to, as always, is the double standard. If a woman says a player is attractive, then the assumption is that the woman wants to sleep with him, and then she's regarded as a slut, and therefore not taken seriously. But if a man drools over the ice girls/ice dancers, that's somehow socially acceptable, and not only that, but it's encouraged.

Of course that's unfair, and of course it continues to happen. But chances are pretty good that if you challenge your female sports fan friends to test their hockey knowledge or talk about stats, most of them can talk quite in-depth about the sport they love - be it hockey, baseball, football, basketball, or other. Women are passionate creatures and it's therefore entirely unsurprising that we would be passionate about sports. We can cheer and heckle and slug beers back with the boys, and frankly, most of us don't care if you think it's "not feminine" to do so.

Women also hold the majority of consumer buying power. More and more women are going to hockey games and to other sports. We want to look good - yes, we might even want to look sexy and attractive at games - and we want our sports clothing to reflect our passions. This doesn't mean we want pink jerseys all the time (although yes, a portion of the female demographic does want pink and yes, even glitter and crystals). The majority of female hockey fans want attractive, durable clothing in team colors that is cut to our body styles. Wearing a pair of skinny jeans with our jersey doesn't make our hockey IQ drop. Shocker, isn't it?

And the problem is that not only do we let men talk about female fans this way, but we as females judge each other constantly about this. Most of the female fans tend to take other female fans more seriously when we dress what we consider "appropriate" for hockey games, meaning - no heels, no glitter/pink, nothing too suggestive/sexy.

So you see, Sports Illustrated, it really doesn't help us at all that you put together this slide show and lump all female fans into the "puck bunny" category. But then again, as a publication, you really have never quite gotten the hang of hockey, so why would you possibly understand the different kinds of female fans? When Lord Stanley graces the ice in June, you only carry a cover image of the winning team in the local market for the champions. Both Chicago (2010) and Boston (2011) broke championship droughts that were 49 and 39 years long, respectively. That's a lifetime! But when Chicago won, what was the national cover? Some up-and-coming baseball pitcher that certainly could've waited another week for his cover boy accolades. A major pro sports championship that takes two months of playoffs to decide a winner, and you can't spare national cover space for it? Shameful.

Hockey is a way of life in Canada, and a fast-growing sport in the U.S. The NHL is posting back-to-back $3+ billion-dollar revenue years. By the way, $3B is more revenue than at least 79 countries' GNP. (Has it been mentioned that statistically, NHL fans are the best-educated and most tech-savvy, too?) Maybe that's not as sexy a figure as MLB's $7.2B or the NFL's $9B, but that's catching up pretty quickly to the NBA's $4.1B.

Maybe, just maybe, SI, those figures might help motivate you to start taking a little more serious - and in-depth - look not only at the NHL, but its fans, and know what you're talking about next time.

But then again, maybe you were just more interested in the site traffic than being accurate about female sports fans.

* * *
¹ - Whoever wrote/edited this slide show also spelled/typo'ed "but" as "buy" (screenshot, below). I have corrected it for my article.



* * *

Additional notes (added 3/9): 

- For another article on this same subject, please also read Elena Palmer's "Eye On The Storm:Sports Illustrated Salutes 'Puck Bunnies'; Shockingly, I’m Annoyed" at Aerys Sports

- Major /sticktaps to PuckDaddy for linking to HB today! Thanks! 

On a note related to my above article : I did have somebody challenge me on Twitter about what SI meant, stating that "the girls shown were puck bunnies". (Really? The 50-year-old woman? The one with the signs that had nothing sexual about them?) They also said "I think SI was only referring to the hot and slutty ones as 'puck bunnies'."

Perhaps the intent of the slideshow was to focus on the puck bunny sub-culture/slice of female fan demographics, but the English grammar (spelling error and all) of the first sentence stated "few are as passionate as the league's female fans (aka - Puck Bunnies)". Additionally, nothing about the opening sentence mentioned "hot" OR "slutty".
Either SI's editors didn't catch that the structure of the sentence was calling all female fans puck bunnies, OR they do in fact think all female hockey fans are puck bunnies. Either way, it was a poor description to start off their slide show. 

Additional notes (added 3/10): 

- Sticktaps to Russian Machine Never Breaks for adding their voice (literally) to the discussion:



* * *

UPDATE (added 3/10):

Sports Illustrated has removed the slideshow from their website. It was removed at some point late this morning (3/10).  

* * *

25 comments:

  1. Well stated. My maternal grandmother, who passed away in the late 1960s, was a passionate Detroit Red Wings fan, so much so that late in life, her doctor ordered her to stop listening to Red Wing games on the radio because he feared she would give herself a heart attack. History does not record how tightly she adhered to her doctor's orders... But anyway, the term "Puck Bunny" probably wasn't around then, but if anyone would have ever ascribed such characteristics to my grandmother... well, THAT just wouldn't have happened. She was a second-generation product of German immigrants who took her religion very seriously and who was never seen wearing anything flashier than perhaps a flower on her Sunday hat. The bottom line is that she was a devoted female hockey fan half a century ago. SI doesn't seem to be aware that such women have been a constant presence in NHL fandom for a long, long time.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I raise my glass to you...Excellent!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Bravo. Great response to ESPN's never ending stupidity.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I meant SI's never ending stupidity. Damn it...fail.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Get a sense of humor. And a life.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're replying anonymously to a blog and telling somebody to "get a life"?

      Pot, meet kettle...

      Delete
  6. u have set ur gender back 50 years with the term Hockey Broad. A broad is defined as a piece of meat with a hole in it. Yup makes sense

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your response has absolutely no relevance to her post.
      Only thing that makes sense is how much of an idiot you look like.

      Delete
    2. "A broad is defined as a piece of meat with a hole in it".

      No such definition exists, although I see what you're attempting (poorly, I might add) to infer. I'll be discussing my choice of blog title in a few days. In the meantime, I'll state that some of the biggest & best names in hockey writing (including yes, women) have complimented me on my blog title. They get it. You don't.

      Delete
  7. "Either SI's editors didn't catch that the structure of the sentence was calling all female fans puck bunnies, OR they do in fact think all female hockey fans are puck bunnies."

    OR they have no idea what the term "puck bunny" actually implies and they used it because they thought it was cool. Is it beyond the realm of possibility to think that SI just didn't think/research? Because really, that seems like a logical assumption, knowing what I do of SI.

    But I guess we could just automatically assume they're a bunch of sexist jerks, I mean, why not.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Honestly, I don't know how anyone who works in sports wouldn't have an idea what "puck bunny" means. When I mentioned the gallery and the feedback earlier tonight a girl who is not a hockey fan at all immediately recognized that it was a derogatory term.

      Delete
  8. To be fair, quite a few of them most certainly fit the bill as puck bunnies. Half those signs basically say "we want to f*ck you because you are a famous hockey player".

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, there are clearly some of the women in that slide show who are fulfilling the ideal of puck bunnies. But not all of them. And let me repeat.... poor choice of wording/sentence structure... NOT all women are puck bunnies.

      Delete
    2. I'm not one to quickly defend women who throw themselves at hockey players, obviously, but when I looked through those slides, all I saw were some women (and mostly younger girls) who were having fun at a game. "Marry Me (insert hockey player's last name" doesn't mean anything. Heck, I wouldn't even be offended or threatened by the one that says "Leave your wife, marry me!" Now, I'd have a problem if she was all over my guy at a bar saying that stuff, but ... Holding a sign like that doesn't make you a puck bunny. It doesn't mean she'd jump in the sack with a player if the opportunity presented itself. Maybe some would, but I bet just as many wouldn't. And just like female fans, women who occasionally catch a hockey game and decide to make a silly sign don't deserve to be lumped into a group with the likes of true 'puck bunnies'.

      Delete
  9. What a great post. Triple thumbs up for this.

    ReplyDelete
  10. The thing also, with that slideshow, is that most of the pics are of fully dressed females in team colours with non-suggestive posters. Sure don't look like puck bunnies to me. Even the one of the 6 girls in pink Sens jerseys...I would call that a jersey foul of the highest order, but it's their prerogative to wear that and I'm not going to assume they are a lesser fan because of it.

    Reminds me of the ever popular "Sedin sisters" insults.

    Grinds my gears...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I have come to hate the "Sedin sisters" insults. It's tiring to have one's sex used as an insult. The Sedins are skilled, high-scoring players who have been incredibly generous off the ice in their adopted city of Vancouver. Gee... that's so horrible... how unmanly of them ... /sarcasm off.

      Delete
  11. Thank you for representing the female hockey fan so intelligently HB.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I suspect the pink jerseys are for the pinkwashing that happens every October for breast cancer awareness (something that is worthy of another rant). Stylistically, it may be a foul, but not in terms of hockey fandom.

    As for SI, what do you expect from a "sports" magazine that has a swimsuit issue every year? They obviously know bupkes about hockey and even less about female sports fans who watch a sport because it's a great game. Sure there are cute guys playing hockey, but that's NOT why I watch it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought the pink jerseys were something cancer-related too when I first saw them. After all, most AHL/ECHL teams have a "pink in the rink" night where they create "pinked" jerseys & auction them off for charity. However, the NHL's cancer-related clothing is a shade of purple (see http://shop.nhl.com/category/index.jsp?categoryId=12175288&sr=1&origkw=hockey%20fights%20cancer) - ties and hats and jerseys - under the "Hockey Fights Cancer" banner. I noticed that the past season or two they created a line of T-shirts that were in regular colors for each team represented, too.

      Delete
  13. That gallery is ridiculous. Do I find males attractive? Yes. Do I care if my favourite hockey players are attractive? No. I must have really progressive guy friends or something because even though they rib me for loving Kesler or Letang, we can watch and talk about hockey forever, they genuinely respect my knowledge of the game. SI is trash anyways.

    ReplyDelete
  14. The more I read about this damn SI gallery and their horrible assumption that women at hockey games are only there to entice players to have sex with them, the more ridiculous it all sounds. Your writing on the subject is perfectly stated, and I 100% agree with everything you said. Yes, some players are gorgeous, but that's just icing on the cake. Some of them are just horrible looking, but I still enjoy watching them play. And for the record, I've never made a sign asking a player for a date...but I've thought about it--and that doesn't make me a bad sports fan. :)

    ReplyDelete
  15. Get off your high horse and stop being so fucking sensitive.
    I'd bet my weight in gold that you are not attractive so their article burns even more...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gosh, it's awful easy to make a rude response hiding behind an "anonymous" tag, isn't it? My looks - or the looks of ANY of these women - or ANY female fan - is IRRELEVANT.

      Funny... nobody ever responds to a man's writing with a comment with "And I bet you're ugly!"

      Take your ignorance elsewhere - ideally to a class to improve your reading comprehension.

      Delete

Thanks for your viewpoint!

Please note that anonymous comments are moderated in order to prevent spam.