Over the past week, the United States and Canadian women's national teams took the ice for a three-game Rivalry Series, with games held in London and Toronto, Ontario and Detroit, Michigan. It was a "friendly" – well, as friendly as you can get between such fierce rivals – competition ahead of the 2019 IIHF Women's World Championships, being held in Espoo, Finland, in April.
Unfortunately, at many times, the lackluster broadcasting and media coverage overshadowed the games themselves. From constant references to male relatives of the accomplished female players, to mispronouncing player names, to focusing more on chatter than actual play-by-play, the TSN broadcast (which was also used on NHL Network in the US) was frustrating to watch.
Although some may say that women's hockey fans should be "grateful" for any media coverage or broadcasting of games, the truth is this: women's hockey fans should not have to accept bottom-of-the-barrel broadcasting and be "happy" just to get any attention at all. While it is always fantastic to see women's hockey being broadcast nationally in Canada and the United States, coverage like this can do more harm than good.
In particular, the players on the national teams are accomplished athletes with merit of their own. They have won Olympic medals, World Championships, Clarkson and Isobel cups, and are paid to play professional hockey. Mentioning in every breath their relation to a man (for instance, a mention of Kendall Coyne Schofield was often followed up by discussion of her husband, who plays in the NFL; a mention of Amanda Kessel was followed up by discussion of her brother who plays in the NHL) works to diminish their accomplishments and is insulting to the players, the viewers, and to those of us who cover these athletes on a regular basis.
This doesn't just apply to the athletes on the ice, however. Even Caley Chelios, who was one of several analysts working for TSN during the Rivalry Series, was nearly always identified as "the daughter of Chris Chelios." She may be his daughter, but that isn't an accomplishment – it's just a fact. Caley is also a reporter covering the NHL's Tampa Bay Lightning for Fox Sports, has done color analysis for radio, and was previously an NCAA national champion with Northwestern University women's lacrosse.
Yes, these women may have relevant (or not) male connections. But it's not why they're here, right now, playing a hockey game. Often, we hear about these connections so often that it's not just a "fun tidbit" – it's almost a sort of validation for why these women are being broadcast, or paid to play hockey, or what have you. Mentioning a relative or connection once is often fine; mentioning it game after game is tiresome. (And these problems aren't unique to the Rivalry Series broadcast.)
How we talk about women's sports, and women in sports, matters.
We'll often hear about how these athletes have jobs or careers outside of hockey, but it's important to think about how these conversations are framed.
During the Rivalry Series, it was brought up several times that Ann-Sophie Bettez is a financial advisor "in her real life," as if playing hockey is just a fun fantasy, and what happens outside of the rink is the "real" thing.
It's also often not mentioned why these players have these other jobs – for instance, Bettez as a financial advisor, or Meghan Agosta whenever it's mentioned that yes, she's a cop. If media are going to mention these other jobs, they should also discuss why these professional athletes need them; discuss the financial side of women's hockey and what it would mean to get paid a livable wage.
On another note, every mention of Jocelyne and Monique Lamoreux was coupled with the fact that they were not at the Rivalry Series because they both had children. There were not nearly as many mentions of their on-ice accomplishments, such as how Jocelyne scored the game-winning shootout goal to win Olympic gold for the United States in 2018, or how Monique tied that same game near the end of regulation. No mention of their numerous Olympic medals, or World Championship medals. Choosing to have a family is a personal choice, and there's nothing wrong with having a family – but mentioning only that, without any talk of a woman's other notable accomplishments in her life, is a shame.
Let me repeat myself: how we talk about women's sports, and women in sports, matters. As women's sports grow and progress, so too should the broadcasting and media coverage – but that won't happen if we sit back and "take what we can get."
So – how SHOULD women's hockey broadcasts be done?
- Focus on the game itself. At many points during the Rivalry Series, the broadcasters went off on a tangent and ended up chatting about things like the players' off-ice lives, abandoning the play actually happening on the ice until something big happened (such as a big save or a good shot). While this kind of chatter can enhance a broadcast when done at the right time, it can also distract from on-ice play – which is what people are really tuning in to watch.
- Hire people who know women's hockey. I can't stress the importance of this enough. You do not need to have played hockey to know hockey – let me get that out of the way. But hiring someone to broadcast a women's hockey game who knows nothing about it other than what they read off a piece of paper is not going to help grow the game; it's going to sound monotone, uninteresting, and uneducated. This also goes toward my next point, which is...
- Use appropriate terminology. Those who are in charge of broadcasting women's hockey should work on using appropriate terminology, not gendered terms such as "defenseman" or "too many men on the ice." Instead, using terms like "defender" is more gender-neutral, and even if it isn't the standard that many are used to, is what we should all work toward.
- Only mention male relatives (or any relatives, really) if it is specifically relevant. We don't need to hear about Kendall Coyne Schofield's football-playing husband. However, mentioning the relationships between players like Julie Chu and Caroline Ouellette, or Meghan Duggan and Gillian Apps, could be relevant in a USA-Canada game since these players have both suited up for their respective national teams.
- Don't compare women's hockey players to men's hockey players. Don't say Hilary Knight is "the Patrick Kane of women's hockey." There's no reason to compare women's hockey players to men's hockey players. Although these may be intended as compliments, it is much more complimentary to allow these women and their achievements/merits to stand on their own, rather than low-balling them with an unnecessary comparison. (Also, Patrick Kane is awful.)
- Just. Do. Better. Learn the correct pronunciation of player names. If they're playing with their national teams, talk about their professional teams, too. Incorporate statistics. Learn ABOUT women's hockey and don't just use the same old story lines over and over again because you don't know about anything else.
Women's sports, and women in sports, deserve better – and shouldn't settle for less.