October 24, 2008
Occasionally, someone with nothing better to do will ask me what my favorite story of the week was. It's often a difficult decision, what with all the Mats Sundin and Sarah Palin coverage. This week? Not so difficult:
On the ranking of headlines I never thought I'd read, this places just slightly behind "Thrashers top Canucks for Stanley Cup." The story blazed through the blogosphere with the fury of a thousand Chad Johnson scandals. It was extraordinary.
But I couldn't help but feel a sense that the story was completely missing context. What kind of fans shower the ice with sex toys before a hockey game? What would drive them to do so? Why dildos? And, on a related topic, why so many dildos?
So I decided to call Sweden.
Turns out the author of the original story, David Landes of the English-language online newspaper The Local, is actually a hockey player who grew up in Minnesota. And he added some important details to this now-legendary story -- some a tad more disturbing than others.
Landes didn't attend the game himself, but picked up reports from the Swedish press and fashioned the article from them. He had no idea yesterday morning that the story had swept the Internet nation in North America; he noticed it had been viewed a massive number of times, but he hadn't checked to see where the traffic was coming from.
"It was quite -- pardon the term -- quite a pleasure to write something like this," he said.
No kidding. How many writers get to push the publish button on a story with this lede:
Supporters of the Stockholm-based AIK ice hockey team scored an unusual hat trick of heckling on Tuesday night featuring dildos, profane banners, and a giant inflatable penis.
AIK fans, he said, "are notoriously rough. Their soccer fans get in fights all the time." AIK is one of the oldest sport clubs in Sweden, with soccer, handball, bandy, bowling and even floor hockey teams to go along with the ice hockey team that has featured players like Mattias Norstrom (below, right) and hosted the infamous sex-toy game.
"It's soccer fans that have the real reputation for being hooligans. They're the ones who instigate riots and get in big brawls before and after matches," he said, noting there is crossover between hockey and soccer fan bases.
Showing your rabid support for all things AIK is important for those fans. You can buy shares in the team or, like other athletic organizations in Sweden, you can even donate money during fund drives at local pubs, according to Landes.
"One bar is for one team, one bar is for another team, and heaven forbid you should wear the wrong colors in the wrong bar," he said.
Defenseman Jan Huokko was, essentially, wearing the "wrong colors in the wrong bar" as far as these fans were concerned. He is a former AIK player now playing for rival Leksand hockey club in Sweden's second-tier professional hockey league. Landes said he's an offensive defenseman, making his way through the Swedish ranks.
He just also happens to have an Internet sex video, which made him an instant target for the rowdy AIK fans.
"This thing blew up last summer, and suddenly he became a household name," said Landes. "[The AIK fans] wanted to heckle him because of the sex tape. They weren't as bitter that he left the squad, because basically his entire professional career, he's been with this Leksand team."
Sex tapes are sex tapes, right? What made this one such a catalyst for fan tomfoolery?
"I can tell you exactly what it is. It's pretty intense," said Landes.
This part of the conversation felt like standing near the edge of a cliff that your car just rolled over, because you forgot to set the emergency brake. You had a good idea what the carnage might look like; you just didn't want to learn about it
Landes elaborated in detail that cleared up why the AIK fans used this particular sex toy and other phallic imagery to taunt Huokko; ending his review of the sex clip with the words "in his own." Deadspin has a more explicit breakdown of the video and the act in question -- adults only, and seriously not for the squeamish.
"It wasn't by accident that it was dildos," said Landes. Truer words ...
But there were just ... So. Many. Dildos. At a hockey game. I asked him if sex toys and giant inflatable phalluses, which were seen in the stands during the pregame delay, were more readily available in Sweden. Because it seemed like everyone had one.
"You're making me laugh, because this country makes me crack up sometimes as well," he said. "Earlier this spring, all the pharmacies here -- and the government runs all the pharmacies here -- decided to start selling sex toys."
(Consider, for a moment, that there are still pharmacies in the U.S. that hide the condoms behind the counter.)
"You go to any corner drug store, and find dildos and ben-wah balls," he said. "We actually had a story that talked about guys complaining that there weren't enough sex toys for them at the pharmacies. Gender equity is a big deal here."
Landes doesn't expect other teams in this Swedish league to taunt Huokko in the same manner, but said he doesn't know what to expect if and when AIK and Leksand meet again.
As far as the reaction to this bizarre story over in Sweden, Landes said sex toys took a back seat to hockey.
"What's interesting is that the [sex toy tossing] was not the story. The story was the fact that AIK won, and played a good match," he said.
"[The fan disturbance] was written about in the two more tabloidy newspapers. But it wasn't scandalous. I don't want to say it was totally business as usual, but in the sports sections of the newspapers, it was all about the hockey," he said. "Even in the papers I looked at, they had the dildo article next to the regular results article."
The native Minnesotan noted the obvious difference in how a fan stunt like this was treated in Sweden, and how it would have been treated had it happened, say, in the NHL.
"If this had happened in the U.S., it would be a huge scandal," he said. "Here, it was, ‘Yeah, it was kinda mean. But he did have that sex video.'"