December 05, 2008
UPDATE (10:30 a.m.): NHL gives Avery a six-game suspension. More in a moment.
Bettman's decision is complicated by the fact there has never been a disciplinary hearing that revolved around misogynous conduct. The closest parallel may be the handful of racial slurs players have directed against each other on the ice, most of which have resulted in suspensions and mandatory counselling under the joint NHL-National Hockey League Players' Association substance and behavioural health program.
Doesn't this miss the point? Avery's sin isn't necessarily his words but his insubordinate grandstanding actions; literally holding court with the media to taunt his opponent moments after telling his coach he wouldn't speak to the media (or so we've heard).
Yet "sloppy seconds" is the money quote, and misogyny has become the battle cry from some circles. Ron Wilson said no one wants their daughter talked about that way. Writers are revisiting two-month-old fan incidents to establish a pattern of piggish behavior for Avery (as if we already didn't know he could be, uh, a jerk with the ladies).
Color me stupid, but wasn't Avery taunting some of his NHL peers rather than the women he's romanced? I know there's a literal, rather repulsive reading of "sloppy seconds" that can be made; but how many times have you heard a dude use it to disparage a woman rather than to put down a rival?
This situation appears to be another example of men believing they know how women should react to a given topic or controversy -- the "why doesn't this offend you?" moment. In this case, many males commenting on the Avery story feel women should be disgusted and outraged at his comments; and they're so busy shaking an angry fist at the Dallas Stars forward that they don't see female fans shrug their shoulders, crack a grin and actually defend "misogynist" Sean Avery.
I started to understand this dynamic in Wrap Around Curl's essay that closed our reaction round up on Day 2 of the Avery story. Please recall:
One blogger said Avery was suspended for misogyny, which shows just how this issue has grown. I am not entirely sure it was misogyny per se. But I would advise those wishing to speak for female fans to consider their words. As we are all not to be lumped together under the feminist umbrella.
Since then, I've been taken to task by male readers for defending Avery from draconian NHL discipline and finding his comments amusing. (I still think his grandstanding deserves punishment, but from the Stars and not the NHL.) But I've gotten just as many e-mails from female readers like Kat Carroll, who wrote that "rooting for both rival teams" piece for us a while back.
She considers herself a "reasonable feminist hockey fan," in the sense that "I wish women's hockey allowed more than 'body contact,' that men would come up with better, more intelligent, and less sexist comebacks than 'get back to the kitchen,' and I consider the usage of ice girls to appeal to the carnal desires of male fans distasteful."
Her thoughts on the Avery situation are interesting, and I don't think she's alone:
Do I think what Avery said was insulting? To me, as a female hockey fan? No. If I were a member of the parties referenced in his statement or a teammate, yes. I don't think Avery's statement qualified as misogynistic; he wasn't making a blanket statement against women, he was just an immature ex creating new drama from an old topic in the entirely wrong place and time, and once again, putting himself before the team.
Avery is well known for his poor behavior and immaturity, and anyone who expects otherwise is fooling themselves. His statement was self-motivated, attention-grabbing, below the belt, and broke "what's said on the ice, stays on the ice."
But was it detrimental to hockey or the league? Judging by the amount of press that his statement and subsequent suspension has generated, even ESPN is breaking its pathetic NHL coverage to carry it, I know it's a cliché, but "there's no such thing as bad press." Helping the less scrupulous players of the league become better people has never been a goal of Bettman's or the NHL and we all know Avery is a lost cause either way. I just hope the Stars take advantage of this opportunity to rid themselves of the, for lack of a better word, poison that is Sean Avery.
Kat seems to hit on a common thread for a lot of the female fan reaction to the Avery suspension, which is that his behavior was expected and dishonorable, but the swift, misguided reaction by the NHL trumps any sort of offense to women that can be read in his comments.
Reporter Mary Ormsby of the Toronto Star had these comments in an opinion piece this morning:
Right about now, though, hockey players should be thinking the NHL's suspension of Sean Avery is not such a good idea.
He's being punished for having a potty mouth - nothing more. Yet the indignant response from a league that has routinely allowed verbal threats of physical retribution to pass without action is truly mystifying. After all, it wasn't that long ago that the infamous case of Steve Moore vs. Todd Bertuzzi was originally stoked by a taunt left unpunished and in the end, Moore sustained a broken neck and career-ending injuries.
And if protecting female virtue is suddenly a priority, why has the league done nothing to players involved in public domestic dust-ups in the past? Surely, actions that elicit calls to police from frightened women outrank smirking booty-call insults on the NHL's scale of distasteful behaviours.
It's all about context, and about priorities. And as some men read Avery's comments as the most disparaging bit of sexism ever uttered in a professional locker room (uh-huh), many women are wondering where the NHL's vigilance (and the media's scrutiny) is when it comes to real misogyny and hockey's true image problems.
Because if Avery had said "ex-girlfriends" instead of "sloppy seconds," we're probably not writing about this four days later.
And if he had 826 more career goals, he'd be Wayne Gretzky, too.