Gary Bettman has a Katy Perry problem

(Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)
(Photo by ChinaFotoPress/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

The NHL has a “Katy Perry” problem.

Well, at least now they do. When Winnipeg Jets fans serenaded Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks with a “Katy Perry” chant during Game 3 of their playoff series, it was treated by some as another comedic gem by the previously infallible crowd, and by others as a more problematic trend in the NHL and the way the League, the media and fans alienate women.

So Jesse Spector of The Sporting News asked Bettman about that problematic trend at a meeting of Associated Press Sports Editors on Friday, and Bettman’s response was unsatisfactory to the point of rage-inducing:

From the Wall Street Journal:

A reporter asked Bettman whether he feared chants of “Katy Perry” directed at Anaheim Ducks star Corey Perry might be off putting to female fans.

Incredulous, Bettman fired back: “You think that’s sexist? Taunting chants aren’t intended to be sexist.”

[Ed Note: Bettman? Incredulous? THE DEVIL YOU SAY.]

Bettman said the NHL has a track record of “diversity, inclusiveness and doing the right thing.” He noted the league has a bigger female fan base compared to other professional leagues.

He likened the “Katy Perry” insult to calling a goalie a “sieve.”

Another reporter, a woman, noted that “sieves don’t have feelings.”

“You don’t see how taunting a player by calling them a woman could be sexist?,” she said.

“I see the point but I don’t think it’s overly literal. Short of gagging everyone who comes to a game I’m not sure we can stifle that,” he said.

And the price of ball-gags grows forever higher! What is the League to do?!

Here’s an idea: Acknowledge the problem.

Look, I was in public relations. I know the last thing you want to do is actually acknowledge that calling Corey Perry “Katy Perry” might be offensive to a large portion of your paying consumer base. Because then you validate those concerns about sexism in the NHL; and once you validate the concerns, then the heavy lifting starts, which is trying to find ways to assuage them.

It didn't offend me in the least -- I thought it was commentary on facile celebrity rather than challenging Perry's "manhood." But when you toss on the pile with everything else ...

What Bettman and the NHL don’t understand is that this joke doesn’t exist in isolation. Maybe if it did, it’s as frivolous as the rest of the Jets’ taunts.  But it doesn’t.

This exists in a landscape of the Sedin Sisters and Cindy Crosby, of ice girls and cheerleaders eye candy but no male counterparts, of players apologizing for sexist gaffes, of ridiculous items sold at the NHL Store allegedly with women in mind, of Slava Voynov and Semyon Varlamov, of abuse at arenas that’s met with apathy from team and facility employees.

It exists in a landscape of the media’s making. Of Mike Milbury calling the Swedish twins “Thelma and Louise”, of this recent idiocy from CBS Detroit that ranked the Detroit Red Wings’ girlfriends (stalker much?), of the Chicago Tribune’s “Chrissy Pronger” poster. Of generally making the “men strong, women weak” thing as much a sports cliché as “giving 110%.” Of having white, male on-air presences as commonplace on broadcasts as corny theme music.

It mostly, and most sadly, exists among fans that don’t stick up for each other when someone’s being treated like crap because of their gender or sexual identity, or when that person might feel alienated because the rube next to you is asking Claude Giroux where his purse is. We all pick and choose our spots, and we all need to be better with it. (Especially when it comes to making fans new to hockey feel like they’re not invited to the party.)

So “Katy Perry” does not exist in a vacuum. Although if she did, it would no doubt be a vacuum that shoots whipped cream, looks like an episode of “Yo Gabba Gabba” and that worked better when Sara Bareilles existed there first …

(See, Katy Perry can be funny, within context!)

You know who Bettman should speak to?

Ken King of the Calgary Flames.

The Calgary Flames have a Red Mile problem. That’s the 17th Ave. party that rages during Flames games, and that has become infamous for debauchery, mostly because of the topless women that have been an part of that tradition in previous postseasons.

(To wit, there have been posters seen that read “Show Your Cans for Monahan” this season.)

So the Flames got proactive this week, with King and team president Brian Burke asked Calgarians to knock it off:

“Our view is that if you’re a true Flames fan, you are not engaging in this kind of behaviour,” CEO King told the Herald Thursday just before leaving for Vancouver for Game 5 in the playoff series.

“We want to make it clear, do not do this stuff, ever. And for goodness sake don’t do it in our name because that’s not our culture, that’s not our organization." 

Flames president of hockey operations Brian Burke added: “This kind of behaviour has nothing to do with us, nothing to do with hockey. This is no way to treat women. I ask that everyone keeps their red on, and treat each other with respect.”

I don’t know how the Flames were able to make this plea for their fans to stop being misogynistic, harassing creeps without the use of official NHL fan gags, but somehow they pulled it off.

Unlike the Flames, perhaps Bettman feels all of this is systemic in society, and not an NHL problem. That it’s not his place to step up and say anything about it.

Look, I agree Bettman: It’s impossible for the NHL to police everything said or done by fans, be it in arenas or online.

But I also don’t think anyone’s asking for that.

I guess what we’re asking for is that the face of the League be as quick to sympathize with women who see the “Katy Perry” thing as another tire on the fire as he is when, say, an owner cries poverty. That the guy running the NHL take a step back and understand the bigger picture here for his female fan base rather than doing what he always does, which is dismiss valid criticisms of the League as being inconsequential.

Like, you know, the last time he was asked about sexism. 

Bettman can be a reasonable guy, and he certainly takes action when it makes the NHL look good (see: Voynov, Sean Avery).

Maybe we can start with baby steps, and no longer equate the comparison of Corey Perry to a woman with a goalie to an inanimate object.