Sharks are known to have remarkably sensitive hearing, in order to find, say, another creature flailing in distress. Yet until recently, the protests by irritated fans against the San Jose Sharks’ new Ice Girls had fallen on deaf ears.
Ever since the plan was announced – timed rather poorly with the decision not to bring back beloved color commentator Drew Remenda on the TV side – the San Jose Sharks’ decision to have an ice crew/cheer squad was roundly panned on social media. There’s already a “Say NO to Sharks Ice Girls” Facebook page with hundreds of likes.
Some of this was backlash against the team – no major changes after a playoff disappointment, but this instead? – and some of it was due to the fact that a healthy portion of the NHL’s audience finds the gimmick to be institutional sexism.
The Sharks, via the Mercury News, believe the protests are unfounded; not only because there will be men mixed with the ice girls on the crew, but because the midriff-bearing, form-fitting outfits are more tasteful than other teams’ costumes.
From the Mercury News:
"We are not modeling our ice team in the same manner as other teams do in the NHL or other professional sports teams with cheerleaders," Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora said. "We're doing it in a way that works for us within our game experience and that is tasteful for San Jose."
“Modeling” … interesting choice of words. We continue:
"We're getting a good reaction," he said, adding that plans for the ice team were part of several recommendations he made for next season.
Tortora said he recommended the creation of the ice team as a way to blend current maintenance functions "with higher energy, increased fan engagement and more involvement within the community."
"Overall, this should be a modest shift for us and different from the cheer teams of other franchises," he added.
Yet overall, this is the vibe most are getting from Sharks fans, echoing others around the NHL:
"Having women being exploited in general in any sport is wrong," Maclain Utterback, a 25-year-old Sharks fan from Sacramento, wrote in an email exchange. "Trying to sexualize women and saying it's to enhance the fan experience -- who are you enhancing it for? Men 18-40, but what about women? Not enhancing their experience."
Some women would go as far as to say the presence of Ice Girls is “culturally tone deaf,” especially for a League that’s seen impressive gains in women watching and attending games in the last decade.
The Sharks are protesting the protest, and are asking that fans take a wait-and-see approach. That’s fine. But in the end, it’s whether you practice what you preach.
If this isn’t exploitation of women, then shouldn’t the men on the squad (a) be in great enough numbers to seem more than token hires and (b) not appear to be dressed as high-school gym teachers when the women on the squad are dressed as cheerleaders?
Because hey, if “The Price Is Right” can acknowledge gender equity in eye candy, can’t the NHL?