At an annual meeting with the Associated Press Sports Editors on Friday morning, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman addressed a bevy of topics with reporters—from his thoughts on expansion and possible continued Olympic participation by league players, to his apparent disbelief that teams tank. He also shared his thoughts on the “Katy Perry!” chants in Winnipeg that were directed at Ducks winger Corey Perry during the Jets’ recently concluded first round series.
When asked by Jesse Spector of the Sporting News about the issue of underlying sexism and misogyny that occasionally appears around the league, and presented with that example from Game 3 in Winnipeg, Bettman was incredulous.
“You’re suggesting that the crowd saying ‘Katy Perry’ to Corey Perry was sexist? Or misogynist?” he asked. “I don’t think taunting chants at players on the other side of the ice is intended to be sexist in the slightest. It’s like when you call a goaltender a sieve, they chant that. Is that now inappropriate also?”
I then chimed in, pointing out that a sieve is not a person with feelings (let alone a historically marginalized group) and noted that deriding a player by calling him a woman is, in fact, pretty sexist.
“I see the point, but I think it’s overly literal,” Bettman replied. “I think that nobody there is taking it seriously. They’re trying to get to a player’s thought process.”
Bettman did, by the end of the discussion, come around a bit, saying that he takes sexism as seriously as other disrespectful fan actions, such as booing during national anthems and homophobic chants. “I think there’s always a line between what is parody in good fun in chanting and what is intended to belittle certain segments of society,” he said. “We obviously don’t encourage [the latter].”
Ultimately, do I believe that Gary Bettman is a woman-hating misogynist? No, of course not. But this morning’s exchange was a pretty obvious example of latent sexism—a problem that is not unique to hockey, or sports, or America, for that matter. It isn’t fine to simply shrug off the Katy Perry chants, Princess Crosby chants, Chrissy Pronger photos, Sedinsisters nicknames, and ice girls in spandex as jokes in good fun. When the basis of the joke is the suppression of a marginalized group—whether it be racial minorities, the LGBTcommunity or women—that’s just not that funny.
There were plenty of other topics (interesting ones, too) that were addressed Friday morning. Here are some news and notes:
• Bettman’s remarks on tanking were also of some note. “I don’t think teams tank,” he said, mounting to the obvious euphemism. “I think they rebuild.” When asked why, then, the league has taken the steps it has to install and tweak its draft lottery, he said. “We’re dealing with the perception.” A perception, he said, that was “driven more by commentary than reality.”
• Earlier this week, Blackhawks forward Daniel Carcillo participated in a piece for The Players’ Tribune about the untimely death of his friend and former teammate Steve Montador. If you haven’t seen it, do so. It’s worth the time. One of Carcillo’s main points was the lack of support he feels players receive once they leave the NHL, and that the current exit program is nothing more than a phone call for most. I asked Bettman about this. “Historically, it has tended to be core of a players’ association issue because … basically we’ve been told this is the agents, the players and the PA,” Bettman said. “It’s not for us to get involved in ... On the issue of behavioral health and the like, the program we have in place has always been available to former players as well.” It’s unknown how frequently the program is tapped by retired players.
• The latest on the league’s expansion rumors remains vague. Potential franchise owner Bill Foley has, of course, begun a ticket drive to bring a team to Las Vegas, a drive that Bettman says seems to be going very well. Regarding Seattle, the issue remains a matter of a suitable arena. “When it becomes more of a timeline than a series of conditions, I think it becomes more realistic,” Bettman says. “It won’t warrant serious consideration until there is a realistic expectation that there’s going to be a building there.”
• Recently, a group announced plans to launch a women’s professional hockey league later this year. The NWHL, a six-team circuit, has announced a draft day and the opening of training camps. Asked about the league, Bettman said the NHL has encouraged it. “They’re still in the developmental stage, and there are issues as to whether or not, in its current format, either that league or the Canadian women’s hockey league is viable,” he said. “But we encourage the growth of women’s hockey.” He noted, however, that for a professional league to succeed, he believed there would need to be more growth—in fandom and in developing talent. He also noted that he had asked former WNBA commissioner Val Ackerman to do a study on the viability of a women’s pro league. “Her conclusion was that the infrastructure at the time wasn’t yet strong enough,” he said.
• Bettman took in Game 4 of the Islanders-Capitals series at Nassau Coliseum and remarked at the state of the soon-to-be-vacated arena. “I don’t know the last time I was at an arena and saw port-o-stands lined up outside,” he said. “Nassau Coliseum is well past its due date.” He also did not think it would be fair to fans in Long Island to speculate if there was any possibility of the Islanders’ return to Nassau County, given that the arena is slated to undergo some renovation.
• For the Islanders’ Game 6 there on Saturday afternoon, he said the league and the club would increase security after reports that fans have been taking seats from the arena and otherwise behaving badly.
• With the NBA’s announcement that basketball will now test for HGH, the NHL (of the four major sports) remains the only one of the four major North American sports leagues that is yet to engage in the practice. Bettman said that are ongoing discussions with the NHLPA about the matter, but added, “Our medical people do not really believe that it is a problem for us.” Of course they don’t. But how can anybody know for sure without a testing program?
• With regard to the 2018 Pyeongchang Games in Korea, Bettman did not give any indication about whether the NHL would participate or not. But he noted that if the league decides to opt out, it would make that announcement early enough to give national federations the time to activate a Plan B without NHLers. Two points to consider, however: Bettman also said, in some ways, the time difference in Korea would not be as difficult to manage as it was with Sochi, and there was talk that China (a 2022 Winter Games host hopeful) might use the 2018 Games as a launching point to drum up interest in hockey in that nation of a billion people. Bettman’s got NBA roots. He knows what China’s interest and market could bring.