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Gary Bettman did a disservice to hockey by ignoring sexism in the NHL

Yesterday Gary Bettman was asked about the Winnipeg Jets fans chanting "Katy Perry" at game three in the playoffs. Instead of addressing the issue at hand he brushed it off.

Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

The Winnipeg Jets fans chanting "Katy Perry" at Corey Perry was sexist. Gary Bettman's refusal to acknowledge that it was sexist is part of the problem. The NHL has touted that hockey is for everyone, but seems to go out of its way to make women feel like they do not belong as fans of the league. When someone, male or female, holds power part of their job is to make sure groups that feel marginalized are respected and heard when they have a grievance. As soon as Bettman decided that the grievance was not worthy of his time because he had not heard about the concerns that female fans have from those under him. It should not be up to them to tell Bettman that women are uncomfortable with fans using a female to put down a player, female fans should be listened to above male fans when it comes to this issue.

Bettman should have a problem with the chant without someone telling him about it. He should have a problem with it because he is human. He had no problem with it because he has power and thus has no incentive to change the status quo. Bettman can make it so it is unacceptable for gendered insults to be used. Instead, he is fine with being a spectator to the insults because a majority of his fan base, white males, have no issue with the insults. And it is far beyond the Katy Perry chant. It goes with calling Sidney Crosby, "Cindy" Crosby or the Sedin twins the "Sedin Sisters. " These are insults used against star players who sell tickets for the league and Bettman has no issue with it because it has not affected the bottom line for the NHL.

Women could just give up and walk away, but that would change nothing. There are more than enough male hockey fans to fill the void left by the loss of female hockey fans. It just means that the NHL would lose potential voices by losing a whole set of fans based on ignoring an issue that is easily fixable through education and enforcement. It seems silly that adult men would have to be educated on why using gendered insults is wrong, but most curriculums do not teach these simple ideas to students. Unless parents have taught their children that these insults are wrong, they probably do not see the issue with them. It is time that the conversation changes and it is accepted that women are not seen as equal to men in many places and that it puts both women and men at a disadvantage.

Gary Bettman was blindsided by the question about the problem with sexist chants when Jesse Spector of The Sporting News asked him about it. He was equally unprepared for the follow up questions from Sarah Kwak of Sports Illustrated. Instead of simply saying "I see your point and that is something we need to work on", Bettman got defensive, which happens often, instead of showing a desire to listen to the criticism and learn from it. His NHL is showing cracks in how fans are treated. Women are starting to vocalize how they do not feel like they belong as NHL fans because of how the league has treated women. The NHL has repeatedly done nothing to make is seem like women matter in their eyes because females make up a small segment of the NHL's fanbase and therefore they do not bring in enough capital for the NHL to actually give a damn if women started walking away from the league. They have no incentives to do anything about it, so why would they care?

The Katy Perry/Corey Perry chant is just another example of the NHL not being a place for women. The NHL not having a problem with the history of sexist chants and saying fans are being too sensitive is part of the problem. Saying there is no problem does not make a problem go away. Ignoring the sexism that is present in hockey only makes it worse. Start addressing it and small changes will occur. Sometimes the knowledge that something is present is enough to change the conversation and force people to re-evaluate how they see issues. Gary Bettman acknowledging that chanting sexist chants will not fix anything, it WILL validate the feelings of many female fans who are disenfranchised with how the NHL treats women.

Finally, the chant is a big deal. The Princess Crosby chant is a big deal. Women have said that it makes them feel uncomfortable, so men have to change their behaviour to ensure that everyone feels safe while enjoying hockey. When men brush off issues raised by women because they have daughters and do not see anything wrong with it or because no one has mentioned it before, they are simply telling women that their own feelings trump the feelings of the aggrieved party. That is never the case. Listening and trying to understand why something is problematic is more important than defending a group of people who are used to being right.

Gary Bettman was wrong in how he handled the question about the use of sexist chants in hockey, but his reaction was one in a long line of men who had no problem with behaviours that make others feel uncomfortable. The NHL needs to start looking at what it is doing to enable fans to feel like starting and participating in sexist chants is okay. Bettman was right, not all hockey fans participated in the chants and they are certainly not something that everyone agrees with, but we are all complicit in the behaviour that is tolerated. It is on those who have power through the jobs they hold to turn the conversation around and talk about why this is an issue instead of just pointing out it is. Women are pushed to the margins and are seen as weaker than men.