THE VIEW FROM HERE BY LANA MACEACHERN
It was Feb. 13, mid-morning here in Atlantic Canada, late-afternoon in Sochi, Russia. CBC Radio’s Information Morning broke for a live report from the Bolshoi Ice Dome. CBC reporter Peter Armstrong described the mounting excitement as the Canadian men’s team prepared to play its first game of the 2014 Winter Olympics. The face-off was still hours away but the reporter noted Canadian fans already starting to spill into the arena.
“There’s a palpable sense that hockey is getting started,” said Armstrong.
He could have said, “men’s hockey.” He could, more accurately, have said, “Team Canada men’s hockey,” as the men’s competition had actually begun the day before.
But he didn’t. He said simply, “hockey.”
And with that one misguided sentence, a broadcast media professional negated the hard work, athleticism, and skill of about 160 Olympians, because hockey did not begin in Sochi on Feb. 13. The eight women’s hockey teams had been competing since Feb. 8. The Canadian women’s team, in fact, had already accumulated a 5-0 record by the time the Canadian men stepped onto the ice.
It would feel like less of an insult, less of a gross oversight, if we could dismiss the comment as the unintentional mental lapse of one individual. It could have been a slip of the tongue, perhaps a case of the mouth getting ahead of the brain.
Unfortunately, it’s only one example suggestive of a broader bias.
CBC’s 2014 Olympic coverage team included two analysts splitting their time between men’s and women’s hockey. In addition, there were four analysts and a reporter devoted solely to men’s hockey. And for women’s hockey: one dedicated analyst. One. And no reporter.
CBC News ran a story Feb. 21 about the likelihood that many Canadians would be discretely watching the Canada-U.S. men’s semi-final game at work that day. Reporter Janet Davidson wrote, “In hockey-mad Canada, it would be hard to ignore the hype – and the hopes – that have been placed on the men's hockey team as it looks to defend the Olympic gold medal it won in Vancouver four years ago.”
No mention of our women’s team, who had successfully defended their gold medal the day before in a game which drew CBC’s highest web audience of the games up to that point. Their fourth gold medal in as many Olympics, a boast the men’s team can’t make.
On Feb. 8, the Chronicle-Herald ran the headline, “Canada’s icemen cometh. 25 hopefuls aim to repeat Olympic hockey success” across the top of page 1 along with the names of the players who’d just been announced on the roster. The entire front page of the sports section was devoted to a story on the team’s make-up and headshots of the players and coaches. The next day, the men’s team was again the top sports story. The women’s team didn’t garner a mention until Feb. 20, and then it was a few brief paragraphs at the end of a story primarily about Sidney Crosby being named captain of the men’s team.
On Jan, 29, the headline on a Canadian Press story proclaimed “Canadian athletes look to ‘maintain the gain’ from success at Vancouver Olympics.” Reporter Donna Spencer predicted, “While the Canadian men’s hockey team will have a huge following at home as it attempts to defend the gold medal, it will be the freestyle skiers, short-track speedskaters and snowboarders driving the medal count in Sochi.” No reference in the story at all to the women’s hockey team, also defending a gold medal. The closest was a quote from Hailey Wickenheiser who was identified only as Canada’s flag bearer.
I get it. These men are superstars, their faces all over the television every Saturday night, their names stitched across the backs of jersey-wearing fans all over the country. The average NHL salary of a member of the men’s Team Canada hockey team is over $6 million, and corporations throw more money at them to endorse their products. They can afford personal trainers, physiotherapists, dietitians, and whatever other supports might help them be at the top of their game.
And who are the members of our national women’s hockey team? They’re college and university students and members of the professional Canadian Women’s Hockey League. You probably don’t see their faces between Olympic games because their games aren’t televised. They juggle hockey practices and games with academic demands and part-time or even full-time jobs. Do you know how much CWHL professional players get paid to play? Not one cent. Their travels costs are covered; that’s it.
It’s not about whether the women play as well as the men or the men play as well as the women. That’s comparing apples and oranges, with different styles of play and different rules. It’s about respect and giving credit everywhere it’s due. Some people will say a men’s hockey gold medal is worth more than a women’s because the men have to overcome steeper competition to earn it. Yes, our national women’s team does play at a higher level than most other countries, but that didn’t just happen by accident. They worked hard to attain those skills in spite of the hurdles in their way. They should be held up, rather than penalized, for it.
Maybe if the media gave our professional women hockey players more attention and exposure, the fan base would grow to a point that corporate sponsors wouldn’t be able to ignore. Then they might be able to eke out a living playing the sport their country holds as sacred. Our men’s and women’s Olympic hockey teams are both made up of wonderfully skilled and successful athletes who are doing their country incredibly proud. Let’s show them we’ve noticed.
Lana MacEachern is a former reporter turned librarian from Caribou River who still keeps her hand in the writing world with freelance articles.