Warning: this article contains some salty language. And that’s kind of the point.
Low-down. Dirty. Pathetic. Shameful. Cowardly. Horseshit. Loathsome. Those are one word options. You could also say something like, “I haven’t seen shots this cheap since the last time I was in Tijuana. And that was in 1986.”
When describing a play in hockey that’s malicious, you could always just say “malicious,” too. There’s intentional, suspension-worthy, reckless, and dangerous.
There are dozens of ways to call a cheap shot what it is: a cheap fucking shot.
You can probably guess what I’m referring to by now, which is the recent suspension of the Denver Post’s Adrian Dater. Dater, the Post’s beat writer for the Colorado Avalanche, was recently suspended for two weeks following comments he made on Twitter. You can read their blurb.
Adrian Dater, the Denver Post beat writer for the Colorado Avalanche, has been suspended for two weeks without pay for inappropriate language used on Twitter.
The tweet in question that started it all read as follows:
For a bit of backstory, the tweet was accompanied by a link to this video, which shows Brayden McNabb, then of the Kootenay Ice, throwing a vicious elbow into Avalanche prospect Joey Hishon, then of the Owen Sound Attack. Avs fans are familiar with the results of the hit: Hishon was severely concussed. His recovery took nearly two years and he’s only just getting back into form. His career could be permanently affected, as could his health for the rest of his life.
I don’t disagree in the slightest with Dater’s outrage at the hit. Part of Dater’s appeal as a sportswriter is his passion, the fact that he has genuine feelings about the team he covers. For a fanbase that suffered the Joe Sacco era of mediocrity and apathy, a bit of hot air on the bellows can be a welcome relief.
Dater’s wording, however, is not.
It’s easy to read that tweet and take offense simply due to the fact that “pussy” isn’t a word that should be thrown around in professional journalism. But if we object to Dater’s words on the basis of profanity alone and slap him with a suspension for lazy reporting, we’re ignoring a bigger issue.
Let me be clear: I’m not personally accusing Adrian Dater of being a reprehensible sexist. My interactions with him have always been respectful and informative. Lapsed judgment and poor word choices do not a feminist enemy of the state make. But I have always thought there is a context of deeper-rooted sexism in the word “pussy” that we have to be very careful about in the sports world. While the word is on our collective minds, now is as good a time to talk about it as any.
The hockey world is, like many sport communities, primarily a masculine audience. This isn’t to disparage female athletes, female sportswriters, and the hundreds of thousands of female hockey fans, volunteers, and hockey moms out there – it’s just the basic numbers. The NHL is a primarily male arena.
When an influential voice like Adrian Dater uses the word “pussy” to describe a cheap shot that could have been described any number of ways, he’s falling back on a crude insult. It certainly gets the point across.
The commonly held slang definition of “pussy” in Dater’s context is “a man regarded as weak, timid, or unmanly” or, as an adjective, “effete, ineffectual and lacking sufficient masculinity.”
Which brings me to the email that Dater sent to Jesse Spector. It’s painting with ever-so-slightly broad strokes to say that everyone offended by the word “pussy” is some sort of frothing-at-the-mouth man-hating member of the PC Twitter Brigade. People who know me (and my own editors here at On The Fly Hockey) can attest to the fact that political correctness isn’t exactly my strong point.
So if Spector and others offended by Dater’s language aren’t just catering to our gal pals for feminist brownie points, why are we so irritated?
It’s because we’re hockey fans and we want the focus to be on – wait for it – the hockey.
When a dirty play goes down in a game, don’t we want to focus on the fact that it was a cowardly attempt to injure another player in lieu of using actual skill to shut them down? There are many names for a player like that: a coward, a goon, a headhunter.
So why, out of all those possible names, would you choose “pussy,” which conveys nothing about the sneaky, malicious, underhanded nature of such plays? A term which is completely removed from sports?
Do we really want to imply that out of all the possible terminology, the worst thing you can compare a hockey player to is a woman?
If we continue to perpetuate the societal trope that “pussy” is the ultimate insult you can level at an athlete, we’re implying that having feminine qualities is worse than being a cheap-shotting shithead goon, and I don’t think any hockey fan would actually agree to that in those terms.
So please, Adrian Daters of the world, don’t think it’s your profanity that’s an issue. We welcome your anger, your fire, your emotion. Just put a bit more thought into your word choice next time. Call a goon a goon without bringing gender politics into it.
I won’t comment any more here on Dater’s behaviour specifically, as it’s been discussed enough elsewhere. Regardless of your thoughts on his quality as a reporter, regardless of his actions after the initial tweet (which have been deservingly criticised), every once in a while we should all have a good hard think about how the language we use shapes the world we live in.
I don’t want to live in a world where the worst thing you can call a goon is a woman, do you?