I was fortunate enough to attend the annual Vancouver Canucks Dice and Ice fundraiser dinner this past week. It is an event that I have wanted to attend since I was a child. The whole team is in attendance for a casino and auction gala and the players work all the casino tables. You can play roulette with Jannik Hansen, poker with Kevin Bieksa and blackjack with Cody Hodgson (who, by the way, would put Vegas out of business). The purpose of the entire evening is to raise money for the Canucks for Kids Fund which oversees the Canucks Autism Network and the Canuck Place Children’s Hospice. As obvious a statement as the event was for class structure and neoliberal citizenship, it was also a more subtle statement in the heteronormative culture of professional hockey.
During the event I was too much the kid in the candy store to really have a critical eye for anything (but I did notice all the older white people, that was pretty blatant). On the ride home I was flipping through the auction catalogue and that’s where my “hmmm” thoughts came into play. One section of the silent auction items were categorized under “Player Family Baskets”. These baskets were put together by a number of players and the coaching staff with whatever items they wanted to include. Raymond’s basket was full of his family’s favourite foods, the Hansen family put together a Wii basket and Henrik Sedin’s family contributed an equestrian basket (because how many of us wouldn’t want an equestrian basket!). As I was flipping through the pages reading about all the cool stuff I didn’t get to take home I realized what a subtle, yet powerful, statement of heterosexual family values I had at my fingertips. Each basket listed “Kindly Donated by: Keith and Jamie Ballard, Henrik and Johanna Sedin, Andrew and Maggie Ebbett, Ryan and Andrea Kesler” etc. etc. etc. Even the players without wives were still considered families and listed with their girlfriends/partners (e.g., Jannik Hansen and Karen Derkson, Alexander Edler and Amanda Lombardo).
Now, this is obviously nothing new – we like our sports heros to be “manly” men with slender, attractive women on their arms, but the interesting part is that any overt chance to parade each player’s heterosexuality was avoided. The players wives and girlfriends were not paraded out on stage, they were not announced publicly, they were not shown on the big screens like they do at the Academy Awards. Sure, Mason Raymond could be spotted walking around with his girlfriend but it could have been just as easy to have no idea that his girlfriend was even in attendance. Hence, I found these “family” baskets even more significant in there subtlety. A very sly way of saying, “no gays here”. The Canucks could have chosen to list each basket under the player’s name only, thus also allowing single players to be included (e.g. Hodgson family basket – obviously – donated by Hodgson family); but, they went so far as to list names of their significant others.
I recently blogged about MLB player, Billy Beane, and how major league athletes still claim, in large part, to consider themselves neanderthals when it comes to homosexuals in professional sports. With still no openly gay players in the NHL, which either speaks to a phenomenal statistical aberration or an extremely homophobic environment, this simple auction catalogue simply reinforced to me how far the NHL has to go when it comes to issues of sexuality. The NHL’s “Hockey is for Everyone” campaign is specifically targeted at making hockey accessible to those from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds; but, perhaps more attention needs to be directed at making hockey accepting of everyone that is currently involved. As it stands, well into the twenty-first century, hockey continues to be for heteros and homosexuals need not apply.