Social Butterflies, Sports Fans, and Comedians: Male Youth Ice Hockey Players on Twitter

As part of a larger project I had been doing on understandings of gender and sexuality and attitudes towards homosexuality in boys’ and men’s ice hockey, I located the publicly available Twitter accounts of approximately 75 male Major Midget AAA ice hockey players in Canada. This worked out to approximately 80% of the population I was working with at the time; I was unable to locate accounts for the rest.I wanted to determine whether or not their online self-presentations reflected the ways in which they presented and expressed themselves in their surveys and interviews throughout the remainder of my project.

I was primarily concerned with the players’ tweets, retweets, and favourites that related to gender and sexuality (particularly evidence of homophobic content), but I took notes here and there on the other content that they were producing and sharing, which, taken together, paints a compelling picture of their online lives. Midget AAA players are typically between the ages of fifteen and eighteen, depending on the time of year, and the next level of play for them is usually Junior.

Best Hockey Twitter

Methodology
I examined around 1500 posts in the span of a month, which were generated from 56 accounts out of the approximately 75 with which I began (about 20 accounts were either locked or inactive during that particular month). The players were active on Twitter to varying degrees in that some posted once throughout the month while others posted over 100 times. The posts all fit into five general categories, which I have simplified and adapted from my original work for an easier read. The categories included general banter and exchanges, behind the scenes posts about the player’s life, sports-related posts, humorous posts, and posts with the goal of sharing analytical or important information. Evidently, there was room for overlap in the categories, but I made the call to categorize posts under one label only (which gets us into the limitations of research of this nature, but I digress). The table below elaborates further:

Nature of Post Examples… Approximate
Number of Posts
Banter and Exchanges Social exchanges and commentary with friends, family, etc. 680
Behind the Scenes General announcements about what is happening in the player’s life, such as his plans for the evening 100
Sports-Related Anything about the players’ own hockey career or other sports of which he is a fan 375
Humour Satirical posts, whether outwardly funny or sarcastic 200
Analytical and Important Information Any educational or political thoughts and information, including current events 130

 

Findings
Based on the numbers in the table, the players spent the bulk of their time on Twitter interacting with others—typically about school or their social time together. The next most common post was sports-related. The players tweeted, retweeted, and favourited a plethora of posts about professional hockey and there were also pockets of interest in baseball, football, and golf as well. Within this category, the players were also likely to promote their own hockey, such as scores or times and locations of their games, as well as information on team events and causes.

Humouristic posts were the third most common category and they were the most difficult to interpret because clearly I may have different opinions than the players regarding what constitutes comedy. Nonetheless, these posts ranged from videos of cats to photos (or memes) geared at racial and sexual satire. I will zero in on these shortly. The last kind of post was that which shared analytical or important information. These posts included the sharing of information or commentary on things such as federal politics, animal rights issues, suicide rates, and a plethora of posts about the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Ice Bucket Challenge, which was popular at the time. So then it’s safe to say that this specific group of players mostly uses Twitter for social interaction purposes and a bit for sports and comedy purposes.


Posts Related to Gender and Sexuality
Considering that I was interested in posts relating to gender and sexuality, there were almost none. In fact, less than 5% of posts fit the description, which contradicts the dominant argument that young male ice hockey players are obsessed with women and sex. That’s not to say that I believe otherwise, but in their self-presentations on Twitter, they are not. I found a grand total of three posts that related to LGBTQ in some way, one of which was a tweet by a player who was asking when it would stop mattering if someone was gay. This is a small number considering the magnitude of LGBTQ rights on the Canadian political agenda and the fact that the players engaged with other social issues such as the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, teen suicide rates, and local political issues. Moreover, I found it small given the reach of the You Can Play Project, which works to combat homophobia in sport, particularly ice hockey. This experience showed me that although the players may not have been preoccupied with women and sex on Twitter, anything to do with non-heteronormativity was off limits for them.

The remaining posts were mostly meant to be comedic (in my opinion) and many mocked women in some way. A couple warned girlfriends that their boyfriends weren’t ignoring them ‘because their booty game ain’t strong,’ but because the latest version of NHL for PlayStation had recently been released. A few others contained a photo of a bin of hockey player-shaped candies with the caption ‘white girls’ favourite candy.’ One said that beer must contain estrogen because after drinking it, men could neither drive nor stop talking. These posts were not common within the whole, but I do plan on looking further into their implications on cultural discourse about women in an ice hockey context. I’m quite interested to see why arguably misogynistic posts are okay, but the LGBTQ community is off-limits when it comes to satire. I’m guessing that it has to do with the fact that the battle against homophobia is very present in the players’ lives, both in school and sport, whereas misogyny is often taken for granted in society, so it is monitored less in their daily lives and also considered less taboo on a societal scale.

If my work interests you, click here to view another piece from the same project on the sometimes problematic nature of young male ice hockey culture.

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