How Hockey Defines Us: Media coverage of the death of Chelsea Alvarez

Chelsea Alvarez passed away tragically in a hiking incident. She was described by those who knew her as “a beautiful soul.” She was 24 years old. She was born in Canada and moved to Italy. She was a daughter. She was a fiancé. She was a mechanical engineer. She was a former restaurant employee. She played ice hockey growing up.

The above paragraph is how Chelsea Alvarez could have been described by major Canadian news sources that covered her death. The paragraph could use a few more bells and whistles, but readers would certainly get a sense of who she was. Instead, the details of her life were clouded by the fact that she was engaged to former captain of the OHL’s Barrie Colts and former Waterloo Warrior and current Sterzing Bronco, Colin Behenna (notice the list here? All available in the news coverage of her death). Indeed, a quick examination of Global, CTV, and CBC online portrayals of Alvarez revealed that each story prioritized her identity in relation to Behenna over her own individual identity.

For example, when the news first broke, Global released an article brandishing the title “Ontario woman engaged to former OHL player killed in Italian hiking incident.” Why on earth was it necessary to know right from the
title that, not only was she about to be married, but that her fiancé once—not even currently—played in the OHL? I could understand if it was a local news source, where he was a well-regarded member of the hockey community, that it may have been a relevant title. In national news, however, not really.

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Interestingly, Global has since changed the title to “Ontario woman killed in hiking incident in Italy.” A colleague suggested to me that the title was click bait, which just goes to show how hockey and hockey players are valued in Canada. If we are to follow this train of thought to its most extreme version, it truly sounds like if you’re even remotely involved in hockey, your death matters, but the rest of your identity doesn’t. It sounds absurd! Furthermore, are media outlets actually trying to increase their readership by using hockey to make her death more lucrative? I honestly don’t think that’s the goal and I know that hockey sells and is an integral part of Canadian identity—whether people like it or not—but this is extremely odd and incontestably disappointing to me.

I went to CTV next, where although the title didn’t link Alvarez to Behenna, it only took four paragraphs of a sentence or two each to get to his hockey career. In fact, the CTV article informed readers of his involvement in hockey before getting to things such as Alvarez’s education, employment, or even her own involvement in hockey—let alone how people described her and why she was important to them. The article even prioritized telling readers that the Sterzing Broncos cancelled a game because of this incident.

On the one hand, I really applaud the Broncos hockey community for coming together and showing support during what is undoubtedly a difficult time for Behenna because, typically, professional sport doesn’t wait for anyone (see: Martin St-Louis played in a game three days after his mother’s passing because…playoffs…and then held the funeral once he had to be in Montreal anyway for the next round). On the other hand, I’m completely appalled that outside of the hockey community, more than one journalist thought it was appropriate to prioritize this woman’s identity as the fiancé of a hockey player and not as an educated, passionate, and well-liked individual. Hockey is my world and I am interested in knowing about players’ lives, but not at the cost of the identity of the individual who died. That’s simply disrespectful.

In search of any shred of improvement, I went to CBC’s coverage of the incident. Sure enough, the caption under the photo of Alvarez at the top of the article read: “Chelsea Rebecca Alvarez (right) is pictured here with her fiancé, former OHL Barrie Colts captain, Colin Behenna.” Of course you mention him because he’s in the photo—I get that. But shouldn’t her identifying details take priority over his here? Like her nationality or her age or literally anything other than the nothing they chose to use?

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The one good thing I have to say about the CBC article compared to the others is that it drew attention to Alvarez being a mechanical engineer before shifting to her fiancé. This was a big positive for me because, if we are to set hockey aside, it is not uncommon for women to be defined as wives, girlfriends, and mothers instead or ahead of their impressive accomplishments in sports, academia, and the workplace, among others. To bring hockey back in, why focus more on his career than on her own playing experience? I recognize that many women would prefer to be identified as wives, girlfriends, and mothers first (don’t get me started on the attention that NHL ‘WAGs’ receive), but personally, I would like to be identified as all of the above—a family member, a friend, a scholar, a horrific goaltender with a 10-second hockey career, a musician, and someone who approached life with clear eyes and a full heart. Alvarez deserves the same.

I think we need some perspective here; hockey is important to a lot of people, but not so much that we should allow it to tangentially overtake the loss of a life. The fact that all three of these major media sources—Global, CTV, and CBC—prioritized Behenna and his OHL career in some way signifies that the place of hockey in Canadian life continues to need to be questioned and examined. Someone really dropped the ball (or…fanned on the puck?) on this one.

 

 

Edit: An earlier iteration of this piece claimed that Chelsea Alvarez was hiking with her fiancé when she passed away. Other sources say that she was with someone else, therefore the detail has been omitted from the piece.

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One thought on “How Hockey Defines Us: Media coverage of the death of Chelsea Alvarez

  1. Pingback: Weekly Links: The Questionable Legacy of Bobby Hull; 2016 in Memoriam; Hockey in Kandahar; and more | Hockey in Society

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