Hockey in Society

A Poorly Timed Joke: Gerry Dee’s CWHL promo tweet


Yesterday, comedian Gerry Dee tweeted out a promo video for the upcoming CWHL All-Star game. It was meant to be a light ribbing of some of the All-Star selections but it was met with mixed reviews.

Reactions seems to be almost perfectly divided between classic comedy versus tone deaf. Gerry Dee himself has wondered why so many people found the bit problematic. Many have clearly articulated their complaints via Twitter and yet there still seems to be…confusion. So, here’s an outline of why many women’s hockey fans thought a different method would have been more appropriate. Please note, this is not an attack against anyone who thought that it was a humorous take (indeed many of the CWHL players have tweeted their enjoyment of it) and we do not need to all agree on what is and is not funny, rather this is an attempt to explain why some fans found it in poor taste:

  1. We recognize the jocular humour of the chirping but not all chirps are equal and not all jokes are funny. Every women’s hockey fan has had a man tell that them that women’s hockey isn’t worth the ice they are given, in one form or another. Every woman who plays the game has also had a man challenge their ability, so this joke was all too recognizable. The league and its players are not yet at the point where we can make fun of them because they are the butt of the joke everyday in the media, at the sports bar, and at the rink. What is laughable is that they are paid intern wages for professional talent. Thus, the context of the joke is important. The joke works with Connor McDavid as the punchline because he’s on primetime television every other night, his autographed jersey will garner thousands at auction (I’ve personally seen this…in Vancouver no less), and he is a household name. The beauty of comedy is that it speaks truth to power but the little power that women’s hockey has right now needs to be amplified and legitimated. To poke fun at them (even for promotional purposes) seems a precarious proposition because women’s hockey literally inhabits an unstable place.
  2. If you have the women themselves ripping on each other, that works. If you had Serena Williams on camera ripping them, that might work. But really, the average person walking down the street doesn’t know who Jill Saulnier is, unfortunately (although maybe they do in her hometown of Halifax), and it is the average person we need to draw to women’s hockey — not the regular congregation. Any fan of women’s hockey that is able to make it to the game already has their ticket. I’m heading down with a number of colleagues from Kingston next weekend. Us fans will go to great lengths to support these women, so any promos that go out at this point need to appeal to the broader fan base. From a communications standpoint, this didn’t seem like the most effective way to gain that traction because it is, in essence, an inside joke. As an inside joke it’s funny, but the insiders are already sold.
  3. Women’s sports, in general, gets so little promotion that we have been conditioned to accept any promotion we receive, good or bad. Last weekend when Sportsnet broadcast the Les Canadiennes-Toronto Furies game on Saturday, Tie Domi sent out some Instagram stories of his support. His first Instastory was of him at the wrong arena for the game. This was indicative of what happens when women’s teams don’t have a proper home base because even your fans can’t find you when they try (Les Canadiennes are playing at 4 different “home” rinks this season); and, in part, it illustrates the type of promotion that women’s sports receives: incomplete, incoherent, and impromptu. In another Instastory, he was talking about how much he appreciated Poulin and Spooner. Great! Except he typed “woman’s hockey” instead of “women’s hockey.” I’m nitpicking, I know. Minor details. But after he was at the wrong arena it was just another face palm about the crumbs that women’s hockey continues to receive. With all the production value pumped into men’s hockey the little coverage that women’s hockey receives makes it extremely noticeable. Hence, when you tune in to the streams of the games to see empty stands for these world class players, Gerry Dee’s promo just adds to the pile of frustration. In other words, it’s not necessarily this one promo that is problematic but it is part of a consistent pattern where women’s hockey fans hope for so much and then continue to get kicked in the proverbial “nads.” It’s exhausting.

Maybe we’re wrong and Gerry Dee’s promo will help fill the lower bowl of Scotiabank Arena next Sunday. Maybe the controversy is enough to push ticket sales (which currently looks to be about 2/3rds unsold). It’s hard to know if all of those voicing support for the video have put their money where their laughter is. And honestly, I look forward to the day when we can publicly rip on these women because they are so recognizable, so valuable, and so sought after that we all have the luxury of “lightening up.” Unfortunately, today isn’t that day. As a marketing and promotional attempt this missed the mark for many loyal fans.

“It’s hard to be told to lighten up because if you lighten up any more, you’re going to float the fuck away.” Roxane Gay