Unbelievable. Every time I think we have encountered a new low in the continuing fight for diversity, equity and inclusion in sports, it seems there is another unconscionable incident. Think the women’s NCAA field hockey contest stopped in OT because of a fireworks display on an adjoining field for the football team. Or the continuing drama as the US Women’s Soccer Team fights for equal pay. The incredible disparities experienced by the women in the NCAA basketball tournament in March – oh, that’s right. They can now use the March Madness trademark. Isn’t that nice?
I would apologize for the sarcasm, but I cannot. The latest incident leaves me sick at heart and very, very troubled by the continuing apathy that allows it to happen. Last week, the Mars Fighting Planets high school ice hockey team took to the ice against the Armstrong River Hawks outside of Pittsburgh. Armstrong student fans repeatedly aimed vulgar, misogynistic chants at the Mars female goalie, leaving her in tears. NOBODY STEPPED IN TO STOP IT. Why?
Fortunately, there were repercussions. Famed USA Women’s Ice Hockey Olympian Meghan Duggan called out the incident on social media. The high school athletic league immediately banned student fans from games for the remainder of the season, including the playoffs. There have been efforts to generate a large audience in support of the female goalie for the team’s next game on Monday. But. But. The “zero tolerance policy” that the officials instituted AFTER THE FACT seems too little, too late. In 2021, was there NO adult in that arena who felt compelled to intervene? Why did either coach allow the game to continue under those circumstances? What were the referees doing? Were there no league officials present?
Heckling the opposing goalie is a time-honored ritual. I will confess to participating in a few of those moments myself in college. (“Hey, hey, hey goodbye . . “) But this kind of deliberate cruelty and blatant disrespect is an entirely different matter. Unfortunately, it illustrates the limitations of even the most well considered and universally accepted laws, regulations and codes of conduct: Title IX, zero tolerance, diversity, equity and inclusion are all just words. Their effectiveness depends entirely upon the conscious actions of moral individuals. Here’s hoping the outrage generated by this latest example will inspire better conduct and a demand for responsibility going forward.
Helen A. “Nellie” Drew is an expert in sports law, including professional and amateur sports issues ranging from NCAA compliance and Title IX matters to facility construction, discipline of professional athletes, collective bargaining and franchise issues. Drew formerly served as an officer and in-house counsel to the Buffalo Sabres of the National Hockey League, after previously working as outside counsel to the Sabres and the NHL. Among her more interesting experiences were assisting former USSR superstar Alexander Mogilny in obtaining asylum status in the U.S. and working on multiple NHL expansions, including San Jose, Ottawa, Florida and Tampa Bay.
Drew teaches a variety of courses that incorporate topics such as drug testing in professional sports and professional player contract negotiation and arbitration. She is especially interested in the evolving research and litigation concerning concussions in both amateur and professional sports.