The anticipation of the start of a new season is a near-universal experience for all sports fans. After all of the pain and misery of missing the playoffs, the heartbreak of near misses, or the euphoria of actually winning, we go through the off-season with an eye constantly fixed on the new schedule and the return of the sport we love.
The beginning of a new season isn't a true beginning, not really anyway, for those fans passionate enough to consider themselves die hards. Fans like us don't really have an off-season, just months where our team doesn't play. A year-round commitment to the Ottawa Senators, San Jose Sharks or Detroit Red Wings becomes part of the cyclical patterns of our lives; we measure our lives in seasons, not years, remembering our past through the lens of our favourite team's highs and lows.
The love and passion that drives the most committed among us is often romanticized in writing and film. What Nick Hornby writes of soccer can be applied to any sports fandom:
"It's not easy to become a football fan. It takes years. But if you put in the hours, you're welcome without question into a new family."
It would be great if this were actually true. Hornby's egalitarian vision is what many of us believe happens in sports, what many of us want to be the truth. But over and over and over again, there are examples of exclusion. Many aren't
welcomed into that new family without question. For many, the questioning becomes the experience of fandom. If you're a person of colour, if you're LGBTQ, if you're a woman, there is always a litmus test. There is always another fan that is willing to question our commitment, our motives, and our knowledge because of who we are.
The reality is a lot of fans are never welcomed into that "new family".
Whenever the topic of racism, homophobia, or misogyny erupts in hockey there is an instinctive recoiling from individual fan bases. If the problem is acknowledged, it's acknowledged generally, not as something that might be endemic in any team's fan base as well. We want it to be different for our team. We don't want our team and our fandom to be associated with discrimination. We don't want to deal with it. We don't see it.
But I'm right here and I'm telling you it happens.
It happens in all the general ways we acknowledge more readily but it happens in our community too. I cannot speak from personal experience about the impact discriminatory tweets based on religion, ethnicity, and race have, but many of us have seen Sens fans tweet such things at opposition players, fans, and media personnel.
What I can speak to is the misogynistic crap that comes my way on a somewhat frequent basis.
Because I don't write about it, because I don't tweet about it, you might think it doesn't happen. You would be wrong. Because I don't use my position of influence, such as it is, to highlight people who send me discriminatory shit, you might think it doesn't happen. You would be wrong.
I have no interest in bringing wrath down on the boys and men who occasionally tweet offensive things at me or who send abusive emails my way. There are people, too many people, who are on the receiving end of much worse than I am. I don't know how they do it. It's not that I think these things are acceptable (they're not, they're reprehensible), it's
that someone who calls me a cunt or a bitch or worse, does not value my opinion. Nothing productive will come of the exchange because I'm not worth it in their eyes.
It doesn't matter that I am a committed fan. It doesn't matter that I'm intelligent. It doesn't matter that I'm a damn fine writer.
The only thing that matters to these individuals is that I'm a woman.
If I wrote under a pen name, this wouldn't happen. If I never wrote about gender issues in hockey, this wouldn't happen. If I was someone else, this wouldn't happen. But I'm me and it does.
It's real Sens fans who do this. People who go to games and attend events like the recent Summer Fan Fest. People who tweet and read Silver Seven. Real Sens fans.
I'm not alone in this experience. It happens to other Sens fans too.
Another season is a little over a month away. It's just the latest in the hockey cycle. One of the things I have to look forward to is the hatred and misogyny headed my way. Sports is cyclical, a never-ending process of wins, losses, and championships, creating connection and kinship among its fans. Discrimination in sports fandom is just as constant and never-ending. We experience discrimination, occasionally it makes waves and then we repeated the cycle again and again.
Exclusion is the true cyclical nature of sports.