Register Friday | March 23 | 2018

Hockey and Sex on the Streets of Calgary

"Sexuality in this context seems more harmless than violence."

So there I was in Calgary, watching Game One of the Stanley Cup finals inside the Saddledome, halfway up the stands, at about blue-line level. Sure, the game was in Tampa Bay, but this was as close as I was likely to get to an actual playoff game, so I wasn’t complaining. There were screens set up on the covered ice surface, facing both sides of the rink. The main score-clock was also broadcasting the game, as were a set of monitors set up in the rafters for fans in the upper reaches of this saddle-shaped arena.

The monitors weren’t really necessary, as the building was barely half-full—but you wouldn’t have guessed it from the CBC coverage. They took a page out of World Wrestling Entertainment’s book, using camera angles and selective shots to make it look like the Saddledome was as full as it is on game nights. On screen, Kelly Hrudey looked like he was about to drown in the much-publicized “sea of red.” Actually, he was standing in an empty section behind the end boards (you couldn’t see the screen from there), surrounded by a puddle of about a dozen fans, likely conscripted from their mid-ice seats.

This is not meant to take anything away from the atmosphere: the fans were relentless in cheering for anything red, anything that moved really. Chants of “Let’s go, Flames!” morphed into a more universal “Let’s go, hockey!” and, occasionally, “Let’s go, ladies!” as attractive young female hockey fans passed by. This was a young crowd, too young to be allowed into the bars on 17th Avenue, and probably not often, if at all, able to get or afford tickets for a real game, Stanley Cup final or otherwise. There were more men than women, certainly, but it seemed to me there were more “ladies” than you usually find at a hockey game.

You wouldn’t think the question of feminism would come up on such an alpha-male evening. It’s not like any of the guys were going to bring it up, and finger-wagging academics are usually wise enough to keep their critiques of the “problematicisms” of professional sport to themselves, at least in the heart of the jungle. Not so the CBC. Before the game, the network ran a feature on the carnivalesque (I don’t think they used that word) of the post-game celebrations in Calgary, notably on the tendency for guys to yell “Show us your tits!” and the growing willingness of the ladies to oblige. The CBC even showed footage of some girls lifting up their shirts! How risqué!

Anyway, after the tops were lifted, to the delight of the apparently horny teenaged crowd, the Ceeb interviewed an academic from the University of Calgary. She lamented the practice and hoped that the girls would one day grow up, find themselves sexually and no longer feel the need to lower themselves. Or something to that effect—I couldn’t really hear because she was drowned out by a chorus of boos from all assembled. The people had spoken.

I was in agreement with the hoi polloi at the Saddledome, but I admit to feeling a bit disturbed by the situation following the game. The Flames won 4-1, so there was much revelling (and revealing) on 17th Avenue. What sticks in my mind is a sign toted by two young boys standing on a wall. The youths, likely not yet twelve years old, carried a square of cardboard that read “Support the Flames, show us your tits!” It wasn’t so much the sign (I wasn’t calling for women to take off their shirts, but it’s not like I would have turned away if any of them had) as it was the dirty old man who stood, smirking, next to the boys. Why was this somehow less acceptable than drunk twentysomething dudes shouting from painted-up, flag-bearing cars at women their own age?

Well, to borrow a feminist term, maybe it’s the power dynamic. There was a sense of equality at this impromptu street party: everyone was on the same team, everyone was happy. The leering old guy wasn’t celebrating with the crowd, though; he was taking advantage of the situation to see some breasts (presumably he doesn’t get to see them very often). He was taking advantage, too, of young boys at a prime age of curiosity, for whom seeing a breast or two is probably the height of their sexual experience to date. But apart from that dirty guy, I think I’m with the masses on the flashing issue: it’s good clean fun for a happy crowd of young, drunk hockey fans.

The young men and women in that mob were in the prime of their sexual lives. They probably have sex on a fairly regular basis, so I doubt it was desperation driving them. No, the excitement of the game somehow reached a pseudo-sexual peak for them—men were walking around bare-chested too, after all. Perhaps the women were just reacting to the men’s excitement (a response that could be construed as unhealthy because it shows a lack of agency), but I think it more likely that they simply recognized the sexuality of the situation and felt the need to engage in it as well. Hockey is a physical game, after all.

Indeed, when I was watching Game Four on TV Monday night, a friend of mine was getting quite worked up over the Flames’ dogged efforts to score. When she started saying things like “Don’t stop! Don’t stop!”, someone commented that maybe it was more like foreplay than forechecking. Even Ron MacLean got into the act: after noting some stat that involved the number 69, he closed with, “They’ll be head over heels about that one.” Knowing MacLean’s penchant for puns, it doesn’t seem like a coincidence to me.

Sexuality in this context seems more harmless than violence. Like the pack of teenagers who stole a garbage bag’s worth of popcorn from the Saddledome and proceeded to leave a trail of it through the parking lot, the revellers on 17th Avenue were just caught up in the spirit of the night. Neither group’s actions caused any harm (except waste, and dismay to the U of C feminist). Calgary police have prepared for recent home games by towing all cars parked on 17th Avenue after 4 PM. So apparently the main concern is not a city-wide wardrobe malfunction, but making sure the road is clear for fans to harmlessly drive up and down, hanging (their naked chests?) out of their cars.

In the end, my friend and I didn’t see any breasts on Tuesday night, but it was early when we turned in (I still had to drive back to Banff); maybe not enough beer had yet flowed from the taps along the Red Mile. As I’m playing the social scientist today, I will say that alcohol, for better or for worse, only seems likely to increase these base sexual urges. What’s going to happen when the Flames win it all? A full-out orgy in the streets of Calgary? It is strange that such a question might even be posed, but an orgy is better than a riot. Stay tuned!