Sports for Dummies: Good things happen when female athletes are recognized for their skill

Ashley Potts

It’s been a few days now, but I’m still hyped over the NHL All-Star game. As a Colorado Avalanche fan, it was gratifying to watch the team’s whole top line be invited to, and perform well at, the game. But more specifically, I’m hyped about the women who found success in a place that’s traditionally not theirs. 

In case you missed it, I’m talking about Kendall Coyne Schofield and Brianna Decker—two members of Team USA’s gold medal winning women’s hockey team—making waves in the skills competition. They were joined at the competition by two members of the Canadian National Team, Renata Fast and Rebecca Johnston, to demonstrate each event before the NHL players began competing. 

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Coyne Schofield made history as the first woman to compete in the skills competition. Avalanche all-star Nathan Mackinnon was slated to compete in the fastest skater event, but got injured just before the All-Star weekend began. He suggested Coyne Schofield take his place via the team’s Twitter. 

She responded, got on a plane and showed up to compete. She recorded a time of 14.346 seconds, placing eighth in the competition, just ahead of Arizona Coyotes’ center Clayton Keller. The fastest time was 13.378 seconds, recorded by Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid, who has won the event three times in a row now.

McDavid and many of the other NHL’ers expressed being impressed with her speed and even being nervous that she would beat them. 

After that appearance, Coyne Schofield got a nod from NBC. The network hired her as an analyst for the Wednesday Night Hockey Pittsburgh Penguins vs Tampa Bay Lightening game. 

To me, that’s huge. Not only have the best of the best now acknowledged her athletic ability, but they’ve allowed her to show that she knows her sport. She can talk about it as well as any broadcaster, but the added layer of representation is important for other female athletes to see.

I read all of this news at nearly the same time that I read an ESPNW article on the Minnesota Whitecaps—the National Women’s Hockey League team that Coyne Schofield plays on when she’s not training with Team USA—becoming the first of the five NWHL teams to turn a profit.

The All-Star appearance has nothing to do with the NWHL team’s success, but the NHL supporting women’s hockey does. The Whitecaps have a partnership with the Minnesota Wild and play their home games at the Wild’s practice facilities. All eight of their home games this season sold out the arena. But “no one cares about women’s sports,” right?

Coyne Schofield wasn’t the only woman to find success in the skills competition. Decker didn’t formally compete, but her demonstration of the premier passing event appeared to be the best performance of the night.

Since she was only demonstrating the drill there was some confusion about her time, as it wasn’t officially recorded—but a fan posted a video of her demo on social media, and her time looked to be 1:06. The winning time was recorded at 1:09. Six of the other participants took longer than 1:25 to complete the drill, so she clearly out performed those players. 

This competition wasn’t just for bragging rights; the winner received $25,000. Decker didn’t receive the prize money, which many found unfair and prompted #PayDecker to trend on Twitter.

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This caught the attention of CCM Hockey, a major hockey gear brand. The company announced their recognition of her winning the event, saying “We understand the importance of recognizing female hockey players and are pleased to give you the $25,000 that you deserve.”

Again, that’s a move that’s so much bigger than a drill at the All-Star. A huge number of hockey players, both professional and casual, buy gear from CCM. My own dad only wears CCM gear: gloves, shorts, stick, you name it. The company’s support has a large influence, both monetary and otherwise.

These two women, and their Canadian colleagues, were invited to the All-Star weekend because of skill they already possessed, skill which is clearly on par with that of the NHL players who already have the public’s attention. They are just two examples of the success that can be brought to women’s sports with media coverage and public knowledge. 

I’ve said it before, but I’ll keep saying it; paying attention to women’s sports and supporting their effort begets success, which warrants more attention and coverage.

Ashley Potts can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @ashleypotts09.