In the most recent episode of the Steve Dangle Podcast (a Toronto Maple Leafs first, hockey second podcast that I listen to religiously because I have become a hockey fan over the past couple years, go figure), cohost Adam Wylde asked listeners to tweet the show and tell them how we found them. I have A Lot Of Thoughts And Feelings about SDP and have wanted to pontificate about it for awhile, so I am going to do that now. I’ll even tell you how I found them.
I wouldn’t call myself a sports fan, exactly. I’ve always loved the Olympics, as anyone I’m facebook friends with knows from watching their feeds fill up with Olympics-related tomfoolery last August, and about three years ago I started following hockey, but for me the actual sports are only part of the point. What really grabs me is the psychology of sports, the sociology, the anthropological lens on a culture that’s totally alien to me, what a good friend used to call “sports-adjacent stuff.” I love the internal minutiae of sports: the ridiculous salary cap finagling hockey teams have to do, the calculating nature of trades, the stupidity or brilliance of management groups and what it means for the teams they manage. I also enjoy watching hockey on occasion. But like pretty much everything else in life, I enjoy it infinitely more when I know the story behind it and can place it within a context. I don’t just want information. I want analysis, and I want to know where the analyst is coming from. Tell me what you think about something. Then tell me why.
It’s really no surprise, then, that I never warmed to mainstream reporting once I got into hockey. Initially a Blackhawks fan, I dutifully read Mark Lazerus in the Sun-Times, but I infinitely preferred him cracking wise and having actual opinions on Twitter. When I found Yahoo’s Puck Daddy blog, I didn’t look back. Puck Daddy combines traditional sports reporting with a heavy dose of analysis and opinion, and the straightforward way in which the writers make clear their biases gives their writing an honesty that feels absent in traditional sports media. It’s meaningful to have Devils diehard Greg Wyshynski write a celebration of Scott Gomez’s career. Everything Ryan Lambert writes is more interesting to me because I know he’s going to be blunt and cutting when he thinks things suck and sincere and celebratory when he’s excited about something, while backing it all up with in-depth statistical analysis. Sports is inherently theatrical. It should be fun. It shouldn’t be Deeply Serious News. Puck Daddy is fun.
All of which brings me to Steve Dangle, a hockey vlogger/blogger/podcaster/Leafs obsessive/new-media-loving guy who I first discovered through animated gifs of his youtube videos on tumblr when I was first getting into hockey in 2013. (I can’t find any of them right now. People used to gif him a lot though, I promise.) Steve, who is now employed as an actual Hockey Media Person by Sportsnet, has made a reaction video after every Leafs game for NINE YEARS, and when I started watching them I don’t think I could have named five Leafs if you paid me. I just liked Steve. He was funny and charming and sarcastic and very, very loud, all of which are traits I identify with. Particularly very, very loud. He was a diehard fan but assessed the team with clear-eyed honesty. (In 2014 and 2015, that mostly meant rage, sorrow and a sort of deadness inside.) Pretty soon I was watching every video response to the games of a team I didn’t actually give a shit about with as much enthusiasm as if they were my favorite.
I didn’t listen to podcasts at the time, and while Steve (along with his bff the Canadian Ryan Seacrest Adam Wylde and, now, producer Jesse Blake) has been doing the podcast for a few years, I didn’t turn onto it until the summer of 2015. In the summer of 2015 my then-favorite hockey player, Patrick Kane, was accused of rape. It was a more-than-usually gross situation that I won’t dig back into right now, and while both hockey blogs and mainstream hockey media were on the right side of history about it to a degree I never expected, hockey fans were about as shitty and as great as human beings tend to be about rape stories (that is to say, sometimes great but often shitty). In his videos and on Twitter Steve always came off as a genuinely good guy, but lots of people seem like good folk until you ask them their opinion on the wrong thing.
This is what Steve, Adam and Jesse had to say on the podcast about the Patrick Kane story and, in particular, a local paper’s choice to publish a victim-smearing account from the owner of the bar where Kane and his accuser met before going back to Kane’s house, where the alleged rape took place. This is what they led the August 10th episode off with (it starts at about 8 minutes in), and how they opened discussion on the topic:
ADAM: I will say that everybody who is going and supporting Kane and going, you know, ‘She’s probably a gold digger, she’s probably – ‘ whatever all the names you call ’em, you have no proof, and you have got to take a look at yourself and change everything about you. Because you are all wrong.
STEVE: That’s my kind friend Adam. My take is you’re all fucked. You’re fucked. You’re fucked in the head.
STEVE: The bar owner goes, ‘Well, he was taking photos with people all night, and he was acting like a gentleman, and he had these girls hanging off of him, just hanging off of him all night, practically blocking other girls from talking to him, and they just wouldn’t let him go. And then they went home with him.’ Now, let’s pretend every word of that is true. WHO! GIVES! A FUCK! [ … Rape happens] at the moment of, ‘Hey, do you wanna?’ […] There’s a yes-and-a-no time, okay, and Fuckface at stupid Sky Bar was not present for yes-and-no time, so what Fuckface had to say has no relevance.
Now, if you are a Social Justice Type, that is pretty basic shit. But if you are a Social Justice Type, you also know that an absolutely breathtaking number of humans are not even in the same room as that shit. And the thing is – sports is shaky territory, if you’re a lady, and especially if you’re a social justice-minded lady. To hear people who are on the one hand fans like me, but are on the other hand people I listen to and trust for my Sports Opinions, not just saying that stuff but saying it like it’s basic fucking common sense and anyone who doesn’t get it is the idiot in the room – it’s more than meaningful to me. It’s a giant banner waving in the air that screams “YOU ARE WELCOME HERE.” I was hooked.
Anyone who knows me (or who is able to scroll back a few years on this blog) knows that I had my Social Justice Warrior phase. I actually think it was pretty good. I think I had some good opinions and yelled some good yells and fought some important fights. I think I changed a few minds. But that part of my life is pretty definitively over. I still have those opinions – hell, I’m a fucking social worker, living those principles is my job now, for money – but my willingness to argue about them is dramatically diminished. Now, what I want is to be around people who have the same fundamental social justice principles as me and not talk about them. I want to have the emotional and psychological safety of knowing we agree about the things that matter without having to unpack them all the time. And that’s how I feel listening to SDP. I can enjoy a sports thing without worrying that the guys are going to make some casually, thoughtlessly -ist comment. Or if they do (I’m looking at you, Adam “I’m going to say how different men and women are! before going into a 10 minute story about buying my girlfriend a make-up bag” Wylde, what even was that comment, bro?), it’s something so benign that it barely registers. What does register are things like the guys’ strong, enthusiastic and ongoing support for women’s hockey. What registers is the care they take to talk about the Washington Redskins as “the team from Washington,” because their name is a fucking racial slur that no one should say. What registers is the way they make a point of always referring to generic example people as “sir or ma’am” and talking about “guys or girls.” As a social-justice-minded lady person, it’s those small details that tell me, as much as any long rant about rape culture, that these are guys who give a shit, who aren’t looking for social justice cookies but are just trying to be good people. Who might roll their eyes at internet social justice warriors, but are far closer to those SJWs in practice than they might admit.
They’re not perfect. I remain incredibly frustrated that they talk, over and over, about the racism faced by NHL players of color and P.K. Subban in particular without ever using the word “racism” (oh yes, the crazy lady screaming “RACISM” at her car radio on the highway is me), but have no problem labeling the attitude towards Russian players as xenophobia. But they get it right far, far more often than not. And when they’re wrong, either factually or analytically or just through being underinformed, they admit it. They’ll even have the people they were wrong about on the show as guests! (Jakin Smallwood I AM JUST SAYING.)
I don’t want to give the impression SDP is a social justice podcast with a side of sports. That could not be farther from the truth. This is intensely hockey-focused, in-depth coverage (it’s a minimum of 90 minutes, and sometimes goes over two hours). Like the writers at Puck Daddy who first got me excited about sports analysis, the SDP guys aren’t shy about their biases but still provide honest, informed analysis in incredible detail. They have an allergy to #hottakes that I’m pretty sure is physically measurable, and they pull no punches. I am a far more informed hockey fan, and more thoughtful sports fan in general, from listening to them.
They’re also funny as fuck.
SDP, Steve in all his ventures, and Puck Daddy are examples of where I really hope sports reporting is going: smart, thoughtful, socially conscious, aware of broader narrative contexts, honest about biases and clear-eyed in analysis. If this is what my generation is bringing to the table, I couldn’t be more excited.