By David Pollak
San Jose Mercury News.
The Sharks are not backing down from their plan to recruit “ice girls” to help clean the playing surface during each game despite a backlash from a segment of their fan base.
“Fans take pride in the Sharks not objectifying women. Please keep the Tank a family environment,” SharksFanTX wrote on Twitter.
Another ended her Twitter complaint with an “#icegirlsareadealbreaker” hashtag, vowing to cancel season tickets if the team sticks with its plan.
And with little publicity, a “Say NO to Sharks Ice Girls” page on Facebook, as well as a similar petition at change.org, attracted more than 325 supporters each.
In defending their offseason decision, the Sharks stress that they are assembling an “ice team,” which — like the present maintenance crew — will include men and women.
“We are not modeling our ice team in the same manner as other teams do in the NHL or other professional sports teams with cheerleaders,” Sharks chief operating officer John Tortora said. “We’re doing it in a way that works for us within our game experience and that is tasteful for San Jose.”
To be sure, not all Sharks fans are upset by the decision to follow the lead of 21 other NHL teams that have “ice girls.”
“I’m a guy, of course I like the idea,” said Michael Alameda, 25, of San Jose before last week’s prospects game at the SAP Center. “Every sport has cheerleaders, and it’s kind of like a cheerleader.”
The outfits vary — some are revealing, others more modest — but all seem to put a premium on fit figures and attractive faces.
Responsibilities range from removing the accumulated slush nine times each game to leading cheers to going out into the community as team representatives.
The uniforms shown on the Sharks’ website would be among the more modest.
But Tortora said no decision has been made on what the ice team will wear, and there probably will be more than one style as participants will take part in community events as well as arena duties.
The organization hasn’t decided how many people will be on the team or what the gender breakdown will be.
Tortora said more than 130 have applied for the jobs since news of the hiring broke last week, and the gender split is about 50-50.
“We’re getting a good reaction,” he said, adding that plans for the ice team were part of several recommendations he made for next season.
Tortora said he recommended the creation of the ice team as a way to blend current maintenance functions “with higher energy, increased fan engagement and more involvement within the community.”
“Overall, this should be a modest shift for us and different from the cheer teams of other franchises,” he added.
The New York Islanders were the first franchise to hire “ice girls” for the 2001-02 season with other teams quickly following suit.
The Sharks have considered adding this feature before, but opted against it. Northern California’s political climate might have been one reason, though at least one past owner had a problem with it, too.
Gender politics are very much a factor in the objections raised.
“Having women being exploited in general in any sport is wrong,” Maclain Utterback, a 25-year-old Sharks fan from Sacramento, wrote in an email exchange. “Trying to sexualize women and saying it’s to enhance the fan experience — who are you enhancing it for? Men 18-40, but what about women? Not enhancing their experience.”
And the author of the #icegirlsareadealbreaker hashtag noted that a Silicon Valley hockey team should show extra sensitivity because the tech industry seemed to be increasing its effort to get women into the sciences, math and engineering.
“It’s a bit ironic that the team is owned by a tech entrepreneur in an industry trying to change its ways, yet wants ice girls,” said Heidi Finan, 50, of Cupertino, referring to Sharks majority owner Hasso Plattner. “It feels a little culturally tone deaf.”
Fans have been upset with the Sharks this summer over everything from their embarrassing playoff elimination to talk of a rebuild and the firing of TV analyst Drew Remenda.
And those unhappy with the prospect of “ice girls” in San Jose aren’t conceding the lack of a double standard simply because the ice team will include men and women.
They point out that photos on the Sharks website show men fully covered while women have a bare midriff.
Beyond that, while the audition date for women has been set for Aug. 3, initially there was no date for the men’s tryouts; that changed Monday when July 25 was set as the date for men.
Tortora said the volume of complaints from fans is about at the level he expected. And Tortora suggested that concerned fans should take a wait-and-see approach.
“We’re hoping people hold off judgment until the team is selected and we see what their functions are,” he said.