Commentary

Hockey Hall of Fame's exclusion of women is just plain sad

Updated: November 6, 2008, 1:43 AM ET
By Damien Cox | Special to ESPN.com

It helps to imagine the Hockey Hall of Fame to be a little like North Korea.

[+] EnlargeCammi Granato
Michael Martin/Getty ImagesLast month, Cammi Granato became the first female player to be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
Dark. Secretive. Isolated. Resolute.

Oh, and a little backward.

How else to understand the unwillingness of this institution not only to admit females as honored members but even to consider nominating them?

Another year has passed, and another class of members will go into the Hall this weekend. The group includes players Glenn Anderson and Igor Larionov, longtime linesman Ray Scapinello and junior hockey executive Ed Chynoweth.

But once again, the group includes no women, and apparently the Hall has no intention to address that insult to anyone who understands the history and culture of the sport.

It's embarrassing, really. But the more obvious it becomes that the Toronto-based Hockey Hall of Fame has missed the boat badly on this one, the more resolute it appears to be about keeping women out.

"There is no defined timetable for it," Hall president Jeff Denomme said last year. He added that the Hall needed to "address having more expertise on women's hockey on the selection committee."

What has been done since then to fix this problem? Nothing. The selection committee remains the same 17 members it was last year, and only those 17 can nominate a person to become an honored member.

It's a nice, tight, secret little group. The committee always keeps the names of nominees secret and never releases to the public any information about the number of votes accumulated. In 1993, after former league executive Gil Stein engineered his own induction, the Hall reviewed the organization's induction procedures and put new rules in place to avoid further problems.

Fifteen years later, however, it remains the perfect old boys' club, a group dedicated to making sure that friends and cronies get the nod when their turn comes and one that includes members who have vowed never to allow a woman to be voted in as an honored member.

How charming.

The misogynist nature of the self-proclaimed "hockey's greatest museum" came into sharp focus last year, when both the International Ice Hockey Federation's Hall of Fame and the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame inducted female members for the first time. Longtime American star Cammi Granato was a member of both groups, while Canadians Geraldine Heaney and Angela James were included in the IIHF Hall.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has inducted women since Ann Meyers was honored in 1993. Cooperstown admitted its first female honoree in 2006, when Effa Manley, the co-owner of the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues, was inducted.

But the Hockey Hall of Fame, long mocked by other sports as the most lenient when it comes to credentials, remains the last holdout.

So what's the problem?

Selection committee members aren't allowed to talk openly about the voting procedures or reveal the discussions that produce a new crop of inductees every June. But several say they are embarrassed at the way in which some members have gone out of their way to exclude women.

One excuse: Some members try to express concern about whether women should be inducted as players or builders, then suggest that comparing, say, Granato to Wayne Gretzky is unreasonable.

Neither the IIHF nor the U.S. Hall has had a problem with that. Granato went into the U.S. Hall as a player with Brett Hull, Brian Leetch and Mike Richter. The IIHF inducted Granato, James and Heaney alongside Mario Lemieux, Larionov and longtime French team member Philippe Bozon.

[+] EnlargeHayley Wickenheiser
Brian Bahr/Getty ImagesMany have called Canada's Hayley Wickenheiser the Wayne Gretzky of women's hockey.

The basketball Hall also doesn't seem to have a problem with that, having installed Meyers and a long list of former female players alongside the Wilt Chamberlains and Bill Russells of the sport.

The other oft-heard excuse is that no women have been nominated, which should take the choice out of the hands of the selection committee. But this neatly ignores the reality that only selection committee members can nominate an induction candidate.

Denomme suggested last year that there wasn't yet enough history in women's hockey to merit honoring women. But that's another "barrier" that didn't slow down the IIHF or U.S. hockey authorities.

Well, let's examine that issue. The Canadian Hockey Association says the first recorded women's game took place in Barrie, Ontario, in 1892. By the 1920s and 1930s, leagues and tournaments had been established across Canada. By the 1980s, women played team hockey at Canadian universities, and by 1993, the NCAA had established women's hockey as a sport.

In 1990, the first women's world championship was held, and in 1998, it became an Olympic sport. One woman, goaltender Manon Rheaume, has appeared in an NHL exhibition game, and Canadian star forward Hayley Wickenheiser has played in European men's professional leagues in recent years.

Spurred by athletes such as Granato and Wickenheiser, registration in female hockey has skyrocketed during the past 20 years. In Toronto, home to the Hockey Hall of Fame, there are more than 10,000 registered female players, both children and adults.

Is all that enough history for you?

The Hall keeps women out because it wants to, not because there is any compelling reason not to honor the many women who have done so much to develop this great sport, particularly in the past quarter-century. Eventually, it will be embarrassed into opening its doors. That it will be the last in line, rather than the first, is a lousy legacy.

This institution has convicted felons in its hallowed halls, and it didn't properly recognize the rich history of international hockey until 1989, when famed Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak was inducted. That came after, oh, more than four decades of global dominance by the Soviet Union.

It appears that these folks at the Hockey Hall of Fame will have to be dragged again, kicking and screaming, into modern times.

This week, as the world is entranced after an enormous and historic barrier fell with the election of an African-African as U.S. president, those defiantly dedicated to keeping doors closed to others on the basis of race or gender simply look sad.

Damien Cox, a columnist for The Toronto Star, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of "Brodeur: Beyond The Crease" and "'67: The Maple Leafs, Their Sensational Victory, and the End of an Empire."

Damien Cox, a columnist for the Toronto Star, is a regular hockey contributor to ESPN.com. In this role, he writes numerous columns on the NHL.