City Paper is not for tourists
Minutes before 7 p.m. on a recent Sunday, Rave Sashayed is busy setting up a large microphone and preparing for her weekly ritual of video chatting with her friends.
Scattered around her thoroughly decorated Logan Circle apartment are nods to a moment she never thought would happen. A copy of the June 8, 2018, front page of the Washington Post sports section hangs from a bookcase. The full-page image features Alex Ovechkin triumphantly hoisting the Stanley Cup trophy above his head. A variety of bobbleheads of Capitals players sit on Sashayed’s shelves, and a small garden gnome modeled after Nicklas Bäckström is intentionally tucked behind a screen, she says, because it scares her.
Sashayed and her friends are prepping to record the 62nd episode of You Can’t Do That, a podcast about hockey hosted by four self-described “know-it-all women who know a medium amount.”
One of the hosts, Kelly Harris, has to sit out from the episode, but Catie Gordon and Eva Wiehl, the other two hosts, log on, and Sashayed’s eyes light up. She waves to Wiehl’s cat through the webcam. They play a warm up game that involves a lot of clapping and yelling out NHL player names until producers Laura Reineke and Danielle Savoy urge them to begin recording.
Over the next 70 minutes, the conversation will veer in different directions. They discuss the firing of commentator Don Cherry, recap the first hockey game Gordon ever played, compare hockey players to internet-famous, geriatric dogs, and, of course, revisit the Caps’ successes and failures of the previous week.
By the end of the recording, the women are hoarse from laughing and wipe tears from their eyes. It’s a routine they repeat every week.
Gordon, Harris, Sashayed, and Wiehl are in their early 30s, and the four women refer to themselves as part of a coven—a group of witches—who have inserted themselves, an underrepresented demographic, into the sports media world.
When YCDT began, the women lived in different parts of the country. They met on Tumblr a few years ago, then shifted to Twitter. Their collective love story with the Caps began as a challenge. In February 2017, Gordon posted a tweet that read, “I want to like everything u guys like because fandom is more fun with friends but I’ll die before I watch a sports game.” In a number of since-deleted replies, her followers challenged the assertion. She and the other would-be hosts became convinced of the merits of hockey fandom, and dove headfirst into the world of sticks and pucks.
Reineke and Savoy took notice, suggested they turn their newfound obsession into something more concrete and listenable, and You Can’t Do That was born.
The friends took the podcast’s name from an iconic call made by NHL referee Mike Leggo during a 2013 game between the Caps and the Dallas Stars. Leggo skated to the middle of the ice, and in a matter-of-fact voice, stated that the player in question can’t do what he just did before skating away. The moment, a shining example of what happens when sports meet contemporary internet humor, is sampled in the intro.
Each episode begins with a segment called “This Week in Caps,” during which the hosts dissect what has taken place on the ice during the previous week. They criticize plays and analyze calls. It is the most straightforward sports aspect of the pod, but only skims the surface of YCDT.
To define You Can’t Do That simply as a sports podcast would be to minimize what makes it so essential. By not only inserting themselves into a community that is often hostile to women, but being fearlessly frank on the platform they have built, the team behind YCDT is challenging a hypermasculine, exclusionary attitude that continues to permeate sports culture, even as other environments attempt to tackle the issue.
Mainstream voices in the industry have a track record of not just overlooking woman-identified fans, but actively making it a dangerous place for them. In 2014, a blogger with Barstool Sports, a sports blog founded by Dave Portnoy that runs misogynistic content, posted a profanity-laced, demeaning article about Sam Ponder, who is now a host of ESPN’s Sunday NFL Countdown. Earlier this year, the website’s fans cyberbullied Boston Herald hockey reporter Marisa Ingemi when she publicly questioned the Boston Bruins’ promotional partnership with Barstool.
This attitude can also play out with professional hockey players. After Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson was suspended 27 games for a misdemeanor domestic violence charge, the NHL Player’s Association appealed, and the sentence was reduced to 18 games.
The women of YCDT don’t just acknowledge the flaws in the system, they flip the table on them. A weekly segment, “Dreamboat of the Week,” pokes fun at the male gaze, and the stale idea that women only watch sports to look at the athletes. They’re eschewing the typical connotation of the term “dreamboat,” Gordon explains. “Sometimes it’s just a player we all like, sometimes it’s a player that one person has a specific obsession with … It can really be anything that fits the loose definition.”
Examples of past “Dreamboats of the Week” include three-on-three hockey, and former Washington Post Capitals beat reporter Isabelle Khurshudyan, who won the 2018 Red Fisher Award given to the top beat reporter for the year, as voted by her peers. “[She’s] a huge dreamboat, but we weren’t going to be like, ‘Isabelle’s so hot, blah blah,’ because the dynamics and the social hierarchies at play are such that if you talk about a female reporter in that way, it’s harmful, it’s actively harmful to her career,” Sashayed says.
“You got to kind of give the history and why you like it and that kind of thing. It’s not just … this person is hot. The end,” Gordon explains. There is a lot more depth to it, and to the relationship between women and sports teams, in general.
The team is hardly reluctant to comment on the players’ looks, though.
Sashayed says this is another way the YCDT coven is trying to turn the tables on the narrative of desirability and objectivity as it relates to athletes, and the power dynamics at play in these situations.
“If guys want to give money to women’s sports because they’re horny about the players, as long as they’re also respectful about their horniness, I think that would be great,” she says. “Like, have a huge crush on Alex Morgan and go and paint her name on your face like you would do for fucking whoever [male athlete]! I think that’s a less harmful model of sexualizing athletes.”
Wiehl, who is the sole member of YCDT not based in D.C., adds, “We’re a bunch of queer women who both refuse to take the game too seriously and simultaneously also refuse to ignore or gloss over the league’s many, many, many issues with regards to inclusivity. The hockey narrative has been controlled for so long by old straight white men, and it’s awesome to see people outside of that category getting their grubby little hands on it and challenge these insular notions of what it means to be a hockey fan.”
In the initial Twitter thread that planted the seed for what would bloom into the podcast, Gordon wrote, “I’m in this for the intimacy not the sports.” She would end up giving hockey a chance, and now with YCDT, she has the best of both worlds—an intimacy between friends and women who love hockey.