Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette have been hockey’s most talked about teenagers over the last few weeks. Each suffered significant injuries in hockey games sparking a national conversation about checking from behind and general player safety. However, a new, perhaps unexpected debate has sprung up regarding these two. Gender equity.
In searching for the latest news on Jenna Privette, who admittedly has been under-covered in the media, I stumbled across this piece by Nicole M. LaVoi, the associate director of the Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport at the University of Minnesota (I encourage you to read LaVoi’s brief piece, as only a short portion will be excerpted here).
LaVoi notes the differences in men’s and women’s athletics overall, but also took time to muse on the disparity in the way these two teenagers, both still lying in hospital beds at Hennepin County Medical Center, have been covered in the news media.
The local print and broadcast media, and some national media, covered the Jablonski story extensively. Jablonski received calls, tweets and hospital visits from celebrities and hockey coaches and players. Fundraisers were organized, and Hockey Day Minnesota 2012 will be dedicated to Jablonski’s family.
In contrast, I heard about Privette’s injury on Twitter from Mark Rosen. Her story was covered with much less frequency and detail, and public support appeared to be much weaker.
Competing explanations for these differences are abundant. But in general, when one version of sport is portrayed as more important, valued and known, it is not surprising when it is seen, covered and discussed more than the less valued form. Based on the coverage, it appeared that one athlete’s injury was more important and newsworthy, even though both athletes, immediately following their injuries, had no feeling or movement in the lower body.
This was a highly intriguing argument, with perhaps a few fair points.
The Jablonski injury became a national phenomenon. News spread quickly and widely in the days following his traumatic injury. However, I feel that attributing the lack of coverage of Privette to more importance being placed on boys’ athletics is where the argument goes awry.
There is certainly some element of the fact that boys’ hockey is a much more known entity in the state of Minnesota and nationwide, but that does not belittle what happened to Privette, nor should it. When examining the media coverage of these incidents, there are many factors consider.
First off, Jablonski was injured one full week prior, which, in the day and age of the 24-hour news cycle and the widespread use of social media, is an eternity. By the time news of Privette’s injury got out, Jablonski was already a national story and had already received a flood of attention from far and wide.
When Privette was injured, and the initial horror of her injury subsided, the story became more about the fact that two players suffered similar injuries in such a short span in the same area. It almost seemed surreal. From a media standpoint, the most compelling piece of news is that two players from the same area suffered significant injuries in an incredibly short span. Media will always go with what they feel is the most compelling angle and less about what is equitable. A harsh reality, to be sure.
In addition to the timing, the severity of the injury undoubtedly plays a role, a point that LaVoi doesn’t shy away from. Jablonski’s spinal cord was severed, thus making his prognosis more grave and likely more permanent. The lack of information about Privette’s official prognosis also made the news more difficult to report. Would she walk again? Possibly (and hopefully). Will Jack Jablonski? No.
It is unfortunate to get into the business of comparing injuries and saying one matters more than the other, because that certainly should not be, and is not the case. However, Jablonski’s could medically be considered more severe. Doesn’t make his more important, but the finite diagnosis leaves nothing open to interpretation.
It should also be pointed out that the level of support Jablonski has received in the wake of his injury is truly unprecedented in youth hockey. It is difficult to compare any incident to Jablonski’s, but if that’s what the debate is about, here are two similar situations.
In the last three years, two other boys’ hockey players have suffered notable spinal injuries.
Derek Zike was injured in a tournament game in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Jan. 16, 2009, and while he received a great deal of local media coverage and local hockey community support, news of his injury did not register as highly in the national media as Jablonski’s. There were Facebook pages put up in his honor, but none reached the level of traffic seen on any of Jack Jablonski’s numerous tribute pages.
Two years ago this coming Monday, Matt Brown, a 15-year-old Massachusetts high school hockey player was injured in a game and was left paralyzed from the chest down. Like Zike, Matt received support from the local hockey community and was covered by local media, but was not widely reported about on a national level. In fact, I had not heard about what happened to Brown myself until it was brought to my attention after my first post about Jack Jablonski.
All four of these kids have suffered significant injuries, but received varying levels of attention. The reason? In my opinion, it’s all been based on circumstance. Timing, location, size of social networks, all of that comes into play. Privette’s injury was covered in a very similar fashion to Zike and Brown, perhaps even more. The proximity of her injury to Jablonski’s may have led to more coverage in the end.
Unfortunately, these injuries have happened with a more recently alarming frequency. The overwhelming coverage and support for Jack Jablonski is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. This doesn’t diminish what has happened to Jenna Privette (or Derek Zike, or Matt Brown) but to say the reason she’s not getting as much coverage is because she’s a girl is, in my mind, false. The “competing explanations” LaVoi refers to are significant influences on the way this story was covered. I’d argue more significant than the gender of the subjects.
It is unfortunate that the support hasn’t been as widespread as for Jablonski, but it isn’t just because of Privette’s gender. Timing and severity are always going to be important factors when reporting. Doesn’t make it right, just makes it so.
Perhaps we should all permanently shift our focus back onto what really matters. Jack Jablonski and Jenna Privette are still lying in hospital beds, their lives altered in various and significant ways.
Having fully realized I’ve taken an active part in the various debates surrounding these injuries, I hope this is the last time I’ll have to engage. In my mind, neither injury is more important or more newsworthy than the other. These two kids deserve any and all support they get.
You can also check out this touching story about Jablonski’s hopes for the future and the first meeting between the two injured teenage hockey players.
Full disclosure: I am a man, so I would appreciate it if any female readers (or anyone really) would like to chime in with their own thoughts in the comments section.