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In defence of ‘defencewoman’: Leah Hextall on changing terminology in hockey

Sportscaster Leah Hextall.
Sportscaster Leah Hextall. Leah Hextall/Twitter

Broadcaster Leah Hextall has been a familiar face – and voice – in the sports media game for years, but when she was in the broadcast booth for the Canadian Women’s Hockey League (CWHL) all-star game, she tried something unprecedented.

Hextall told the CJOB Sports Show Monday that while she was calling the game, she used the term ‘defencewoman’ – rather than the standard ‘defenceman’ used in both men’s and women’s hockey – for the first time.

“Ever since I started calling the game, it has been something on my radar,” said Hextall.

“Every time I go to speak about a defenceman and go to say the word ‘defenceman’, there’s something about me that stops, and I go, ‘am I saying the right word?’

“I didn’t really pay a lot of attention to it, until you’re calling the game and talking about the women’s game as frequently as we have been.”‘

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Sportscaster Leah Hextall calling the CWHL all-star game.
Sportscaster Leah Hextall calling the CWHL all-star game. Leah Hextall / Twitter

Hextall said she approached other hockey experts, including people in the NHL, about the term, and found that most of them agreed with her about the awkwardness of ‘defenceman’, or worse, ‘defender’, when describing elite female athletes.

“When I said ‘defender’, a lot of them said that doesn’t feel like hockey. It’s not a hockey term, and I agree with that.

“I think of soccer when I hear the word ‘defender’.”

Reaction on social media was measured.

“I think you should use the proper terminology or use generic terms,” said @JeffFishwick4 on Twitter. “So you could say defense woman , or “the defense”, or you could say defense person. I think any of those options would work.”

“… my simplistic view is we can call Jocelyne Larocque a hu”man” and a wo”man” so why can’t we call her a defence”man”? asked @J_iggy12.

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Because describing a player’s position only happens a few times during a game, Hextall said she didn’t have too many opportunities to use the ‘defencewoman’ term, but it’s something she hopes to use again in future.

“It just kind of came out. When you’re calling a game and doing play-by-play, you have to be really economical with your words, because everything is going by so fast, especially in hockey.

“No one reacted poorly to it. As as society, we’ve kind of tried to make it gender-neutral, and I thought, ‘if I say it, is that putting us backwards?’

It came out and it felt natural. Nobody seemed to think it was the wrong thing to say, so it may come out again at some point.”

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