Over the weekend, the National Women’s Hockey League, which includes the Boston Pride, began its bubble tournament in Lake Placid, New York, which will lead up to the Isobel Cup championship on Feb. 5.
The games, however, have found themselves overshadowed by something else: a controversy involving Barstool Sports.
Barstool CEO Erika Nardini has heavily promoted the NWHL, has expressed interest in buying a team, and has had several players on her podcast, Token CEO.
Like other leagues and teams that have had relationships with Barstool over the years, the NWHL has come under criticism from some fans and writers for associating with a company that has a history of controversy, including racist and misogynistic comments and online harassment of the site’s critics by its fans.
The criticism led Nardini to post a Twitter video on Monday night in which she addressed her “haters,” including screenshots of some of the tweets from critics. She says, “I don’t know why my effort is a bad thing,” and claims that “if you seek to kill, or silence, or essentially shun anyone who’s new, it’s never going to work.”
As Nardini put on blast reporters, fans and even NWHL staff who have been devoted to women’s hockey for years, some current and former players came to their defense and denounced Nardini and Barstool.
On Tuesday afternoon, NWHL commissioner Tyler Tumminia released the following statement addressing the video:
On behalf of the NWHL, I would like to respond to the video posted last night by a media platform about the NWHL, investment, fan engagement and coverage. As Commissioner, my top priority is to protect, promote and reinforce the values of the NWHL and its players. First and foremost, we must remain inclusive and empowering for women. The success of our movement hinges on respect, opportunity, and a strong sense of connectedness across our players, teams, staff, fans, partners and avid supporters. Let’s keep the focus on our athletes and build on the momentum created in the first few exciting days here in Lake Placid.
There is no circumstance where it would be acceptable to call out many of the reporters, staff members and fans who have given so much to women’s hockey, especially knowing that these people could be targeted or harassed on social media.
In this world of social media, I’m concerned about the impact of the video and the aftermath of it on members of the NWHL family. Together, we will do everything we can to work through it with open communication and transparency.
A short time later, Nardini posted another video in which she says she won't apologize, but will continue to watch the NWHL. She also says she doesn't think the league will allow her to buy a team.