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Flyers' handling of Ice Girls situation leaves more questions than answers

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The Flyers got rid of their Ice Girls. Fans booed, and now they're bringing them back. But this whole saga has raised a lot of questions and not many answers.

Rich Schultz

The Flyers got rid of their Ice Girls this summer, and we don't know exactly why.

It could be based on the Mother Jones story that published in June. Titled "The Freezing, Hungry Lives of NHL 'Ice Girls'", the story went into detail about how Ice Girls around the league are treated, with a special focus on the Flyers. Here's a piece of that story:

Some teams, including the Flyers, have co-ed ice crews, but the men aren't wearing booty-shorts and crop tops. And while most games are held indoors, teams and their cheer squads sometimes participate in outdoor games and events. In early 2012, the Flyers took part in a three-day outdoor festival and game called the Winter Classic. "It was 20 degrees and we were in shorts, with two pairs of stockings," a former ice girl told me. Depending on the day, they spent six to nine hours outdoors: "It really felt like we were in some kind of torture camp." Said another: "I've never been so cold in my life."

Some will tell you that their experience as a Flyers Ice Girl was a wonderful one. Many onlookers have said that the girls signed up for this, and that if they have complaints about the job, they don't have to do the job.

But whether it was the public shaming of the Ice Girls' working conditions, or concerns from other fan bases that scantily-clad Ice Girls are the perfect example of the objectification of women in sports, or some other reason, it was enough to make the Flyers get rid of them this season.

That didn't last long. After just two preseason games, the team announced that after "evaluating the program," they'll be holding tryouts and bringing back the Ice Girls for the first game of the season.

But the damage is already done. By getting rid of the Ice Girls in the first place, the Flyers already have made a tacit admission that there was a problem with their existence. After all, why would they have made changes if there were no issues?

They've treated men and women differently

The Ice Crew was never solely comprised of females. The Ice Girls have always been joined by Ice Guys, and the double standard between the genders has always been pretty obvious.

The clothes and the argument about objectification has always been the blatant, visible-to-the-eye example, and it shouldn't be dismissed. Forget the fact that an ice rink is about the last place any guy should want to get turned on, it's hard to argue that the Ice Girls uniforms add anything of value to the fan experience. I mean, they have tits on the Internet these days, guys. You don't need to squint at half-naked women on the ice at a hockey game too.

The only thing those scant uniforms actually provide is a negative. They offend women. That's not to say every female Flyers fan feels uncomfortable or offended when the Ice Girls skate across the ice, or even that a majority of them feel that way, but some definitely did and do.

Here's a sample of reaction from hockey fans -- both male and female -- on Facebook and Twitter after the Flyers made the announcement that they were bringing the Ice Girls back. These are not uncommon opinions.

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FB ICE GIRL COMMENTS

Women have it hard enough in our society. They shouldn't have to feel offended or uncomfortable or alienated or as they are less valuable as fans of the team simply because their male counterparts want to look at half-naked girls during commercial breaks at the Flyers game.

This is about more than just clothes, though

There's also stuff like this: the girls couldn't be seen eating while in uniform, and even more crazy, the girls were expected to leave any situation in which they might run into a player in public. On the clock or not.

"There was always someone who was on alert, making sure the coast was clear," recalled a former Kings ice girl. If a player walked into the restaurant, "we had to put it in a to-go container." In a bar situation, she added, "We had to pay our tab and get the hell out of there." The policy was especially inconvenient for women who lived in the same neighborhood as some of her team's players. "Even if I wasn't in uniform and I wasn't clocked in," another woman told me, "I'd still have to get out of that bar or restaurant or shopping center because I recognized a player across from me."

Basically, they can't be trusted to act professionally around coworkers, which is a load of crap. (Whether we're talking about the women or the players themselves acting professionally is irrelevant, by the way.) They'd never make a male employee leave a bar or restaurant if they ran into a player. They'd never make a male member of the Ice Crew stand outside in 20 degree temperatures with no clothes on.

It's pretty ridiculous that any organization would treat female employees and male employees who do the same job with different standards, but that's pretty clearly what the Flyers and many other NHL teams were (and still are) doing.

'Fixing' it just made things worse

That double standard between the men and women on the Ice Crew carried over to start the 2014 preseason, when, in response to the issues facing the Ice Girls, they decided to put only men on the ice.

Their solution to fixing all of these problems -- whether we're talking about the Ice Girls' uniforms, their working conditions or both -- was to simply get rid of the women.

ice bros

The crowd didn't like it, and they booed the Ice Bros every time they took the ice. Here's how the team reacted to that:

"When Flyers fans voice their concerns, we listen, because they are undeniably the most passionate and knowledgeable fans in all of sports. After two preseason games evaluating the program, we've decided to welcome the return of the Flyers Ice Team, beginning on opening night. We'll look to assemble a team that is fan friendly, and represents the Flyers well both on the ice and in the community."

We'll go out on a really shaky limb here and guess that the booing or the subsequent "evaluation" had nothing to do with the double standard set between the men and women over the last several seasons, or the working conditions that the women had to deal with. Nor did it have anything to do with the fact that the women lost the opportunity for a job this fall while the men didn't.

These were just boorish male hockey fans angry that their eye candy was taken away, and a hockey club that listened because that group was loud during a pair of preseason games.

In one sense, it's a good thing that the Ice Girls are coming back, because it's obviously pretty damn unfair that just the women were not given the opportunity to return this fall while the men were. But there's also no reason to think that the problems which led to the Flyers getting rid of the Ice Girls in the first place will be fixed.

If brought back, will the Ice Girls be able to stay at a bar if a player walks in? Will they be able to put on pants and sleeves when working outside in the middle of winter? Will they be able to eat a damn thing of crab fries without hiding in a corner?

We tried to ask the Flyers organization about all of this. We called Shawn Tilger, the Flyers chief operating officer in charge of business operations. Our called was returned by Ike Richman, a spokesperson for Comcast-Spectacor, who tersely and combatively referred us to the statement and video you see above. He claimed that "You're the only one's asking any questions" and he repeated the "The fans spoke and we listened" line.

But we're not the only ones asking questions. As evidenced by that sample we shared above, or any peek right this second at the Flyers official Facebook page, there are plenty of fans that have questions. We wanted to ask about the working conditions issues raised in the Mother Jones story from June. We wanted why the women were not brought back in any form to start preseason, while the men were. We were not given the opportunity to ask anything.

There's an easy solution here

It would be incredibly simple to fix this.

Bring back the Ice Girls, and put them in the same outfit as the Ice Guys. Model whatever new hoodie or tshirt you're trying to sell each night and let them do their jobs -- clearing the ice during games, appearing at public functions, greeting fans at the door when they show up at the arena, etc.

And then, once the women return, treat them like people who are equal to the men who do the exact same job.

This won't appease one loud segment of the crowd, who will boo until they see cleavage and bare legs on the ice again. But it's the right thing to do in just about every possible way. Do the right thing, Flyers.