By freelance writer Jashvina Shah
Content warning: This story contains discussion of sexual assault.
I knew it right after I was sexually assaulted — that I would have to hide my worst trauma, the thing killing me, from my hockey family — because that community would never accept me as a victim of sexual assault. They just wouldn’t.
That was four years ago. Nothing has changed. In some ways, it’s gotten worse.
Hockey has always been like this. But somehow, it feels like hockey has gotten bolder in rubbing it in our faces. Like a slap in the face, like some smug, haha-look-at-me-I’m-getting-away-with-it smile. It’s worse when you think of how much more vocal society in general is when it comes to speaking out against sex crimes and protecting victims.
Late on July 22, as the first round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft was coming to a close, the Montreal Canadiens drafted Logan Mailloux, the same Logan Mailloux who was convicted in Sweden in 2020 of non-consensually taking photos of a consensual sex act and distributing them. The Canadiens released a statement that said Mailloux’s crime was a “mistake” and that they would help him grow as a person.
Before I go any further, please let me make this as clear as possible — what Mailloux did was not a mistake. It was a deliberate, malicious crime. Calling it a mistake is just a tactic. It’s how the Canadiens, in their press release, portray the crime as boys-will-be-boys mischief that might hurt the perpetrator’s reputation instead of what it really was: a serious offense that hurt a victim. Rhetoric like that is how people like Brock Turner can go free despite clear evidence that he raped a woman. Perhaps the Canadiens think it’s no big deal or maybe they just don’t care, but either way they are keeping rape culture alive.
I don’t believe that players who commit sex crimes should get chances to play in the NHL. Playing at a high level of hockey isn’t a right; it’s a privilege. The NHL affords players tremendous power. It gives players a shield when powerful, popular organizations signal they are okay with that person playing for them. Hockey gives that perpetrator a fanbase. Hockey prioritizes the redemption of the perpetrator before the wellness of the victim.
Sweden fined Mailloux, but that punishment doesn’t excuse professional hockey from having standards of its own. Sports are not courts. Mailloux gave a public apology and attempted to recuse himself from the draft, but that was just a PR move. The Athletic reported that Mailloux did not apologize to the victim in the manner she asked, and multiple sources told the publication that Mailloux “portrayed the woman as vindictive.”
The Canadiens obviously had thought this through. They knew this was a bad move because they had enough awareness to draft a statement explaining and defending their actions ahead of time.
Also, what proof is there that Montreal, whose general manager Marc Bergevin worked for the Blackhawks in 2010 — the same year a lawsuit alleges Brad Aldrich committed sexual abuse and the organization covered it up — is equipped at all to make someone into a better person?
(And this is the same franchise that traded PK Subban because of supposed character issues.)
Speaking of Chicago, just one pick after Montreal, the Blackhawks made a pick of their own. General manager Stan Bowman stood at the podium surrounded by a group of newly hired women, including a couple women of color. “Over the last two years,” Bowman said, “we’ve been determined to add perspective and knowledge that has made us a better staff and organization.”
Chicago making a draft pick in this fashion while in the middle of an investigation and a lawsuit alleging sexual abuse and a cover-up of that sexual abuse is unfathomable. More horrible details get revealed regularly. There are no words to convey how horrible the allegations are. But that the Blackhawks can still operate like everything is normal, with their Twitter emojis and bad questions on social media, is just jarring. I understand not being able to address the allegations directly, but acting flippantly in this moment is abhorrent.
The Blackhawks have not committed to being transparent about the investigation. We don’t know if the investigation’s findings will ever be revealed. After everything that has happened, how can anyone in the organization be okay with that? How is Bowman still employed? Then they use women to literally shield the organization.
When they smile, it’s because they know there will be no consequences.
And they’re probably right. How do I know? Because I spent an ungodly amount of time researching sexual assault and sexual abuse for our book, Game Misconduct: Hockey’s Toxic Culture and How To Fix It, and hockey is still operating now the way it did twenty years ago. (One big reason for that is the media, who are more than willing to tweet out potential draft picks and trades but have been conspicuously quiet on both Mailloux and the Blackhawks. They broadly are not fulfilling their duty to be a watchdog.)
There was public outcry after Mailloux was drafted. But the next morning, the Canadiens trotted him out for media availability, already beginning to launder his image. The mainstream media just parroted back the quotes that Mailloux, who did not offer the victim the apology she requests, said about how sorry he is.
Yes, the NHL should suspend Chicago’s operations, at the very least. Yes, the NHL should have prevented teams from drafting Mailloux. But that wouldn’t have fixed the deeper problem: hockey views all of this as okay. Organized hockey is too often a safe haven for predators. This isn’t new. Convicted sex criminals have been signed before, as recently as 2018. But now feels worse than before. Now feels like gloating in the faces of the survivors.
It’s hard to see as a human. It’s harder to see as a survivor. I can’t imagine what this must be like for Mailloux’s victim or for Aldrich’s victims.
Jashvina Shah is a freelance hockey reporter who has covered men’s and women’s professional and collegiate hockey. She co-authored Game Misconduct: Hockey’s Toxic Culture and How To Fix It, which is available for preorder and will be released in October 2021.
Headline images: NHL/Montreal/Sportsnet, Michigan DOC
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