Tuesday, December 13, 2022

A Clean Slate


    Hockey Canada has announced a slate of nine people, five women and four men, it's chosen from among hundreds of nominees to lead the organization out of the scandal in which it's been embroiled for months. The previous board stepped down, some reluctantly, in October, months after news they had paid to settle a sexual assault claim came to light.
     In May, TSN's Rick Westhead broke the story that Hockey Canada had settled with a young woman who claimed to have been assaulted by eight players, including members of the 2018 World Junior team. His work led to the revelation that the governing body actually had a fund available to cover other such claims. There were 21 settlements, totaling nearly eight million dollars, going back to 1989.
    In the wake of Westhead's story, sponsors abandoned Hockey Canada, government suspended its funding and member provincial organizations declined to send any further player fees to the national body. In the end, there was no choice but for the board to step down and new blood infused.
    Hockey Canada members will vote on Saturday on whether to accept the new executive board. If they choose to do so, the organization, presumably, will be granted a fresh start in public opinion.


    While Hockey Canada was trying to do damage control amidst its sex scandal this past summer, the Canadiens were trying to figure out what to do with their 2021 first-round draft pick. By now we all know what happened with Logan Mailloux. He was intimate with a young woman in Sweden when he was 17, and shared a photo of their interaction with teammates, without her knowledge. That's illegal and he was convicted of breaking the law and fined.
    Mailloux' actions were immature, careless, entitled and even cruel. The victim asked for an apology, which she claims was offered half-heartedly, at first. Following the news of his offense coming to light back home, Mailloux, in his NHL draft year, seemed to finally realized the seriousness of his actions and asked pro teams not to draft him because he wasn't ready.

     “The NHL Draft should be one of the most exciting landmark moments of a player’s career, and given the circumstances I don’t feel I have demonstrated strong enough maturity or character to earn that privilege in the 2021 Draft,” he said in a statement.
    The Canadiens' Marc Bergevin and Trevor Timmins, of course, went there anyway after many other teams ruled out drafting Mailloux. That kicked off an embarrassing round of backpedaling and "separating the person from the hockey" comments. 
    "The Canadiens are aware of the situation and by no means minimize the severity of Logan's actions," the team announced. "Logan understands the impact of his actions. His recent public statement is a genuine acknowledgment of his poor behavior and the first step on his personal journey.
    "We are making a commitment to accompany Logan on his journey by providing him with the tools to mature and the necessary support to guide him in his development. We are also committed to raising awareness among our players about the repercussions of their actions on the lives of others."
    Now, going on two years later, Mailloux still sits in professional limbo. He remains in junior with the London Knights, where he's putting up good numbers in a league where he physically dominates most other, younger players. He's missed significant development time with a serious shoulder injury and an OHL suspension for his actions in Sweden. The Canadiens invited him to development camp at the beginning of this year, where he was unable to play because of the shoulder, but they signed him to a three-year contract in October anyway. 

    Still, Gary Bettman and Bill Daly say Mailloux is not eligible to play in the NHL or its AHL professional development league until he gets their approval. Which will be...when? Just a month ago, the commissioner confirmed Mailloux hasn't received their blessing yet. In light of the Hockey Canada scandal, one must wonder why the NHL maintains such a double standard.


    Logan Mailloux isn't a sure-fire future NHLer. He's got skill and size, but he's missed a lot of development time between his suspension, injury and the pandemic. His crime in Sweden has deeply impacted his hockey life, and, one would hope, his personal maturity. 
    However, he's still a 19-year-old hopeful who's spent the last two years publicly living down one of the worst things he's likely ever done. He's been named and shamed, criticized and condemned, written off and written about. He has owned up to his wrongdoing and apologized. He's willingly undergone counselling and faced embarrassing media questions with candour. He's committed to finding a way to give back to victims of crimes like his (though we've yet to see what that will be). He will carry the stigma of his past stupidity forever.
    At the same time, the eight Hockey Canada players who allegedly assaulted that young woman in 2018...accused of forcing themselves on her sexually while she was drunk...remain anonymous. They didn't face a trial, either in the courts or in public opinion. Whoever they are, some or all of them may be playing in the NHL or AHL right now. Not one of them has been publicly sanctioned by Bettman and Daly, admitted their part in the alleged assault, apologized or vowed to do better.
    Hockey Canada, by settling with the victim in that case, with the knowledge of the NHL, effectively brushed a crime arguably more egregious than Mailloux's away in the hope nobody would find out. Those players got away with their actions unscathed, while Mailloux is still pilloried for his own.


    Science has proven that at age 17, the brain's prefrontal cortex has not fully developed and doesn’t complete its growth until approximately early to mid 20s. Its job is to perform reasoning, planning, judgment, and impulse control. Without the fully developed prefrontal cortex, a teen might make poor decisions and lack the ability to discern whether a situation is safe or appropriate. Teens tend to experiment with risky behavior and don’t fully recognize the consequences of their choices.
    Which all goes to say, teenage boys will make stupid mistakes, like showing off their sexual conquests to their buddies. That's why they need to be taught right from wrong by adults who can lead them to making sensitive (and legal) decisions. That's also why the Criminal Code of Canada doesn't name minors who break the law.

    Yet, even though Hockey Canada has been paying off assault victims for decades, it only announced this past summer it would make training about sexual misconduct for junior players...what it is and its consequences for all involved...mandatory. The organization has known about this toxic and criminal behaviour for a very long time, but only public scandal forced its hand on taking action.
    This is the culture in which young male hockey players grow up. Good players, especially in small towns where they tend to be idolized, especially by young female fans, are gifted a level of permissiveness nobody else their age receives. Their talent is more important than their behaviour in a world where skill gets you to the next level and the coaches and parents who dream of a kid going pro enable actions that would, in anyone else, be appropriately punished.
    Hazing, underage partying and misguided ideas about sex are rife in junior hockey, but in the past have been let go by adults whose vicarious hopes and real-life jobs depend on these young players. How is a 17-year-old raised in that environment supposed to understand the seriousness of "jokingly" sharing a sex pic with his teammates?
    None of this is meant to excuse Logan Mailloux's behaviour of course. But Hockey Canada and the NHL created the circumstances that enable decisions like his and in the past have been complicit in these situations by hiding them with no consequences for the perpetrators. Singling out the kid who made a terrible choice and has paid for it is hypocritical and disingenuous to an astonishing degree.
    So, if the new Hockey Canada board wants to make a real difference, outside of cynically doing what it must to restore its prestige, it needs to start with players like Mailloux. If he's truly remorseful and wants to help, he can be an example for others in a positive way. His story can be educational and maybe inspire his peers to understand why they can't use their privilege to harm others. And Hockey Canada needs to take responsibility for the actions of the players who represent it by ceasing the secret payouts to victims and making the perpetrators own their behaviour publicly.
    As for Bettman, Daly and the NHL, if they're going to ban players for doing wrong, it must be all of them...not just the kid who's ended up living his shame in public. And if they're as shocked and dismayed by Mailloux's behaviour as they claim to be, they need to step up and fund training, oversight and clear definitions of appropriate behaviour...with clear consequences...for the next generations of kids who will pay their salaries.