The professional hockey scene in Winnipeg hit an all-time low Wednesday evening, as an Instagram group chat consisting of 10 prominent hockey figures ranging from Manitoba Major Junior Hockey League players to National Hockey League professionals was exposed to the public.
The 10-member conversation with players aged 22 to 26 years old included Brendan Leipsic (Washington Capitals), Jack Rodewald (Florida Panthers), Jackson Keane (University of North Dakota), Jeremey Leipsic (University of Manitoba), Warren Callis (University of Manitoba), Jordyn Boyd (University of Manitoba), Spencer Tremblay (Waywayseecappo Wolverines), Brandon Lauder (Portage Terriers), and Travis Brown (Moose Jaw Warriors).
Amongst a landslide of various other undertones, this colossally immature conversation included degrading remarks towards teammates and opponents, comments relating to the outward appearance of many young local women, sexual fantasies and judgements cast upon said targets (AKA ‘kills’), along with continual verbiage around the topic of weight gain, body composition/image and heavily opinionated general hatred.
Dating back to at least August of 2019, the conversation – seemingly led by Brendan Leipsic and Jordyn Boyd – included Leipsic taking shots at ex-teammates Jake Virtanen and his ‘crew’, Tanner Pearson’s pregnant wife, league heavyweight and current teammate Tom Wilson, linemates Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway, NHL superstar Connor McDavid and fellow Manitoban Jett Woo – all on the topic of their significant others.
The group chat screenshots were revealed off of Brandon Lauder’s Instagram profile and posted publicly on Twitter and Instagram Wednesday evening. The immediate reaction spread like wildfire, causing significant uproar within Winnipeg and the hockey community as a whole.
The Washington Capitals issued the following comment: “We are aware of the unacceptable and offensive comments made by Brendan Leipsic in a private conversation on social media. We will handle this matter internally.” While the Florida Panthers echoed that statement with a comment of their own: “These actions have no place in our organization or our great game. We will cooperate fully with the league and the NHLPA to ensure this matter is handled quickly and appropriately.”
The NHL released its own statement shortly after the screenshots went public:
“The National Hockey League strongly condemns the misogynistic and reprehensible remarks made by players Brendan Leipsic and Jack Rodewald in a private group chat that has surfaced on social media. There is no place in our League for such statements, attitudes and behavior, no matter the forum. We will address this inexcusable conduct with the clubs and players involved.”
Roughly two hours after publicity began, Brendan Leipsic deleted his Instagram account and locked down his Twitter profile, only after offering up a screenshot of some prepared text in the form of a ‘public statement’ on the matter. It read:
“Yesterday my friend’s Instagram account was hacked and an individual circulated images that are representative of private conversations I was a part of,” the statement read. “I fully recognize how inappropriate and offensive these comments are and sincerely apologize to everyone for my actions. I am committed to learning from this and becoming a better person by taking time to determine how to move forward in an accountable, meaningful way. I am truly sorry.”
Leipsic, 25, of Winnipeg, signed a one-year, $700K deal with the Washington Capitals this past summer, following four years in which he dressed for the Toronto Maples Leafs, Vegas Golden Knights, Vancouver Canucks and Los Angeles Kings. Leipsic put up three goals and 11 points in 61 games for Washington in 2019-20.
Rodewald, 26, also of Winnipeg, has split the 2019-20 season between the American Hockey League’s Belleville Senators and Springfield Thunderbirds, where he has five goals, 16 points and 25 penalty minutes in 49 games. He has suited up for 10 total NHL games with Ottawa over the past three seasons where he has failed to register a single point.
Hockey culture can be wonderfully amazing, while it can also be horrifically misogynistic. Many of these deviations along the ‘average’ plot-line hillock stem from the individuals involved, their upbringing, and close circle of friends/acquaintances. Despite all socioeconomic factors, engaging in any form of bullying, hazing, teasing or name-calling is a personal choice. Nowadays, with the help of technology, smartphones and social media, seemingly ‘private’ decisions can very easily come back to haunt individuals, as was the case with this Instagram group chat.
Currently, only severe instances of racism, sexism, masochism, and masculinity in hockey have tended to shine through, while less extortionate occurrences of this kind of behaviour often get ignored. When will the NHL and its lesser equivalents get it right? What is appropriate punishment?
Although the responsibility of teaching one to be ‘kind’ may fall more on the shoulders of parents/guardians, one would expect that 22 to 26-year-old individuals would have the wherewithal to know the negative connotations behind body-shaming (amongst various other despicable acts) and be proactive in addressing these problematic components at their respective roots.
The 2019-20 NHL season saw three head coaches lose their jobs for reasons other than failing to win hockey games. Mike Babcock (Toronto Maple Leafs), Jim Montgomery (Dallas Stars) and Bill Peters (Calgary Flames) each had their ticket called following various behaviour-related actions/decisions deemed detrimental to their respective team’s core values.
Hockey Night in Canada also fired longtime ‘Coach’s Corner’ co-host Don Cherry over comments deemed hurtful and unnecessary regarding Canada’s diverse population and the usage of poppies in downtown Toronto. Jess Allen of CTV’s The Social also spoke out passionately about her experience of hockey players being predominantly ‘white boys who are not very nice’.
Furthermore this season, NHL analyst Jeremy Roenick lost his job for comments made on one of Dave Portnoy’s Barstool Sports podcasts. That same ‘Spittin’ Chiclets’ podcast – featuring the likes of Paul Bissonette, Ryan Whitney, etc. – often brings about vulgar, misogynistic frat-boy culture, much along the lines of Barstool’s leading female sex and dating podcast, ‘Call Her Daddy’, where its co-hosts Alexandra Cooper and Sofia Franklyn openly justify hookup culture and toxic romance, in turn, pushing back the many, recent steps taken in the forward movement for women’s equality.
Last season Maple Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly found himself in hot water after being accused of using a homophobic slur in game (which was later deemed illegitimate as it was really the combination of a hockey term and a bad microphone position, leading to what sounded like a slur). Earlier in the 2018-19 season, seven members of the Ottawa Senators were caught on camera in a taxi cab bashing their teammates, coaches and other close members while under CCTV.
Despite the immediate reactions from the Washington Capitals, Florida Panthers and the National Hockey League, further discipline may not occur for any of the other participants in this leaked online group chat. Public shaming, however, will most certainly continue until this sort of behaviour comes to an end.
Early Thursday afternoon, University of Manitoba Athletic Director Gene Miller issued a statement to Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun indicating Jeremey Leipsic’s release from the Bisons hockey program.
“Respect and integrity are core values of our Bison Sports community and as a result of this situation, we have taken the action to release the current student-athlete from the program,” the statement read. “We condemn any such remarks and attitudes as they are offensive, reprehensible and have absolutely no place in sport or in our programs.”