NHL culture protects abusers, blames victims

Early in January, Montreal Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk was involved in an alleged instance of domestic violence. Galchenyuk isn’t the first athlete or NHL player to recently be involved in some sort of gender-based violence, but his case is notable because his girlfriend is the alleged perpetrator and Galchenyuk is the victim. Before I dive into the horrific way that hockey media has handled this event, I’d like to bring up a few other instances of gender-based violence within the NHL.

Evander Kane of the Buffalo Sabres was ac­cused of assaulting a woman in a Buffalo area hotel. Sports Illustrated chose to report on the case. “Another black eye for the NHL. But if we learned anything this past summer from Patrick Kane and his months-long journey down the le­gal rabbit hole, it’s that none of us are in position to make assumptions of guilt or innocence from the comfort of our armchairs. So, let’s all take a deep breath, put our biases aside and recognize that facts, at this point, remain scarce.”

As referenced above, Patrick Kane of the Chi­cago Blackhawks was more infamously accused of assaulting a woman this summer in Buffalo as well. Immediately, mainstream media outlets suggested that the accuser and victim was actu­ally a predatory woman that had been all over Kane on the night in question. The initial narra­tive posited that Kane was not at fault. Fans and reporters shouted “innocent until proven guilty” every chance they got. In the meantime, female reporters condemning Kane were harassed and threatened with rape and death. Kane’s victim’s identity was found and revealed, launching a ha­rassment campaign against her. Kane has been lauded for his ability to perform despite these “distractions.” He’s the “feel-good” story of the year.

When Semyon Varlamov, of the Colorado Avalanche allegedly physically assaulted his girl­friend, media members openly suggested that the woman was lying. Female victims of male NHL players’ abuse and violence are criticized for “ruining” the lives of these men because of greed–which also makes no sense because these women were seeking safety and perhaps some measure of justice and instead were beyond thrown under the bus.

So, we know how hockey media and culture likes to treat domestic violence. How then do they treat one of their own male players after his female partner is arrested for domestic violence after she instigated a physical altercation? Spoil­er alert: it really sucks…again.

Immediately, we see that the impassioned defenders of accused rights only applies when a male NHL player is the accused. I don’t know what happened that night and I won’t delve into responsibility nor discuss the incident itself. What I do want to point out, is the problem­atic and downright hypocritical nature of how hockey media and culture treats gender-based violence. While the narrative in Patrick Kane’s case was a predatory, “loose,” gold-digger that was just trying to ruin a good man because she’s greedy, Galchenyuk’s girlfriend, who is the ac­cused just as Kane was, Chanel Leszczynski is a jealous, violent, crazy party girl that attacked her boyfriend, a Habs player.

It gets even worse. Many news sites simply posted a bunch of happy pictures of Galchenyuk and Leszcynski from her Instagram trying to show a stable, loving couple or just used as many bikini pictures as they could find of her–and it was a LOT. From there, it was suggested that another Habs player was present: Devante Smith-Pelly. Despite clear evidence that there were many other people there and that the al­tercation escalated enough that multiple people called emergency services, many media outlets made fun of Galchenyuk and suggested that he was cheating on his girlfriend with Smith-Pelly and that that was the cause of the fight.

What followed were jokes and jabs at Gal­chenyuk’s masculinity. He was mocked as weak and the blame for the abuse was put on his shoul­ders: apparently he was somehow too weak and feminine and that made him responsible. In fact he apologized to his teammates, coaches, the me­dia and the city of Montreal for the “distraction” he caused his already struggling team. His head coach, Michel Therrien, faulted Galchenyuk and then suggested Galchenyuk’s youth, immaturity and partying ways were the root cause of this “distraction” on ice. Never mind that this same head coach has now also tried to shift blame from his awful coaching to star goalie Carey Price’s injury and then apparently now it’s the “selfish” play of his team captain, star defend­er and leading scorer because that player made one mistake one game. To address the fact that Galchenyuk was a victim of abuse by his partner, Therrien said “it’s a mistake, he’ll learn.”

So basically, in the NHL, as long as you score a bunch of goals or play well on ice and man­age the distractions, you can be accused of rape, assault or abuse and everyone will immediately back you up. Perpetrators are cool and okay, we praise them and reward them in the NHL. But victims are forced to apologize and account for the crimes committed against them.

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