Content warning: This story contains details of crimes that are sexual in nature.
It would have been remarkably easy for the Montreal Canadiens to not draft Logan Mailloux.
Not only would it have been remarkably easy to not draft him, but it should have been an obvious decision for every team in the league. All teams should have steered clear of the player convicted of a crime of a sexual nature, who renounced himself from the draft and requested he not be selected.
But when the Canadiens were on the clock with their first-round pick on Friday night, Marc Bergevin “proudly selected” Mailloux on behalf of the organization, completely disregarding Mailloux’s victim, all the victims who came before her, and all the victims who will come after her, in one fell swoop.
Drafting players like Mailloux is a problem that goes much deeper than just the Montreal Canadiens. Continuing to overlook the histories of players who commit these types of crimes doesn’t send the noble “second chance at redemption” message that teams and the league seems to think it does, but rather sends the message to everyone listening that even if you commit these crimes, the league does not think they are serious enough to deny you entry to the NHL.
Not only was this message sent loud and clear with Mailloux’s proud selection on Friday night, but it was reiterated again on Satuday morning when Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens’ assistant general manager, responded with a whopping 22 seconds of silence when asked by The Athletic’s Marc-Antoine Godin why the organization believes that Mailloux deserved to be drafted when he himself didn’t.
In those 22 seconds of silence lies decades of abuse, cover-ups and nonchalance from the NHL toward this type of behaviour, which, thanks in part to the selection of Mailloux, is likely to continue for years to come.
Being a professional athlete, regardless of the sport, is a privilege. Having a strong athletic ability, putting in hours upon hours of training and having the financial means to gain access to the best coaches, facilities, and schools does not entitle a person to play at the highest ranks.
Those lofty heights should be reserved for the most deserving and the most honourable, because playing in leagues like the NHL, NFL, NBA, and MLB puts athletes on a pedestal, makes them a role model for someone, somewhere, and gives them a lifelong platform. These platforms should be reserved for those who have proven their humanity enough to deserve them.
So many children around the world dream of growing up to one day play in the NHL and of being drafted by their favourite team when they turn 18. The NHL, the teams in it, and each individual player are fortunate enough to be considered the golden standard for hockey, and that comes with the added responsibility of acting as role models for the little eyes looking up to them. Through their actions, NHL players have the ability to teach these children that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect, and that if they treat everyone they encounter the way they treat everyone, then maybe one day their dream will be achieved.
This is precisely why just because someone is good at hockey, it should not negate any crimes they commit. If the NHL wants to continue to be considered the golden standard for hockey, then they need to ensure that their employees actually serve as the golden example of character and class that they claim to be.
In the handling of this case, one doesn’t have to look for long to find those who defend Mailloux’s actions, who support the Canadiens in drafting him, and who believe he deserves a second chance. While perusing the comment section on any tweet, article, or post discussing the pick, it becomes abundantly clear: these crimes, this treating of people as less than human, and the overwhelming number of people who defend and make excuses for the actions, are not restricted to just hockey. It is a societal epidemic that needs to be actively worked on.
Even the language used in the comments defending Mailloux are setting up a society in which these crimes against women are normalized. “He was only 17” — a few months ago when the crime was committed. “He made a mistake.” “He deserves a second chance.” “Should he really have his life ruined for this?” And they’re all incredibly dangerous.
While 17 may be young in the grand scheme of things, it’s definitely not too young to know that sharing private content of a person in a sexual situation without their consent is a crime. And crimes have consequences.
We expect the average 17-year-old to know what they want to do with their lives, to attend school, to have part-time jobs and to be active members of their community, but yet somehow there’s a popular notion that a 17-year-old (let alone one who committed the crime in the last two years, when the #MeToo movement emerged strong) is too naïve to know that distributing a sexual photo without consent is wrong?
We can’t normalize 17-year-olds committing such acts because they’re too young to know any better. That’s false, and sends the message that teenagers (and young hockey players watching the situation unfold) are free to do it since we won’t even slightly alter their hockey career path.
Using the term “mistake” to describe these types of situations also sets a dangerous precedent. A mistake is forgetting to study for your math test, not committing crime. Not blaming the victim for your situation for refusing to forget it happened. Committing this crime was not making a mistake, and a court in Sweden agreed.
While it may be true that the ultimate goal of the legal system is generally to reform those who are guilty and to give them a second chance, the belief that hockey players who commit crimes of this nature should be given a second chance to play hockey at the highest level and be given an international platform is, quite frankly, bizarre. Mailloux not being drafted wouldn’t have been refusing to give him a second chance, it would have been refusing to put him on a pedestal among the best in the world.
His second chance was being free to give his victim a meaningful apology and make amends in a manner satisfactory to her, to still live his life, play his sport, and to decide to be a better person going forward, not to have his name announced perhaps a few spots later than it would have been in one of the marquee events of a top sports league in the world.
However, of all the arguments that fly around when these situations occur, the one that is most baffling (and arguably the most popular) is that everyone does it. He just happened to get caught. After all, locker room talk, am I right? If that’s your defense, then congratulations! You now know where to start addressing the cycle of abuse in hockey.
All hockey players and fans know what hockey culture is like and what locker-room culture is like, so why aren’t we all fighting each and every day to change it? As hockey grows around the world and gets more popular, kids are lacing up the skates as young as two years old. Is this culture really the one you want the next generation of hockey players to grow up in? One where they degrade people and it gets them locker-room points with their teammates?
By refusing to address the crimes and simply shifting the blame to hockey culture, you’re using the equivalent of “boys will be boys” to defend the indefensible. It is this mentality that leads to the likes of Mailloux thinking he’ll face no repercussions for an obviously inappropriate action. When it goes on for so long and gets to the top level, it leads to the likes of Brad Aldrich and the gut-wrenching fiasco that the Chicago Blackhawks are currently in, or to the countless other stories of players doing things that deserve severe punishment that you only hear about in hushed whispers. This culture and attitude has been so prominent in hockey for so long that former players and coaches have been covering up these sorts of crimes for years.
Each time a new situation occurs in sport like this, where we hear more heartbreaking allegations, where more brave victims come forward to tell their stories in an attempt to add a bit of accountability to a completely broken system that refuses to acknowledge how broken it is, hockey fans find themselves asking, “How could we have let this happen? What can we do to prevent this going forward?”
The answer is simple: There must be zero tolerance for abuse of any kind in sport. By not actively removing the privilege of joining an NHL team from players guilty of these crimes, by drafting these players to give them a “second chance” in their first shot at making it, the NHL sends a clear message: in the quest to lay hands on the Stanley Cup, victims of abuse—predominantly women, but not exclusively so as the Chicago situation proves— are simply considered an acceptable form of collateral damage as the league carries on unbothered.