This hasn't been a good summer for NHL fans, made all the worse by the league and media response.
Slava Voynov has voluntarily left the country in order to avoid deportation after going to jail for domestic violence. Mike Ribeiro settled a civil suit where a former employee accused him of sexual assault. There is currently a grand jury in session, deciding on whether or not to charge Patrick Kane for sexual assault.
Instead of being proactive in dealing with these cases of domestic violence and sexual assault, the league has sat back and done largely nothing. They seem to be hoping that these cases will resolve themselves. They seem to be hoping that we'll forget about these players and move on.
But this isn't a piece about the league's actions (you can read that here).
This is a piece about the journalists that are paid to cover the league.
Today, Damien Cox wrote a piece defending the Blackhawks decision to invite Kane to training camp. In it, Cox argues that it would be "patently unfair" for the team to keep Kane out of training camp without charges. He says that there is an "absence of evidence...regarding Kane's involvement with the woman in question."
Kane is currently under investigation by the Buffalo police for sexual assault. A grand jury has been scheduled to determine whether or not to charge Kane. In most other workplaces across Canada and the US, that would be enough to warrant a suspension with pay.
Contrast this with what Cox wrote eight years ago, when he argues that Jiri Tlusty "disgraced what was once a Canadian institution" for having his nude pictures leaked online. He writes that "a 22 per cent return on investment can buy you a lot of things, apparently, but just not a soul or a sense of professional pride."
Nude pictures are apparently a disgrace. Cox accuses the Leafs of putting profits over "professional pride" when they let Tlusty play. Meanwhile, keeping Kane out of training camp would be "patently unfair."
Earlier this week, when tweeting about whether Kane would be at training camp, Darren Dreger said that there is "no reason to think that Kane won't participate."
On the same day, Pierre LeBrun tweeted that Los Angeles Kings GM, Dean Lombardi, sounded "beaten down" on a conference call about Slava Voynov.1
This entire summer, hockey writers have been writing about this trio of players in irresponsible ways.
In March, Scott Burnside published this piece about Mike Ribeiro overcoming his past mistakes without once mentioning the rape lawsuit against him.
Earlier this month, Pierre LeBrun published this piece about the NHL's "off-ice issues." In another piece, LeBrun uses the term "off-ice issues" to euphemistically refer to serious crimes like domestic violence.
Instead of confronting the NHL's issues head on, he writes about the challenges of fame and social media for these players, as if celebrity is to blame for crimes against women. He presents claims like this one from Gary Bettman without challenging them:
What I've said is we have over 700 players, and overwhelmingly they conduct themselves in a magnificent, appropriate way that reflects well on each other, and on their teams, the league and the game.
If you haven't seen it already, here is a spreadsheet compiled by twitter user @NearIdleLark of sexual assault and domestic violence allegations against hockey players. The picture isn't nearly as rosy as Bettman would like to believe.
Instead of challenging the league to do better, journalists have been treating players, teams, and the league with kid gloves in their coverage, giving them the benefit of the doubt when, frankly, they haven't deserved it.
These journalists have a responsibility to be neutral and objective, as well as critical. Parroting the NHL's statements and presenting them as gospel is none of those things.
It's even more disappointing because these stories come from well respected writers with large followings who should be aware of the effect their words can have in shaping the opinions of their colleagues and hockey fans.
Compare this coverage to the way hockey writers have covered Phil Kessel's time in Toronto, or Evander Kane's time in Winnepeg. Phil Kessel is out of shape and the cause of all that ails the team. Evander Kane is unmotivated and cocky. The Leafs are soulless profit machines for playing Tlusty.
No one has any qualms questioning their "leadership" or their negative effect on a team's "culture."
But when it comes to the Los Angeles Kings or the Chicago Blackhawks or the Nashville Predators?
The stories are, instead, about overcoming obstacles, learning from "mistakes," ignoring "distractions." Front offices that have to deal with these "off-ice issues" are "beaten down." Dean Lombardi is the real victim here.
A mistake is flubbing a pass or forgetting your mother's birthday.
Raping your children's babysitter is not a mistake. Challenging teams and players about the culture that enables this kind of behaviour should not be called a "distraction." Brushing it under the rug and pretending it never happened should not be applauded.
If you're wondering why the league and individual teams have failed to act, hockey journalists are part of the reason. This kind of coverage from Cox, Dreger, LeBrun, Burnside, and others is irresponsible and unacceptable.
It's not just on them, either: it's a failure of the editorial process. This piece (written by an unpaid blogger), for example, has been read countless times by multiple people and gone through a number of edits. Those pieces never would have made it through the door on here. I don't know how we have tighter editorial standards than big news outlets like ESPN and Sportsnet but it shouldn't be the case.
What the writers and editors say when they publish pieces like this is that winning games is more important than women's lives and experiences.
How can we expect the league to do anything if no one is even pretending to hold them accountable?
1I don't want to turn this into an argument about whether these reporters were malicious or simply careless with their wording. It very well could be the latter (LeBrun has since deleted and apologized for his tweet, for example) but I think that these debates miss the point. Their tweets don't exist in a vacuum.