The Men of Quality video opened to Brendan Shanahan's voice over a montage of hockey players taking the ice. "What defines quality?" Shanahan asked. "On the ice, is it a man's skill, strength, speed, or size? Is it measured in a man's dedication or discipline? Guts, or sweat? Or is quality more than that? Is it leadership, respect, generosity of spirit?"
Then, Shanahan answered. "Quality is the sum of character and integrity. Men of quality are what we look for on the Toronto Maple Leafs. Quality is not simply how you show up on the ice, but how you live off the ice."
The Maple Leafs have joined White Ribbon in a long-term partnership with three goals. According to White Ribbon executive director Todd Minerson, the first of these goals is to raise awareness of issues relating to violence against women and the positive roles men can play in preventing it. The Leafs' Men of Quality video is one of the steps that the organization is taking toward making deeper changes.
Minerson said that the second goal of the partnership is, "An organizational commitment to training and development," and the third is not yet fully defined, but will involve the Leafs organization engaging with the greater Toronto community to promote the philosophy of White Ribbon.
White Ribbon is involved in many different kinds of projects, but one particular project involves supporting a toolkit of information and resources that help educators bring this message to schools, sports teams, and communities. I asked Minerson whether this toolkit has been used in the Maple Leafs organization to teach prospects or the team about gendered violence. It has.
"In January we did a training for the Maple Leafs players, customized from our existing tools, and 25 years experience in violence prevention work." Minerson said. "The training looked at connecting the dots between language, sexism, social norms, gender inequality and violence against women and girls; positive roles men can play, [like] bystander intervention, speaking up and speaking out; practical information for understanding consent; and investing in the character and leadership of professional athletes."
White Ribbon has existed for 25 years with the intent to prevent gender-based violence. It is headquartered in Toronto, but has a presence in 65 different countries around the world. White Ribbon's focus is to educate the community, especially men and boys, to (according to the White Ribbon pledge) "Never commit, condone, or remain silent about violence against women."
This partnership comes after several years in which the relationship between professional sports and embedded issues of toxic masculinity were questioned by the blogging community. When a Leafs player used sexist language to refer to negative work ethic, HEOTP writer Robyn Flynn pointed out that this learned stereotypical behavior was dangerous to both men and women.
Men are allowed to be vulnerable. Men are allowed to cry. Men are allowed to be fallible. These aren't female traits; they're HUMAN traits. Too much pressure is put on men to behave a certain way, and it contributes to a society in which a fraction of the male population feel it necessary to prove their power and dominance in destructive and potentially harmful ways.
In an effort to bring about positive change in the league, writer Melissa Geschwind took a Change.org petition to the league. It asked the NHL to take a strong stance against domestic violence and sexual assault.
The Men of Quality video that the Leafs developed alongside White Ribbon enabled Shanahan to give voice to these concerns. "Too many women still suffer from acts of violence, sexism, and inequality today,” Shanahan said.
Leafs players added their voices to a litany of affirmation, emphasizing a better philosophy of behavior.
"Men of quality stand up for gender equality," Martin said.
"Men of quality speak up and speak out," Gardiner said.
"Men of quality challenge homophobia and sexism," Rielly said.
"Men of quality empower women," Bozak said.
I asked Minerson how the players were selected to take part in the video. "Matt Martin, Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner, Tyler Bozak, and of course Brendan Shanahan all volunteered to be part of the video," Minerson said.
Although the video is the first step, more community involvement will follow.
"[O]nce the season is over," Minerson said, "We will have more time to envision and develop what the community engagement strategy looks like, but it will be guided by the first objective...These kinds of activities could include joining our efforts in schools, partnerships with women's organizations, or efforts with minor hockey."
This video is a good initial step for the Maple Leafs organization to bring education to their players, and to the greater community. We hope there is more to come.