Go ahead and applaud taking down a group of boorish hockey “bros” for their despicable behaviour. But you might want to hold off on a full-fledged victory lap.
Brendan Leipsic said some terrible things and is now a pariah in hockey circles, his NHL career in flames and an outcast in his hometown of Winnipeg, where the pitchforks and torches are out in full force.
Bobby Hull said — and did — some terrible things and is still widely celebrated in hockey circles, his NHL career treated with reverence while his name and number hang from the rafters at Bell MTS Place.
Anyone else see a problem here? The hypocrisy, not to mention the irony, is pretty thick.
Just hours after Hull was named to TSN’s all-time Winnipeg Jets team as part of an ongoing series on Friday morning, Leipsic was given his walking papers by the Washington Capitals, placed on unconditional waivers for the purpose of terminating his contract. The 25-year-old, with 187 NHL games under his belt, is unlikely to play a 188th.
Leipsic’s sins have been well-documented, as his participation in a vile, misogynistic and at times racist series of private group chats with other local hockey players became public this week. Justice was swift, severe and rather predictable. Leipsic, a fourth-line fringe player at best making US$700,000 per year, was easily expendable.
Do you think a superstar player caught up in the same type of scandal would have received the same punishment? Not a chance. There would be crisis management teams and tearful on-camera apologies and talk of counselling and treatment and righting a wrong and using this as a teachable, learning moment for young players everywhere.
Not so with Leipsic, who could be made an example out of without any great loss to his team, or the league. This is not to suggest he is in any way a victim here, or that he should get a pass for his inexcusable conduct. These are all very much self-inflicted consequences he’s going to have to live with.
But what about Hull, whose sins have also been well-documented? Most hockey fans don’t seem to give a lick. And that is especially true in Winnipeg, where True North Sports & Entertainment has seemingly turned a blind eye to his dark off-ice past while continuing to honour his on-ice accomplishments. That included rolling out the welcome mat for the now 81-year-old for their annual Hall of Fame game in February.
All of Hull’s transgressions came long before social media was around. But that doesn’t make them any less real. Yes, it’s a much different world a young Leipsic is living in than the one a young Hull was living in. I’ll let you be the judge on whether time should, indeed, heal all wounds.
There was the 1998 interview the Jets’ legendary scoring star did with a Russian newspaper in which he was quoted as saying, in the words of the Chicago Tribune, “that Nazis were not without merit, that the black population of the United States was growing too fast and that genetic breeding was a worthy idea.”
“Hitler, for example, had some good ideas. He just went a little bit too far,” Hull told the Moscow Times.
When pressed on if it would be fair to describe him as racist, Hull reportedly replied: “I don’t give a damn. I’m not running for any political office.”
Then came a damning 2002 documentary on ESPN, which profiled his long history of alleged spousal abuse, among other issues. His first wife, Joanne, described several incidents of Hull physically beating her during their relationship, including once with a steel-heeled shoe.
Their daughter, Michelle, who is now a lawyer who works with victims of domestic crimes, described ugly scenes growing up in the home.
“A lot of bad memories stem from how my dad acted when he was drinking. When he had been drinking, you’d just know that you didn’t want to be around here,” she said. Upon hearing what her father had told the Russian paper a few years earlier, she replied “that’s exactly like him.”
Hull was also arrested in 1986 when his third wife, Deborah, called police to report domestic trouble. Hull tried to throw a punch at a Chicago officer and was ultimately convicted of assault and given a fine and probation.
Hull, along with former World Hockey Association linemates Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson, were the first entrants into the Jets’ 2.0 Hall of Fame in 2016. Hull missed the induction ceremony, citing “personal reasons,” but stood at centre ice three months ago as Randy Carlyle and Thomas Steen were welcomed into the club.
He soaked up the standing ovation from the sold-out crowd at the downtown rink.
Sport is littered with examples of athletes who were given second (or more) chances, including the NHL.
Austin Watson returned after pleading no-contest to domestic assault. Patrick Kane was accused of rape, then cleared after an investigation. Ryan O’ Reilly was charged, then later acquitted, of drunk driving after crashing into a Tim Hortons restaurant. Evander Kane has been the subject of numerous accusations and lawsuits. Former Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec was convicted of drunk driving in Europe. Former Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien admitted to careless boating (reduced from impaired boating) and got a fine and community service.
Heck, Ray Lewis went on to win a Super Bowl after he was charged in a double murder, then cut a deal to plead guilty to obstruction of justice and testify against his co-accused. Lewis, now retired, is widely regarded as one of the greatest NFL linebackers in history.
Unlike all of the above, Leipsic is not accused of breaking any laws, but rather using terrible judgment, which included making disparaging remarks about some former and current teammates. Knowing the mindset of many pro sports outfits, you wonder if that was actually his biggest mistake in their eyes.
Any chance of redemption in the hockey world likely won’t happen in the NHL. Leipsic’s case is rightfully being used as an example of the toxic culture that still exists, and he will be seen as toxic for the foreseeable future. Easy come, easy go for a replacement-level player whose absence won’t be missed outside of his increasingly shrinking inner circle.
Meanwhile, the accolades and cheers keep coming for someone like Hull, who has never apologized for a past that puts Leipsic’s to shame. But he was so much better at putting the puck in the net, you see, so that’s apparently all that really matters.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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