Hockey Guys gonna Hockey Guy.
In a year marked by upheaval and turmoil, both the NHL and the hockey world at large have managed to embarrass themselves time and time again, over racism, as alleged by Akim Aliu, and the league’s tepid response; toxic and sexist chat logs from Brandon Leipsic, which led to more dumb comments from Brett Hull. Even when the NHL tries to step up and send a message about racial injustice, it can’t help but center a white guy instead of one of the minority players in the Hockey Diversity Alliance. Then there’s former NHLer Dan Carcillo’s class-action suit alleging shocking tales of abuse in junior hockey.
On Thursday the hockey world rolled out its latest embarrassment as it announced the finalists for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy.
Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews is one of the nominees, along with Nathan MacKinnon and Ryan O’Reilly.
In the fall, Matthews was charged with disorderly conduct for harassing a female security guard in his Scottsdale, Ariz;, condo complex. The incident, which happened last May, started when Matthews tried to enter the security guard’s locked car. Matthews then dropped his pants (underwear still on) and squeezed his cheeks. The security guard, a Black woman who suffers from extreme PTSD due to serving in the military in Iraq, filed a police report, and Matthews reportedly said it would be funny to see how she reacted. Security footage shows Matthews walking with his pants down around his ankles. Charges were later dismissed.
Hemal Jhaveri of USA Today was quick to point out the problem:
Let’s acknowledge that Matthews is a great player, with a chance to be the greatest American player of all time. He’s probably not going to win the Lady Byng — that should go to Nathan MacKinnon, as the award generally serves as a secondary MVP award for the “best player who doesn’t have many penalty minutes,” or “nice guy who had a great season that hockey writers love.”
But Matthews showed little contrition for his intoxicated, gross behavior, and hockey media were quick to downplay the incident. Hockey Night in Canada’s Jim Hughson even managed to downplay the Matthews incident while praising a player with worse off-the-ice issues, accused rapist Patrick Kane, who infamously was documented being a drunken douchebag in Madison, Wis., in 2012.
“When I thought about that, I looked back to 2012 and thought about Patrick Kane … (who) got into a little trouble with too many cameras around in Wisconsin that summer,” said Hughson. “And what did he do? He came back and was the Conn Smythe Trophy winner and won the Stanley Cup. “And that’s how you put a little problem behind you.”
Ah, you see, the issue isn’t Kane’s pattern of dangerous, criminal behavior, but the fact that there were cameras.
That brings us to the problem: hockey media. The Lady Byng Memorial Trophy is given to the “player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.”
One could argue that this is an on-ice distinction only, but even still, it makes the voters of the award tone-deaf at best. Last year, 171 ballots were cast for the Byng Trophy by the Professional Hockey Writers Association, and only 10 were women.
A member of the PHWA took to Twitter to downplay the furor.
Which raises the question: Is he implying that the media members can’t take these awards seriously, because the PHWA doesn’t take it seriously? One hockey writer told Deadspin she was eligible to vote but didn’t receive a ballot last year because the head of her local PHWA chapter “forgot” about her.
In such a predominantly white sport with a toxic, insular culture, it’s easy to see how such a predominantly white, male media is going to cover up and enforce that status quo. Imagine how it feels to be a female hockey writer, having to put up with so many colleagues who are willing to overlook blatant sexual harassment because ... what? A player is cool and is nice to them in the media room? The NHL keeps saying, “Hockey is for everyone,” but it still doesn’t know how to fix its obvious cultural problems, and ultimately ends up excluding almost everyone.