On Tuesday morning, La Presse in Montréal ran a story that Canadiens forward Alex Galchenyuk was involved in a police incident that saw his partner arrested on domestic violence charges. According to the newspaper, police were called on Sunday to the home of the young Habs star as a result of an altercation which saw Chanel Leszczynski identified as the instigator of the fight and taken into custody as a result by Montreal police.
Although Galchenyuk himself has decided not to press charges, the case has been passed to the special prosecutor's office for assessment and criminal charges may still be brought, although details on the incident itself are unavailable. Both Galchenyuk and Devante Smith-Pelly, who was in attendance, were reported to be speaking privately to Habs GM Marc Bergevin. Today, the Canadiens have commented on the case. We'll get to that in a minute.
Hockey Twitter, as you'd expect, has been vocal on the issue. In many previous cases hockey fandom has shown that, when it comes to NHL players, the reaction is very different depending on whether or not the player is the perpetrator or the victim. We know that abuse is a crime, whoever the instigator and whoever the victim. However, there is still a clear current of misogyny in these discussions. This is not OK. Despite the denials of many "free speech advocates" in the NHL media and fandom - all the talk of due process seems to apply in only one direction.
Before we continue, a quick caveat: This article is not assigning guilt to anyone in any case mentioned. Nor is it making any judgement on the facts. Nor are we defending abuse. We're not concerning ourselves with detective work or morality debates on the rights and wrongs cases themselves, only on the reaction that the news of the case has caused and the language used in that reaction.
Let's compare some recent cases with the NHL player as perpetrator with this case, where the NHL player is the victim, and look at differences in coverage.
Any NHL fan will remember the Patrick Kane case...a case that we've written about before extensively with regard to how the media covered it. The Buffalo News interviewed club owners the day after the story broke, running whole stories dedicated to furthering the idea that Kane was targeted by a predatory lady who was "all over him" on a night out. Thousands of hockey fans who suddenly decided that "innocent until proven guilty" was the most sacred phrase in the English language. Any journalists reporting on the case who happened to be women were threatened, to the point that 670 The Score's Julie DiCaro did not feel safe going into the office. Legions of fans, including those in the media, defended Kane. Vile accusations and harassment were thrown at the victim, up to and including the point where a sports blog in Chicago revealed her name and effectively led a harassment campaign against her. For her own health, the victim dropped the case.
Or look at the reactions to the Semyon Varlamov and Slava Voynov domestic violence cases. In the Varlamov case, media members such as Slava Malamud tweeted at length, openly implying that the lady concerned was lying. In the Voynov case, Dean Lombardi infamously worried aloud about how the allegations - under which Voynov was later forced to leave the US and return to Russia - would affect the player and his team.
We saw this "distraction" narrative repeated in the Kane case, accompanied by much hand-wringing from supporters of Kane on how the allegation could affect his life and career. Pearl-clutching supporters used this to fuel more vitriol and abuse to be thrown at the victim concerned for "ruining an innocent man out of greed". Kane was never suspended from work, the allegations were dismissed, and Kane remains extensively featured in endorsements. He has received a large amount of praise for his play, and NHL fans voted him in as captain of an All-Star team. Patrick Kane certainly appears ruined.
In all the above cases, a large proportion of the NHL media and fandom machine defended the NHL players and attacked the victims, often falling back on the "innocent until proven guilty" mantra. Whilst the Galchenyuk situation is still fluid, the sympathies of many of those people have switched based on the role of the NHL player. The underlying current of misogyny still remains, as does the victim-blaming. This time, it is focused on a different target.
Consider, for example, the fact that many of the same media outlets that were vocal in their trumpeting of "innocent until proven guilty" and dismissal of any concerns about the skewed tone of coverage of cases like Kane suddenly either forgot or remembered their reservations, depending on the topic.
Many complained that reports worded "Alex Galchenyuk involved in domestic dispute" were misrepresentations. I did several Twitter searches to see if Barstool and friends questioned the Buffalo News representation of Patrick Kane's accuser or the way the Kings reacted to the Slava Voynov case. Weirdly, they seemed to have no issue there.
Blog and gossip websites are questioning the motives and character of Chanel Leszczynski, as well as providing scurrilous gossip about her behavior that night. By design, this portrays her in an unflattering light (article in French)
For those of you who don't speak French, a quick summary: That article in the Journal de Montréal essentially claims Leszczynski came home to a party, found other girls in her home (not in a compromising position, just in her house) and thumped Galchenyuk in the face as a result in a rage. Essentially, "A Hab got attacked by his jealous, unstable rock-star girlfriend."
The JdM also used the incident as an excuse to put up a page full of mostly revealing pictures of Ms Leszczynski. I did a search for the mainstream media printing pieces reminding us of Kane's past and implying he was an unstable party animal. Weirdly, the tone seemed to be a lot more respectful in articles about him written around the time of the case. Most focused on how he'd be affected on-ice and how the case would affect the Blackhawks.
Finally, today, there's the implication from some in the MTL media that the brawl that sparked this was due to Galchenyuk being discovered cheating on his girlfriend...with a team-mate. Just in case the attacks on the lady weren't enough, the media thought they'd speculate about the victim's sexuality, too.
And then we had the mockery of Galchenyuk himself. Because, y'know...if his girl is hitting him he needs to GET HER IN LINE...maybe with the help of some other men. Also, SHE'S A CRAZY LADY! (TW: domestic violence/rape jokes)
Attention people on Tinder, if yall see Chanel Leszczynski, swipe with care, or wear a hockey helmet with a cage. #AlexGalchenyuk #Habs— Big Time (@bigtimewazever) January 12, 2016
Hey @AGally94 if you need someone to protect you from women just call Chris Brown or Bill Cosby. They know how to treat women, you big sissy— Serge Sergerie Ph.D (@Serge_Sergerie) January 12, 2016
You'll notice that even when the victim is male, the go-to attack response is mocking them for being weak, or that they are somehow at fault for being abused. This is no less victim-blaming than the vile "she deserved it" tweets thrown around regarding Kane's victim. It says the abuse is the victim's fault. And the easiest way to mock a man who's the victim of abuse? Call him a woman!
The Galchenyuk case has reinforced the fact that when any abuse needs to be thrown, misogynistic language and jokes about or against the women involved seem to be the norm. It's also shown that the same people who are willing to defend an alleged abuser when they're an NHL player - because "we don't know all the facts" - often have no trouble forgetting that rule if the roles are reversed.
But it also shows that deep down, it doesn't matter who the victim is. The coverage and reaction will always be influenced by the deep-rooted misogyny and need to blame the victim in abuse cases that has pervaded and continues to pervade everything about the NHL.
When it comes down to it, the NHL doesn't care who is in what role - the song may be different, but it's still made up of the same notes.
UPDATE 1:30pm: Alex Galchenyuk has spoken to the media and apologized to his club and his team-mates for the situation. It appears necessary to remind you that Galchenyuk is the victim here, not the accused. A victim of domestic violence, who did the right thing by calling the police, is being told to apologize for it. Reaction pieces have started to attack Galchenyuk's character. They imply that he was cheating, or that he deserved the abuse. Michel Therrien, the head coach of Montreal, even said, "it's a mistake. He'll learn".
That's screwed up. It's also perhaps the clearest example yet of toxic masculinity in this case. The Canadiens made Galchenyuk apologize for being attacked by his girlfriend. The NHL, where players accused of abuse are defended and backed by their teams, now sees a player who's a victim. He's dragged out in front of the press to apologize. Priorities are very much mixed up.
IMPORTANT: Please also read Pension Plan Puppets' excellent post on this topic.