The GIST: After some incredibly horrible private messages from Washington Capital Brendan Leipsic (pronounced LIPE-SIC) and other hockey players were publicly leaked last week, the NHL has found itself in a familiar position: fighting against toxic hockey culture.
What happened?: Screenshots of the private messages between Leipsic, Florida Panthers prospect Jack Rodewald and other friends showed a pattern of derogatory comments about women, including misogynistic statements about women they had dated and other NHLers’ wives. Leipsic even badmouthed his own Capitals linemates.
- The Capitals terminated Leipsic’s contract on Friday, and the likelihood of him getting another job in the NHL is slim. His brother Jeremy was kicked off of the University of Manitoba hockey team, and the University of North Dakota began an internal investigation into another friend, Jackson Keane.
That’s good, right?: Yes. We’re happy the NHL took quick action in denouncing the comments, and the Capitals made the right decision by essentially firing Leipsic. In a league that has dealt with multiple accounts of racism, sexism and abuse over the past few years, decisive action is a necessary first step in fixing the problem.
I feel like there’s a “but” coming…: You’re right. Hockey needs a culture change. It’s a big ask, and, to be fair, it will need more than just a few statements and policies from the NHL. It needs a promise to do better and be better, which includes full buy-in from players (current and former — we’re looking at you, Brett Hull), fans, media and team officials, from the big leagues down to youth hockey. We have to be all in.
- Here’s some food for thought to leave you with: Leipsic was an expendable player. And we can’t help but wonder how Leipsic’s lack of star power played a factor in the Capitals’ decision. If, say, captain Alexander Ovechkin — one of the greatest hockey players of our generation — had been involved, would we have seen the same reaction?
🏆Here we go again
The GIST: Last week, we told you about the NCAA’s progressive step forward in preventing sexual violence and protecting students. This week, we’re telling you about how the US government is basically doing the opposite. Ugh.
Wait, remind me what happened: Sure thing. Following the incredibly unnerving “Predator Pipeline” exposé and a recent lawsuit, the NCAA made changes to their sexual violence policy, announcing that student-athletes must annually disclose acts of violence that resulted in an investigation or discipline through a Title IX proceeding or criminal conviction. The idea is that this rule would make it harder for offenders to transfer to a different school after a transgression (a common practice).
- Quick reminder that Title IX is part of the Education Amendment Act of 1972, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex in educational programs. Collegiate sports are considered educational programs, so they’re federally regulated by the Department of Education.
Got it. So what happened now?: On Wednesday, controversial US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced new Title IX regulations. While most of the new changes are problematic, the most horrific revision no longer requires coaches or university staff to report allegations of sexual misconduct or assault to the Title IX office.
- This basically means that someone within an athletic organization (including student-athletes) could commit a sexual offense, and the staff would have no obligation to report it to Title IX officials, allowing offenders to slip through the cracks and possibly re-offend. SMDH.
Why would they do this?: Honestly, we have no idea. Other changes include a narrower definition of sexual harassment, as well as additional protection of the rights of the accused. It all, sadly, seems pretty regressive to us.
- Luckily, this doesn’t need to affect the NCAA’s sexual violence policy. It can continue with its progressive momentum from the new annual disclosure policy and still ask coaches and athletics staff to report misconducts (it just won’t be federally mandated to do so). Let’s hope the NCAA does the right thing.
🏆Do the two step, then cowboy boogie
The GIST: We’re making progress, people! Well...sort of. While the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging, sports leagues around the world are slowly restarting. But, unfortunately, it seems to be a bit of a “two steps forward, one step back” situation.
How so?: Take the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), for example. After a nearly two month hiatus, the mixed martial arts league hosted their first fight night on Saturday in a spectator-less arena in Florida, and the event went off almost without a hitch.
- The only complication? One of the fighters, Ronaldo Souza, tested positive for COVID-19 just a day before his fight, but not before participating in the weigh-in with his opponent, Uriah Hall, and UFC president, Dana White, and hanging out with other fighters. So not okay.
That’s not great: It’s really not. Meanwhile, over in Europe, Germany’s pro soccer league Bundesliga is set to restart on Saturday (yay!), but Dynamo Dresden, a team in the second-tier league, is now in isolation after two players tested positive for COVID-19 (not yay). Still, the Bundesliga CEO was adamant that they will proceed with the restart, even without an entire team.
- On a similar note, another five players in Spain’s La Liga (which recently began individual training) have tested positive, and the English Premier League’s “Project Restart” has hit a roadblock, as three players on Brighton have also tested positive. Maybe, just maybe, we’re getting ahead of ourselves?
Yeah, seems like it. Are any other leagues restarting?: The MLB is talking with team owners today to discuss a potential July start featuring a modified 80-game season with a regionalized schedule (and, TBH, we’re totally okay with it — we’ve always found the 162-game regular season too long).
- And the NBA has started letting players train again, though they may not have a decision on how the regular season will proceed until June. It’s been reported that once the season starts, players will be tested for COVID-19 daily, and should a player test positive and need to be quarantined, there would be no stoppage in play. Not sure how we feel about that.
🏆A little louder for the people in the back
The GIST: On Monday, we said we were so sick of the holier-than-thou student athlete culture, after seven women sued the NCAA for failing to protect them from alleged sexual assaults by male athletes. Turns out the NCAA is finally sick of it, too. That, or they’re also GISTers.
Good! Okay, start from the beginning: About five months ago — thanks to some excellent investigative journalism — a report known as the “Predator Pipeline” was released. The exposé revealed that college athletes are implicated in an outsized share of campus sexual assaults. And that at the time, nothing in the NCAA’s 440-page rulebook stopped those found responsible for sexual or violent misconduct from competing. SMDH.
- But it gets worse. The piece also revealed that even when an athlete was expelled or criminally convicted of sexual offenses, athletes easily transferred to other NCAA schools, often recruited by other coaches, and returned to their sport within a year or less.
Got it — hence the “Predator Pipeline”: Exactly. These athletes could go from school to school to school and repeatedly offend along the way, as the NCAA had no personal conduct policy and no specific penalties for those who committed sexual assault. And apparently, despite being well aware of the issue for years, the NCAA Board of Governors even resisted pressure from US senators to fix it.
So what is the NCAA going to do about this?: Now, the NCAA is saying that athletes must annually disclose acts of violence that resulted in an investigation, discipline through a Title IX proceeding or criminal conviction. And if you’re thinking, “How wasn’t this a rule before?” we had the same response.
Jeez. So it’s all fixed now?: Well, not quite. To us, this new policy is missing one glaring thing: there are still no rules that restrict the eligibility of athletes who have committed these acts. So, technically, even if a student does disclose an act, a school, in theory, could turn a blind eye and allow them to play.
- The new policy puts a big onus on the schools and the athletes themselves, and the NCAA, as the all-seeing regulator, needs to figure out how they’ll deal with the rulebreakers. Regardless, this is definitely a step in the right direction.
The GIST: Because we all need something to make us smile right now, here’s some good news about athletes working together amidst COVID-19.
Graduate Together: In honor of the high school seniors missing their graduations this year, the LeBron James Family Foundation is producing a TV special called Graduate Together: America Honors the High School Class of 2020, which will air May 16th. The special will feature athletes like LeBron and Megan Rapinoe, and former president Barack Obama will deliver the commencement speech. Oh, our hearts!
The Real Heroes Project: Fourteen pro sports leagues are joining together to honor the real heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic: healthcare workers. The collaborative initiative has players from around the world replacing their own names on their jerseys and uniforms with those on the frontline. They’re the real MVPs.