If you missed Monday’s episode of This Is Hockey Culture, all about the Anaheim Ducks and Bob Murray, you can read it here.
Kat: Last week, we had a special guest co-host; our good friend, Chanel Keenan, who’s the intersectionality consultant for the Seattle Kraken! But this week, Sam’s back! She was on vacation; [to Sam] good to see you! How does it feel to be back and recording?
Sam: I’m back! [laughs] I honestly couldn’t be happier although I couldn’t have had a better substitute, I love Chanel and I’m so thankful she filled in for me. But I am back from Florida, where it basically rained the entire time and it was actually kind of cold? And our boat crashed. [laughs] But other than that, I’m good and I’m excited to talk about hockey!
Sam: This week we are going to be talking about Bob Murray and the Anaheim Ducks, and the NHL’s independent investigation into claims that Bob Murray was abusive — to not only players but other members of the organization. We’ll be giving a brief timeline, and then we’re going to talk about what that looks like from a PR perspective and what Anaheim has done correctly, and where they’ve dropped the ball.
Sam: On Nov. 9, news broke that Bob Murray, executive vice president, and general manager of the Anaheim Ducks, was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation regarding professional conduct. In a statement, the organization said, “-upon recommendation from their initial findings, we have decided to place Bob on administrative leave pending final results.”
Sam: Bob has been a part of the NHL for 45 years, and is the NHL's third longest-tenured active GM, and has been a member of the Ducks front office since 2005. In 2008, Murray took over as the organization’s general manager, and 2021 marked his 12th year as executive vice president and general manager for the Anaheim Ducks.
Sam: In 2013-14, he was named General Manager of the Year and has been a finalist for the award itself three times. In 2019, Murray became the fifth person in the history of the league to both play in and manage 1,000 regular-season NHL games.
Kat: Because this is an ongoing investigation, we really have no idea of all the details [of the allegations]. We don't yet have a lot of examples of specific incidences, yet the accusations encompass verbal abuse and harassment of team employees, players and coaches, which can be summed up in these quotes; “[Bob Murray] created a toxic work environment by way of his repeated verbal abuse and harassment of ducks players, coaches, and personnel, plus his intimidation tactics and temper tantrums that fostered a culture of fear throughout an organization.” ... “working for Bob was pure daily mental warfare,” ... “the abuse was endless. Crazy text messages to platers and staff berating them for their performance and threats of job security happened with regularity. These weren’t one-time slip-ups or mistakes. These were regular explosions and eruptions.”
Kat: Per a team statement, on Nov. 10, Bob Murray resigned and joined an alcohol abuse program. His treatment will be paid for by club owners, Henry and Susan Samueli, who have owned the franchise since 2005. Murray is quoted as saying, “I want to apologize to anyone adversely affected by my behavior ... I vow to make changes to my life starting with enrolling in a treatment program.”
Kat: So, some pretty interesting and deeply unfortunate allegations coming out of the Anaheim Ducks organization. And, it’s coming on the heels of some heavy news in the hockey world. Chicago, Pittsburgh Penguins ... this is just piling on.
Sam: I think a lot of time, when covering hockey culture, we are unfortunately tasked with talking about how the league — and organizations, even — have failed, in some ways at least. But for a minute, I think it’s really important to acknowledge what Anaheim did correctly, at least in the present. The Ducks were made aware of accusations against Bob Murray of improper professional conduct, Anaheim launched an independent investigation and placed Murray on administrative leave due to said investigation.
Sam: The following day, less than 24 hours later, Murray resigned and joined an alcohol abuse program. They took all of the necessary steps they needed to do. Are they a bit late in that process? Yes, but they did take steps to remove him from that environment.
Sam: We do have to talk about the fact that for the last 14 seasons, the Ducks allowed Murray to create this culture of fear and mental warfare within the organization. And let’s not forget, in 2009, when Ducks GM Bob Murray was accused of assault.
Sam: In Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals, the Ducks are playing the Red Wings in Detroit, all hell breaks loose when Dan’s Cleary’s game-winning goal may have been the result of Hiller's pad being shoved across the line, so, you can imagine the Ducks as a unit are both stunned and some, infuriated. Rachel Paris, a stage manager at the time of the event, claimed that frustrations lead to Murray assaulting her with a chair in the press box.
Sam: Murray acknowledged the incident and called it an “accident,” but was never charged. So he did acknowledge that it did happen, so there's definitely a history of temper tantrums with Bob Murray when it comes to the Anaheim Ducks.
Kat: [sarcastically] The chair thing is super interesting because I didn't realize assault could be an accident, that’s funny.
Kat: What’s also interesting to me is how different this has been handled versus the Chicago Blackhawks case and it’s because now that the league has seen what can happen when a team doesn’t get ahead of something and handle it before it goes public, or controls the public image of the problem, it can be a real issue.
Kat: Basically, it was, ‘Oops, the Anaheim Ducks are placing GM Bob Murray on leave,’ and then it was ‘he’s resigning,’ then it was ‘he’s entering an alcohol abuse rehabilitation program,’ and then very quietly the team acknowledges that there are 20-ish years of workplace abuse and harassment and the league is investigating his professional conduct. Everything happened very quickly and very quietly. I don’t know about you all, but I saw very little press about it on my timeline, and in the newsfeeds about the NHL. I really wasn’t seeing anything about it.
Sam: I completely agree with you, and that's why I wanted to say earlier; yes, the Anaheim Ducks did something right and it was in the present, but I feel like there have been accusations for a very long time that was so quickly addressed, and I think it’s because there’s pressure falling on the league now. They were ready to release it to the press, and it was released at 6 o’clock at night, and then by 9 a.m., he had resigned. It was less than 24 hours, and it’s crazy how ready and prepared they were with that information to back up his resignation.
Kat: We’re at the point now [in the investigation], where we’re trying to figure out the internal structure and organizational experiences of the Anaheim Ducks over the last 20 years. And 20 years is a lot in and of itself, especially given the internal turnover teams have year to year, and because it is encompassing so many different people who may have been affected, from players to marketing to the front office. At this point in time, we really have no idea who was affected and to what degree, by Murray’s behavior, or who was affected how (ex; if players were treated differently than marketing, etc.). We’re in this information-gathering stage that I think is going to take a long time, because of the time frame, and figuring out who was involved, to what extent, and what that culture looked like with the [power] dynamics involved.
Kat: And, because it seems that the Chicago Blackhawks have become the precedent, now leagues are going to see what Chicago did — although really, they’ll see what not to do [when handling instances of abuse], because Chicago and the NHL handled everything so poorly — and the Anaheim Ducks are going to approach the PR side of it very differently. Which, relates to hockey culture and how hockey culture is marketed to the public.
Sam: I personally don’t feel that it was coincidental that a few weeks ago Kyle Beach revealed his identity on TSN as the former player at the center of the Chicago Blackhawks scandal. In a way, I think it can be empowering to see the culture shift and say ‘No — we are not a community that stands for abuse of any kind.’ Kyle Beach helped to dictate that shift.
Sam: Jeff Solomon, the Ducks interim GM said, “The league was really good about sending a memo basically reminding everyone about overriding objective to foster inclusion, but honestly, I didn’t have to read the memo. We shouldn’t have to read it. It’s unfortunate that we even need these reminders. Because these are things that we should already set our standards to. And we have a high set of standards and bar of excellence with this organization and that’s going to continue to be that way.”
Sam: I think it's interesting because they don’t have a history of those standards, but it's nice to see the organization as a group come together and say, ‘this isn't representative of the Anaheim Ducks and we aren’t going to let that be the narrative here,’ and I do think that there’s something empowering about what Kyle Beach did, and having the community say ‘no more’ of this type of energy here.
Kat: Totally. I want to go back to Chicago for a minute to talk more about the marketing of hockey and hockey culture, because that’s a touchstone of the Anaheim Ducks, especially because there are some similarities between the two situations. What has been so dominating for me is how markedly different Anaheim has so far, in handling the PR side of what’s been going on with Murray and the investigation. We have to see how the Anaheim Ducks are communicating, not only to the media but also to their consumers, especially when we’re talking about hockey culture as a whole, and what that actually looks like from a business and economic standpoint.
Kat: So Let’s take a look at Chicago, who hasn’t done a single thing “right” this whole time. And while the investigation [Jenner & Block] is over, the lawsuits are still ongoing, so, you know, it's a continuing conversation.
Kat: But anyway — if you know me, you know I’ll always make the financial argument. Not because it matters more than the ethical or moral one, because it doesn’t but, because (unfortunately) it's the one that the NHL will respond to the most. Hockey is an industry, these are business institutions. At the end of the day, their job is to make money.
Kat: So for Chicago, and in general (we can see it with Anaheim and Pittsburgh), it is a bad business decision to continue to lie and cover up their wrongful actions. There’s a lot of reasons as to why but here are a few (just in case the moral one doesn’t occur to you).
Sam: Yeah, if that one doesn’t sit well with you, here are some financial reasons why it’s bad to be a liar.
Kat: Yeah, basically! For one, younger consumers are both becoming the largest consumer group in North America, and drivers of a great deal of purchasing power, but they're also a demographic that the league is actively trying to attract.
Kat: Younger consumers have different buying habits than older consumers and one of the hallmarks of their economic footprint is that they like transparency, accountability and emotional connection with a company, often through matters of social justice or social consciousness. Versus older demographics, who like brand recognition, and tend to find one brand they really like and stick with it because they value [brand] loyalty, etc.
Kat: In general, with repeated scandals half-brushed under the rug, like player safety, players and fans have slowly been losing trust in the NHL and NHLPA, and have been losing trust in the public faces of these institutions and their ability to do their jobs well. If you remember the player safety debacle of last season, everyone wanted George Parros gone. This time [referencing Chicago] people want Gary Bettman and Bill Daly to step down.
Kat: People have lost a lot of trust, and that’s not even on the player side, although they definitely have lost trust and have been pretty candid in some cases about how they don't trust the NHLPA (for good reason) and the NHL.
Kat: The league is actively trying to reestablish trust with their preexisting fanbase and/or players. You can’t ‘grow the game’ with new consumers if your pre-existing consumers are losing trust. And by losing trust, you’re losing money and losing fan interest and viewership and ticket sales and all of those things that come with that.
Kat: With Kyle Beach, Sheldon Kennedy, Akim Aliu and countless others in tragically similar circumstances, no amount of half-hearted lies or misdirections in press conferences or Black History month warm-up jerseys will ever be as impactful from a business perspective and a moral or ethical perspective as accountability, transparency and humility will be.
Kat: And now we’re seeing the first time a team has to handle a very serious and complicated internal organizational abuse investigation in light of Chicago. Anaheim is going to be a case study for how the league now approaches internal investigations, and how they communicate them to the public.
Kat: So far, Anaheim has controlled the information and the story. They’ve released just enough information to temper the need for people to dig further, by releasing that he’s entered an alcohol abuse program and that there’s an internal investigation taking place, and that he’s resigned. But we haven't had any more details other than that, or into the nature of why he was resigning.
Kat: I think having him resign was the biggest mark that they’re handling it differently than Chicago, because the biggest thing in Chicago, and for good reason, was that Stan Bowman and his posse should have been gone ages ago, and hadn’t resigned, and that was a whole thing. And the Ducks knew that it was good to get rid of Murray ahead. And, to be fair, it sounds like there were a lot of people who had been wanting to get rid of him for a long time and just hadn’t the opportunity or ability to do so.
Kat: But, he [Murray] was the most significant part of the problem, and certainly the public face of a larger organizational problem in Anaheim, and once he’s gone, it signals to consumers that the problem has been “solved.” This isn’t true, the problem persists, albeit in a slightly different way, but the Anaheim Ducks have been quiet on social media. They have been releasing regular content that aligns with their typical day-to-day content, and they haven’t been pushing any sort of ‘everything’s fine!’ narrative that the ‘Hawks did.
Kat: With the ‘Hawks, they tried to push on social media that they were still his great organization and that you should buy into the players and their personalities, and it was a very structured and fake persona.
Sam: I would even push to say that that’s such an ‘Original 6’ way of handling things. It’s so rigid and so deflective. It’s such an interesting perspective to look at it as that classic Original 6 energy versus a newer team.
Kat: 100 percent. To their credit (which I hate to say), the Blackhawks have done a really incredible job with hiring women in positions of power within their organization, which is something we don’t often see, unfortunately. What was not great about it is that when they were in their deflection stage they put women at the forefront of their content to show how ‘progressive’ they were. They used it as a very obvious marketing piece. Which is a whole other story, but whatever.
Kat: In contrast, the Ducks are treating this as normal as possible in social media. I have to give credit where credit is due, that’s a really smart PR strategy. It’s like when your kid falls and when you say ‘oh no, are you okay?’ and they start crying, but if you’re like ‘oops you fell how funny!,’ they laugh because they’re fine. It’s kind of like that. The more the Ducks pretend that the problem has been solved, and everything is business as usual on all forward-facing fronts — social media, PR statements, media availability, etc., the more it convinces fans that everything is fine. And there’s nothing to worry about or look further into because he’s resigned and everything’s dealt with and they’re still posting regular content.
Kat: And now, were at this point of where we’re navigating what happened in the past 20 years within the Ducks organization — we really have no idea what that looks like, we’re trying to figure it out, but also, we can look at the Anaheim Ducks and think, ‘OK!’ So this is going to be the league’s marketing and PR strategy going forward when it comes to internal investigations and instances of abuse allegations.