Reading between the lines of Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson’s open letter

Geoff Molson’s open letter on drafting Logan Mailloux is an insulting piece of public relations.

*This article includes details of sexual assault and abuse, which some readers may find is not suited for them. Please take care of yourselves!*

On July 24, with the Montreal Canadiens first pick in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, Marc Bergevin took the (remote) stage to announce the 31st overall pick — Logan Mailloux.

I, like many of you, am betrayed, upset, and down-right disgusted by Montreal’s decision to draft Logan Mailloux.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a soft spot in my heart for the Bleu-Blanc-Rouge. After 2021’s Cinderella season, hockey fans everywhere were endeared to the Canadiens. They were “Canada’s Team,” the season’s triumphant underdogs that we were all rooting for. They were a beacon of hope, until the veneer wore off and we were reminded of the Habs’ management’s true colors.

Last year, Logan Mailloux was convicted in Sweden for photographing and circulating a compromising photo of a young woman without her consent. The Montreal Canadiens drafted him anyway.

The outrage from the hockey world was swift and brutal, condemning the Canadiens actions for what they were — insensitive, harmful, and disgusting. In response to the backlash, Geoff Molson, the Montreal Canadiens Owner, President and CEO released an open letter on Wednesday. Let’s break that letter down, in order to understand what the Canadiens are really saying about their decision to draft Logan Mailloux.

“Message to everyone impacted by our decision:

I want to share with you my perspective on our decision to select Logan Mailloux in the 2021 NHL Draft. This decision, made in the context of the Draft, turned out to be instantaneously very offensive to many of you.”

Okay. Pause.

If this sounds a little victim-blame-y, it’s because phrases such as “to everyone impacted by our decision” and “turned out to be instantaneously very offensive to many of you” turn the blame of feeling offended or hurt onto the person who feels that way, rather than the person (or in this case, persons) who’s actions caused that feeling. It’s a subtle difference, but one with a huge impact.

Basically, the Canadiens are saying ‘you were offended’ instead of what they should be saying, which is ‘we were offensive’.

A good apology is one that recognizes and takes ownership of the hurtful actions. This apology is telling people that it’s their fault, not the Canadiens, that they were offended.

“I understand that you expect more from us and we let you down. The Montreal Canadiens are more than a hockey team. Logan’s actions do not reflect the values of our organization and I apologize for the pain this selection has caused.”

This is the same organization whose general manager is Marc Bergevin, who was the Director of Player Personnel for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, the same year that a former player was sexually assaulted by an assistant coach, according to a recent lawsuit.

This is also the same organization who once made Alex Galchenyuk apologize for being a victim of domestic assault, and called PK Subban a “locker-room cancer” … the list (unfortunately) could go on.

I don’t know about you, Geoff, but I have a hard time believing that both the Canadiens’ track record and their deliberate decision to draft Mailloux in the first place don’t reflect the values of the organization.

“First and foremost, regarding the young woman who is the victim, I want to say that we do not minimize what she has had to, and continues to have to, live through. No one, especially not an 18-year-old, should have to suffer through a traumatic experience like this. We are there to support her and her family and respect their privacy.”

Great, how are you supporting her and her family? And if you truly understood the gravity of the situation and were intent on not minimizing his actions, then why would you draft him in the first place? Or, better yet, in the original PR statement released immediately after his drafting, why did the Canadiens refuse to name the true nature of his conviction and label it a “mistake”?

“Our selection of Logan was never intended to be disrespectful towards her or her family, or more generally towards women or other victims of similar situations. Our decision was not intended, in any shape or form, to be an endorsement of the culture of violence against women.”

Whether it was intended to be or not doesn’t change the fact that it was both disrespectful (among other, stronger adjectives) and that it indeed is an endorsement of violence against women, particularly in a league that has no clear or defined strategy to deal with instances of sexual abuse or assault.

What this situation has reinforced is that you can commit and be convicted of a literal crime, and still be drafted in the first round to the NHL.

“Logan is a young man who committed a serious transgression. He is genuinely remorseful about the pain he has caused. He is committed to becoming a better person and we will work with him through this process.”

Nowhere in the statement does Geoff ever name or acknowledge what Mailloux’s actions were. Instead, a traumatic event is diminished to “pain he has caused.”

The Canadiens have got to be kidding me.

“At this stage, it is only our actions that will speak louder than our words.

1. Over the course of the next few months, we will develop in conjunction with local experts, a comprehensive plan to raise awareness and educate young men and young women about this serious issue. We will use our platform and our resources to turn a decision that hurt many people into one that brings meaningful and impactful change.

2. We will support and oversee Logan’s commitment to becoming a better person.

3. We have asked Logan not to participate in our rookie or main training camp this fall. Being a player in the NHL is a privilege that is earned - not a right that is granted. As the year progresses, we will reassess Logan’s readiness to be part of our organization.”

It isn’t anyone’s responsibility (least of all fans, some of whom are survivors of sexual assault themselves) to rehabilitate, and forgive Logan Mailloux. It’s his responsibility alone to demonstrate actionable changes to his behavior and character.

The Canadiens are trying to frame drafting him as a positive thing, relying on a disgusting smoke-screen of ‘rehabilitating after a mistake!’ and ‘raising awareness!’ to convince fans to stay invested in the team. Not only is this an offensive joke, but it shows that the Canadiens don’t care if you’ve committed a crime. As long as you play hockey well enough, then who cares what your background check says?

Also, that “comprehensive plan” better be made public so that the community can hold the Canadiens accountable to actually being better. I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted with teams profiting off of performative social justice and lip-service about change without putting in any effort.

“We gave Logan a second chance but in doing so, we failed to properly assess the impact of our decision on the victim and on anyone who have suffered in similar circumstances. Once again, I want to apologize to everyone impacted by our decision.

I repeat, our actions will speak louder than our words. We will work to continue proving we are an organization this community and our fans can be proud of.

Lastly, I want to thank everyone that provided their feedback on this situation, including our partners and sponsors, so that this mistake becomes an opportunity to grow and raise awareness.”

Hello, PR team. Just like how Logan Mailloux didn’t make a ‘mistake,’ the Canadiens organization didn’t make a mistake in drafting him either — both were deliberate, informed choices, the consequences of which should never have been surprising.

Also, thanking for “feedback” is the phrase you use when you are given tips on how to optimize ticket sales or expand concession options, not when you are held accountable for your decision to draft a player who committed an act of violence against a human being.

Furthermore, drafting Logan Mailloux and experiencing the PR fallout should never have been the moment where it occurred to the Canadiens organization that they should raise awareness and educate about sexual assault. Framing this as a ‘teaching moment’ only shows us that: A. had the Canadiens not felt outside pressure, they never would have cared about his conviction and he most likely would have been treated as every other rookie, and B. the Canadiens are only interested in raising awareness for sexual assault because they want to repair their relationship with fans, not because they actually care about the cause.

Geoff Molson, I’m not buying the B.S. you’re selling.

Hockey has a long history of systemic violence ingrained within certain aspects of the sport’s culture, and we need to address those aspects when they come to light in player’s actions like Mailloux’s. In order to really challenge and change hockey culture, we need more than nominal interest from the NHL, and more than PR statements championing “change.”

We need to be proactive in how we handle issues of sexual assault and abuse in the NHL, especially in light of the Chicago Blackhawks organization lawsuits and and the drafting of Logan Mailloux.

Geoff Molson’s open letter can be found here.

National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673