Toronto Maple Leafs: Morgan Rielly and the Pervasiveness of Sexism


Toronto Maple Leafs: Morgan Rielly and the Pervasiveness of Sexism

It seems the Toronto Maple Leafs can’t find any refuge these days. Bombarded with regular criticisms for their on-ice performance, they now find themselves at prey for their off-ice comments as well.

Feb 3, 2015; Nashville, TN, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) skates with the puck during the first period against the Nashville Predators at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

This is evident in how the media responded to newcomer Olli Jokinen‘s recent quip about the “negative energy” surrounding the team and how Joffrey Lupul‘s dismissal of a complete rebuild project caught instant fire, but young defenceman Morgan Rielly took things to a whole new level on Friday with his comments about the team’s work ethic.

“If you approach everyday like it’s a chore to come to the rink that’s the way its going to be, but you have to have put a positive outlook on it,” he told a reporter. “You have to be able to put everything that’s happening aside and just worry about doing your job. You’re not here to be a girl about it.”

An honest exchange or a sexist remark? It’s the last part of Rielly’s comments that drew criticism and quickly became a top trending topic on Twitter.

The general response on Twitter, from what I saw anyway, was largely critical but sympathetic to Rielly:

(You can always count on Jonas Siegel to stir the Leafs pot.)

I have no doubt that Rielly’s use of the word “girl” was sexist. It was used to express a negative sentiment based on how understand that word at a subconscious level – a word that connotes everything from weakness to inferiority, lack of seriousness to immaturity. These are the sentiments that we implicitly project onto girls, women and others when we use the word.

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  • If “girl” wasn’t such a loaded and sexist term, then Rielly’s use of it wouldn’t have made any sense; he was banking on its underlining meanings.

    Having said this, I don’t think Rielly’s intentions were sexist. I think he simply wanted to provide an honest answer – one that comes across as sincere when you look past its sexist undertones. That’s something that should be applauded. We need more players on the Leafs taking personal accountability for the team’s ongoing struggles.

    In the larger picture, there are two immediate takeaways from this incident.

    First, if Rielly used the term “girl” in an unreflective manner, this points to how pervasive sexism remains in society today. It’s something that we have to actively check at both a personal level and a societal level. Rielly’s careless and seemingly innocent use of the word speaks to a global problem where we all share responsibility.

    Jan 9, 2015; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly (44) shoots the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Air Canada Centre. The Maple Leafs beat the Blue Jackets 5-2. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    Second, the fact his comment was so quickly and decisively denounced on Twitter suggests that we are moving in the right direction. This isn’t the first time a hockey player has found himself in trouble for sexist comments – Duncan Keith got himself into trouble three seasons ago – and it likely won’t be the last time someone says something stupid like this either. There will always be ignorant people who say stuff like this or defend it as harmless fun, but if we remain vigilant in our awareness and criticism of sexism, then these individuals will eventually be reduced to an inconsequential minority.

    Rielly took the first step in this direction himself when he apologized for the comment later Friday night. This is something we should applaud, too. He’s learned a valuable lesson and now he can put it to good use.

    Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Toronto Blue Jays), politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson