The Montreal Canadiens faced backlash last week after drafting Logan Mailloux, an 18-year-old Canadian hockey player who was charged with invasion of privacy and defamation in Sweden after taking and sharing an intimate picture of a woman without her consent.
Three days before the NHL Draft, Mailloux shared a statement via Twitter asking that he not to be drafted, saying he felt he hadn’t “demonstrated strong enough maturity or character to earn that privilege.” Mailloux planned to keep a low profile in the interim and play for the Ontario Hockey League until the 2022 season, but because the NHL draft no longer requires players to opt-in to be eligible, the Canadiens still selected him with the 31st overall pick.
Immediately following the pick, the Canadiens issued a statement explaining the team’s reasoning. Montreal claimed to be “aware of the situation and by no means minimize the severity of Logan’s actions” and committed to “accompany him on his journey by providing him with the tools to mature.” A few hours later, Mailloux addressed the media, stressing several times the sincerity of his apology to the victim, and stated that he could “help people to not make the same mistake.”
The decision fueled backlash and debate in social media and sports programs around Hockey and cancel culture. Several high-profile figures were openly critical of the decision, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau who stated the decision was “a lack of judgment” that requires “a lot of explaining to do” (Source: SportsNet).
The team’s communications plan to quell initial backlash was not enough. Far from putting the social media fire down, they generated doubt among the team’s major sponsors who suggested they would be reflecting on their current partnerships. (Source: Montreal Gazette) Furthermore, many on social media saw the initial statement as evidence that the Canadiens were prepared for the backlash, defending the argument that a draft pick should not need any sort of explanation. If the Canadiens had anticipated the pick becoming a reputational crisis, they did not correctly measure the magnitude of it. It appears they had already accepted and prepared for the risks associated with drafting Mailloux but failed to predict significant pressure from their sponsors and criticism from the Prime Minister himself. Further action was needed.
Almost a week after the draft, Canadiens’ Owner, President, and CEO Geoff Molson shared an open letter explaining his perspective on the team’s decision. Molson offered his support to the victim and her family, explained the decision was not “intended to be an endorsement of the culture of violence against women”, apologized and thanked partners and sponsors for their feedback, and listed a series of actions moving forward:
- A comprehensive plan to raise awareness and educate young men and women about this serious issue
- Support and oversee Mailloux’s commitment to becoming a better person
- The decision to not have Mailloux participate in the rookie and main training camps during the fall and reassess his readiness to be part of the team as the year progresses
Moving Forward with Transparency
In this case, the Montreal Canadiens appear to have succeeded in the short term by opting to ask for forgiveness rather than permission, at least with their corporate sponsors. As many organizations learn the hard way, individuals, especially loyal fans, are not quick to forgive and forget when they feel they have been wronged. The ultimate outcome of this Draft Day decision will be determined by whether the Canadiens can convince fans – especially female fans – they have stayed true to their well-worded statements and letters and remain a team whose values outshine its shortcomings in the coming years. Transparency and authenticity will be key in the following months, along with effective communication and preparedness for any criticism of the actions of their players and staff. Hopefully the organization can use this self-inflicted crisis as an opportunity to make a positive impact on this individual and the sport.