Toronto Maple Leafs: Impact of the Morgan Rielly Controversy

TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 29: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on in a break against the Calgary Flames during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on October 29, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - OCTOBER 29: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs looks on in a break against the Calgary Flames during the second period at the Scotiabank Arena on October 29, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images) /

On the evening of Monday, March 11th, allegations broke during a matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning.

During the second period, game footage hit Twitter— specifically, a video clip of Morgan Rielly, skating back to the Leafs’ zone after a blue line turnover at the Lightning’s end. That play ended in a shorthanded Tampa goal, with Rielly as the only Leafs player active while the rest were switching shifts.

The broadcast footage shows Rielly glance towards NHL linesman Brad Meier in the corner end of the Leafs’ defensive zone. It was then that mics on the ice picked up muffled audio of what sounded like a homophobic slur coming from Rielly.

With many believing Rielly called Meier a “f***ing f****t”, the clip rocked #HockeyTwitter.

Morgan Rielly, newly 25, is a well-rounded player with no prior allegations, save a February 2015 remark about teammates “being girls” about something— a comment which he followed up with an apology after being accused of sexism. With regard to the March 11th situation, Rielly is a notably outspoken advocate and ally for the LGBTQ community— a trait that is significant for fans who identify within it.

Rielly has participated in the Vancouver pride parades, and just weeks previous to the game against Tampa Bay, participated in the Leafs’ Hockey Is For Everyone Night. Leafs General Manager, Kyle Dubas is also well-known for his participation in Toronto’s Pride Parade, as well as general open dialogue and acknowledgement of LGBTQ fans in the Leafs community.

The day after the game against the Lightning brought the culmination of the investigation and a sigh of relief; Rielly had been found not guilty, and the NHL released a statement clearing his name. Dubas and Rielly met with the media as well, discussing that Rielly was “100% confident” he did not use the phrase.

Dubas also mentioned that Rielly had approached him nearly 3 weeks prior in hopes of getting the team involved in Toronto Pride in June. Dubas and the Toronto’s CWHL team, the Toronto Furies, are known participants in the parade, but the Leafs organization itself has never attended.

As it stands, the NHL and hockey community as a whole have not always been the most welcoming in regards to LGBTQ issues, this instance not being the first in which a player has been caught using slurs on the ice.

For example, in 2017, TV cameras captured Ryan Getzlaf shouting an anti-gay slur at an official; Andrew Shaw was caught in 2016 for the same offence, and both gentlemen were punished accordingly. It hasn’t been until recent years that an emphasis has been placed on LGBTQ fans, as the You Can Play and Hockey Is For Everyone organizations have come to light and helped initiate an annual tradition of teams hosting ‘Pride Night’.

I am queer – bisexual, actually – as is a shock to some large portion of Leafs Nation and the NHL community in general. More fellow fans that I’ve met online have been queer, than not. Morgan Rielly’s involvement and openly speaking about the LGBTQ community in even the slightest forms of positivity spoke bounds of his character, to begin with. It was one of the defining qualities that made him my favourite Leaf— of course, next to his actual play.

He has been on fire this season with 20 goals and 68 points in total, a career high for him.

Morgan Rielly aside, this event is important to talk about, and the discussion should not die with the headline. As a queer fan, even the mere thought of a player— on a team I support or in general— using slurs of any form on the ice puts my nerves on edge. When the news broke I cried, my stomach broke; perhaps dramatic to some but here is something I dedicate a lot of time to, just so openly hateful to another large part of me- it was devastating.

The ‘unwelcome’ mat that has been laid out for diverse fans and even players for the longest time, becomes extra evident in situations like this and the ones past. There is no excuse, ever, for a slur to be used on ice, in game, in the rink— at all. Period. Not racial, not homophobic, none.

Words of hate and vitriol have no place in hockey nor life in general.

There is a lot to be done, in this regard, for the hockey community as a whole. There has to be more effort put into inclusivity initiatives— teams league-wide should be involved in their cities’ pride parades and #HIFE nights should be taken more seriously. More significant action needs to be taken in eliminating hate from this game.

Hockey is a narrative no one should be excluded from.

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Thanks for reading! If you can, consider donating to one of the many worthwhile LGBTQ charities such as Rainbow Railroad or The Trevor Project.