Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly made a mistake in front of a reporter on Friday. People make mistakes every day in every profession, but the public nature of Rielly’s job propels into the spotlight everything he does, whether it’s good or bad.
And don’t fool yourself: what he said on Friday was a mistake. We should take him at his word when he says he meant no disrespect, but in making a throwaway comment denigrating women as lesser than men, Rielly was absolutely wrong. That doesn’t mean he needed to be suspended, imprisoned or crucified, or that nobody will ever forgive him for it. It means he was wrong.
I said as much in a series of Tweets, and then a very strange, sad and telling thing happened. In replying to the tweets, two larger groups formed: women who agreed Rielly’s use of the word “girl” as a pejorative was a problem; and men who angrily lashed out just at the thought of having a discussion about it, let alone actually taking any steps to address it.
Go look at the conversations for yourself. The only conclusion you can arrive at is there’s a stark separation in reaction, and it happens across gender lines. If that fact on its own doesn’t tell hockey’s power brokers (who are, for the record, men) there’s a chasm of understanding that needs to be bridged, nothing will.
Now, that didn’t stop some men – including the usual toadies to power and status quo sycophants in the sports media – from falling on their backs, pounding their fists into the floor, dropping their soothers and crying out about their personal boogeyman, “The Outrage Police”.
If you’re unfamiliar with the embarrassing concept, The Outrage Police is an imaginary constabulary formed by people with whom you don’t agree on a particular subject.
The Outrage Police ride on horses whose height varies depending on how you feel about an issue. If you agree with people who feel strongly, for instance, that advanced analytics deserve a place in the game and say words to that effect, that’s righteous outrage, and the horses you ride are of an appropriate height. But in this case, if you think that, hey, boys will be boys, and why shouldn’t they be allowed to casually belittle women, guess what? The Outrage Police is coming to get you.
It’s a plainly ridiculous perspective – every situation ought to be judged on merit, not on how exhausted anyone is about the sheer number of injustices in the world – and on Friday it took some people to the point they were arguing those offended by Rielly’s comment should apologize to him for being too easily offended. That’s how far some men are willing to contort themselves to avoid listening to the other gender when it speaks virtually in unison and says something is wrong and they’d like it addressed. And that’s why it’s so important for both genders to speak out when someone makes a mistake like Rielly did: the only way we’re going to eradicate the casual sexism women have to endure on a daily basis is when we all inform the culture that its old codes and the old code words aren’t going to cut it anymore.
Not-so-smart people want to call people who do that The Outrage Police, but here’s what they actually are: members of the culture who haven’t been given a voice before, or who recognize there’s a huge disparity in the way some members of the culture are treated. And men, who’ve become so accustomed to being the only people who’ve had a voice, don’t like sharing that voice at all. So, in a delicious irony and a transparent example of psychological projection, they're the actual Outrage Police; because social media has told them their previously agreed-upon dogma is going to be challenged, they want to tell you what you should or shouldn't be angry about.
The notion of The Outrage Police is as hollow and disingenuous as it gets – and most importantly, it doesn’t make what Rielly said right. To repeat: he’s 20 years old and not a monster. But he said something you can't say anymore, people let him know, and he said he was sorry. That's the way the process is supposed to work. And the people who want to distract from that basic fact by focusing on anything other than the women who are telling us what he said was wrong are polar bears on an ever-shrinking rhetorical ice floe, letting out embarrassing death rattles as they fail to adjust to a world that’s rolling right over their prized prejudices.
Clearly, some men don’t like being confronted by voices other than those of their ever-forgiving frat boy buddies. Too bad. Whether they like it or not, this issue is another example of two tectonic cultural plates pushing against one another – and, as is always the case, the progressive, fair-minded plate is eventually going to push the ignorant, divisive plate deeper into the earth, precisely where it belongs.