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‘It has to end with us’: Winnipeg CFL player hoping to spark culture shift in sports

‘It has to end with us’: Winnipeg CFL player hoping to spark culture shift in sports
A Winnipeg Blue Bomber is calling on his team and other professional athletes to stand up together to make a change in the sports world after a group of athletes’ misogynistic group chat went public. Brittany Greenslade reports.

A Winnipeg Blue Bomber is calling on his team and other professional athletes to stand up together to make a change in the sports world after a group of athletes’ misogynistic group chat went public.

Earlier this week, Winnipeg-born NHL player Brendan Leipsic faced massive criticism after private messages degrading women, fat-shaming them and speaking about sexual conquests were exposed online.

READ MORE: Winnipeg-born Brendan Leipsic’s comments ‘unacceptable and offensive’: NHL

The messages appear to come from a group chat the 25-year-old was involved in with a number of other people, including his brother Jeremey Leipsic and Florida Panthers prospect Jack Rodewald.

“Honestly it was super disheartening to see,” Bombers fullback John Rush told Global News. “It really struck a nerve with me.

“What I take so much issue with, with Brendan and his cohorts saying these things… (is because) it starts with us.”

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Rush said for too long these kinds of comments and ‘locker room talk’ have been deemed normal and acceptable and it’s time for that to change.

“I played hockey until I was 16. I saw a lot of that as a kid and when I was growing up. To see it still happening when you’re dealing with grown men was super disheartening. It really struck a nerve with me.”

The 26-year-old is going into his fourth professional season in the CFL and has been an active participant in the Bombers Break the Silence on Violence Against Women program.

CFL player John Rush and his niece.
CFL player John Rush and his niece. Submitted

Since 2016, trained Winnipeg Blue Bomber players deliver 20 presentations and 20 workshops per year to high school students, football teams, coaching staff, and community leaders.

Rush said these younger kids look up them as professional athletes and it has to start with them when it comes to making a change.

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“In order to have that culture shift, in order to change things, it has to come from the guys that are already in the leagues…. to come and condemn these things that aren’t okay.”

“They want to emulate us. They want to be us,” he said.

READ MORE: Winnipeg woman speaks out after degrading comments by NHL players: ‘I was shocked’

Winnipegger Bennett Garber, who grew up playing hockey, said he feels the same way. Garber, 20, admits he had previously taken part in similar conversations when he was younger.

“I just felt like it was part of what we did as young hockey players,” he said in an interview with Global News. “We talked about girls behind their backs and made fun of them.”

Garber said while he knew it was wrong, it felt like he had to take part to fit in and be accepted.

“When you have leadership that isn’t saying something about it and is just letting things like that be said in group chats and locker rooms, it sets a bad example,” Garber said.

Condemnation swift; Brendan Leipsic’s future with the NHL uncertain after misogynistic chat surfaces
Condemnation swift; Brendan Leipsic’s future with the NHL uncertain after misogynistic chat surfaces

On Thursday night Garber felt he needed to speak out and share his experience.

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“Hockey culture is broken,” he said in a social media post. “This is engrained into the bedrock of the sport.”

Bennett Garber wants to see a culture change in sports.
Bennett Garber wants to see a culture change in sports. Bennett Garber / Twitter

Since his post, Garber said a number of his former teammates have reached out and told him they stopped playing the sport because of all the negativity.

“I had a couple message me and say this is the reason they stopped playing,” he said. “‘This turned me off the game’ and that’s not what I want. I want everyone to be included in this game. Hockey is for everyone.”

Rush said he wants to help lead the charge, not just through his community work. He is hoping that by not only standing up for women, but standing beside them, he can help make a difference, especially for the women in his life.

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“Nothing is going to change if we don’t do anything.”

“I have three sisters. I have a mom that I love. I want a better world for them,” he said.

“My brother has a baby daughter who I am head over heels for… she’s two-years-old. I don’t want in 20 years to open up Instagram and to see comments about her like this.”

As for the men involved in the group chat, only one has commented publicly.

Late Wednesday night, Leipsic offered an online apology and said the chats were made public after an account was hacked.

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But the damage had already been done.

On Friday morning, the Capitals terminated Leipsic’s contract.

Leipsic’s younger brother Jeremey, who played hockey for the University of Manitoba, was released from the Bisons Sports program and cut from the team.