A Winnipeg woman said she will continue to advocate for body positivity after being the subject of misogynistic comments in a private group chat involving NHL players.
“Everything I post, I post online because I feel beautiful. I feel great. I feel worthy,” said Nicole Zajac. “I just don’t think it’s worth it to let a few comments from people who clearly don’t respect women get to you.”
Zajac’s Instagram photos were among those shared in a private group chat that included three Winnipeg-born hockey players.
In it, the group of men made comments about different women’s online photos, including Zajac’s, writing comments like “oink oink,” “she’s actually disgusting” and “I honestly hope their [sic] fat so I can just degrade them.” The men also insulted other NHL players.
Screenshots of these comments were published Wednesday on an anonymous Instagram account that has since been deleted.
Washington Capitals forward Brendan Leipsic was included in the chat. He apologized on Twitter Wednesday for the comments, saying they were “offensive.”
University of Manitoba men’s hockey player Jeremey Leipsic, Brendan’s younger brother, was also on the chat. In an emailed statement sent to CBC News, the Bisons said they kicked him off the team Thursday.
“Bison Sports was extremely disappointed to learn of the comments made by the group of prominent hockey players, including one of our own, who were involved in the private group chat that has emerged online,” said Gene Muller, the university’s director of athletics and recreation.
“We condemn any such remarks and attitudes as they are offensive, reprehensible and have absolutely no place in sport or in our programs.”
Jack Rodewald was also part of the chat. The 26-year-old Winnipegger has played 10 games with the Ottawa Senators.
Group chat ‘clearly shows a lot about the men’
Zajac said she received the screenshots from the group chat on Tuesday from an anonymous email address. She said she knows some of the men in the group chat personally, so she messaged them about it and spoke with them. The next day, she saw the posts were made public.
She wanted to use this as a way to talk about body positivity, so after the posts were made public, Zajac edited the negative comments onto a photo of herself and posted that to Instagram.
Zajac has been posting body-positive messages online for two years, and has received negative comments about her looks before. She said she wasn’t surprised when the recent comments came to light, though she was “unimpressed” because she knows some of the men in the chat.
Overall, she said she hopes the other women affected by this don’t take the comments seriously.
“They probably felt beautiful posting those photos, so I’m here to tell them that they are, and that nothing anyone ever says can change that,” said Zajac.
“I just really hope that they’re not taking it to heart too much because clearly it shows a lot about the men and their character, and less about us.”
MJHL commissioner calls chat ‘totally unacceptable’
Some of the men in the group chat appear to be former players in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
“I can hardly find words for it. It’s totally unacceptable and reprehensible,” said MJHL commissioner Kim Davis.
“I mean, I don’t know what goes through the minds of people that talk that way or converse like that.”
Davis said MJHL athletes go through a social media policy at the start of every season. The policy details unacceptable online behaviour for players and staff.
“It makes specific reference to the types of behaviours that are appropriate and those that are not — specifically related to sexism and sexual exploitation,” said Davis.
“Every player in the league is made fully aware, and that type of behaviour is not appropriate, will not be accepted and will not be tolerated.”
Comments may haunt players: coach
In a statement, the NHL told CBC Sports that the league condemns the remarks made by Leipsic and Rodewald, and that it will be addressing the situation. The Washington Capitals also told CBC Sports it will be handling the situation internally.
“This might be solved on the gridiron, in all honesty,” said Carter Brooks, an AA hockey coach for 15- to 17-year-olds in Winnipeg and the associate editor at Game On Magazine.
“Some players will take offence to what was said. This is going around the league. This is no laughing [matter].”
What happens now will stay with these athletes forever, said Brooks.
“You’re gonna Google these players’ names … you’ll see that for the rest of their lives,” he said.
“This will be something that follows along with them for careers, for sports, for job opportunities that might not happen because of the way they behaved as 22-, 24-, 25-, 26-year-olds in a private conversation.”