With a swirling social media storm late Monday night regarding an alleged on-ice homophobic slur, Kyle Dubas and defenceman Morgan Rielly drove back to Scotiabank Arena.
“The first step was asking Morgan, directly to his face, ‘this is the video, what did you say?’” the Maple Leafs general manager recounted. “He was unequivocal. That word did not leave his mouth.”
The National Hockey League, after interviewing Rielly, referee Brad Meier and going through the Sportsnet and Fox TV audio and visual feeds, cleared him on Tuesday afternoon. The 25-year-old Vancouver native said he fought the urge to go own Twitter in his own defence, before letting the league investigate following a post-game social media clip that upon first viewing gave a strong impression of inappropriate language.
Rielly did utter an expletive towards Meier about a non-call up ice during the 6-2 loss to Tampa Bay but to Dubas, crossing the line with a slur would be totally out of character for the young man who three weeks earlier asked to follow the lead of others on the team and support the city’s June Pride Parade. Dubas says he listened to the audio multiple times and could see where a hockey term such as “rag it” might have been used and misconstrued and linked to Rielly being angry at the non-call. But there were other players on the ice, on the benches and fans near ice level that might also have yelled something.
“I’ve heard every theory and you kind of convince yourself you hear hundreds of different things,” Dubas said. “What mic did it come from? There are about 10 (around the rink). Was it the same cadence of voice? It’s a difficult thing to discern.”
If someone other than Rielly unleashed a slur, the league’s investigation didn’t detect them either. But Dubas said he doesn’t want Rielly to feel he was slandered or the team to feel victimized.
“Some people rush to judgment and that’s what happens in 2019. But there are a lot of people in our community and family members … affected by homophobia.”
Dubas, 33, has wanted to make the 101-year-old Toronto franchise an example of inclusion in the 21st century. He’s marched in the Pride Parade and the Leafs have sponsored a You Can Play event at home games that include Rielly in the video.
“It matters to (my wife) Shannon and I and (club president) Brendan Shanahan,” Dubas said. “It’s incumbent upon us in management to build an environment, where if someone were gay or questioning their sexual orientation, they don’t feel they have to come in here and be somebody they’re not. Even if they don’t come out, that if they’re gay; if a homosexual, bisexual, transgender fan walks in the rink, they feel welcome and safe here.
“If we have a player who is contemplating what their sexuality is, they (can) feel safe here and be themselves. Because of our role in the community and the country as the Toronto Maple Leafs we have a unique opportunity to be pro-active, take a stance on the matter and do more.”