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- by Jennifer Conway (@NHLHistoryGirl)

A sincere thank you from Backhand Shelf to Jennifer and Ian for sharing their conversation.

***

We live in an instantaneous world. Within seconds of an event, it is tweeted, retweeted, blogged about, and judged. As poet Charles Baudelaire said, “The world only goes ’round by misunderstanding.”

A misunderstanding on several levels happened when Flyers Director of Player Development Ian Laperriere was quoted in the Philadelphia Daily News. The Daily News had written an article about Nick Cousins, a Flyers prospect, who had been arrested and charged in an Ontario court with sexual assault. The charges are still pending.

“At the pro level, teams expect you to be an adult and act like one,” Laperriere said. “He’s got a good heart . . . Let’s be honest, stuff like that has been happening forever. You can’t get away with anything now. He can’t put himself in those situations.

“He’s been in trouble with this stuff, but hopefully that’s all going to go away. Part of my job is telling him that he needs to learn from that. You need to be careful what you’re doing. All of our prospects need to learn from his situation.”

“Happening forever?” “Can’t get away with anything?” It appeared Laperriere was dismissing the victim, downplaying the charges, and acknowledging rape happens, but hey, what can we do?

Of course, this is where the misunderstanding starts. Laperriere doesn’t claim he was misquoted, only that his remarks are misconstrued because he failed to be entirely clear on what he was trying to say.

I vented on Twitter about his remarks and the article as a whole. But somehow, something felt off to me. You see, I’d met Ian Laperriere before, tweeted with him before and this just didn’t seem to be in line with his character.

After a brief discussion with Bill Metzer (who covers the Flyers for several organizations), I wrote Mr. Laperriere an email. Here’s what I offered:

Mr. Laperriere,

I’m a sexual assault survivor, and there are several things regarding the Cousins article and your quotes I would like to (respectfully) talk to you about. Perhaps I can give you a different perspective on how to say what you mean, how it affects people, and what you (and the team) can do to prevent these situations from happening again. It’s crucial to speak out and educate people on how we can fight sexual assault and prevent people from thinking it’s OK. Regardless of whether or not Mr. Cousins is guilty, this is a perfect moment for you and the Flyers to step up and speak out on a crucial issue that affects us all.

I gave him my phone number. I did not quite expect the response I got. Within minutes of sending the email, I received a call from Laperriere. He thanked me for offering the chance to clarify what he said.

“That is absolutely not what I meant to say. I would never, ever say rape is OK,” he said. “I struggle sometimes with English, and I was trying to say that these situations have happened before, and hopefully all the players will learn from this, to not put themselves in bad situations.”

It was quite clear he was rattled and upset with how he failed to be clearer on his point and how it affected him. Still, it wasn’t quite what I was hoping to hear, so I pressed a bit.

“Well, these are 18, 19, 20 year old guys who aren’t going to be rich right away, but they have more money than they know what to do with, and they think it’s time to party and do stupid things,” Laperriere said.

(In a follow-up email, Laperriere made his position even clearer: “in fact i was talking about kids/players been in trouble before and didn’t think about the consequences . I specifically didn’t  have rape in mind when i said that , we were talking about kids getting in trouble in General . it look like i was talking about rape and i wasn’t …. Not in a million years i would downplay such of cruel act .”)

In some ways, he is correct: these are young men with new found wealth, and have no idea how to go about life as adults with money. However, sexual assault is not a “stupid thing” that boys will do. It’s a serious crime. I explained to him how important it is to not use language that appears to dismiss assault as “stuff” or “stupid things,” and especially not as a consequence of partying.

Rape, I said, is a complete violation of a person. It is the violation of body, but it is also a violation of mind. Rape robs you of a certain sense of self. It robs you of trust. It robs you of safety, your friends, your reputation and many other things. Using dismissive language dismisses the survivor. It marks the survivor and what happened to them as not important.

People need to know this, and players need to know this. We talked about accountability, and education. I asked how Cousins was handled.

“I might only see him once a month, so it’s difficult, but I do hold camps for the prospects, and I have people speak to them about social media, alcohol, all of that,” said Laperriere.

How about keeping in close communication with the coaches? Perhaps calling the prospects on a regular basis?

Yes, Laperriere said. It’s something he will definitely try to implement, along with better education at the training camps.

I told him the pattern of assault charges against hockey players certainly does go back a long way, but it’s time to speak up, and make clear the players are not being shielded from consequences. I told him about assault victims who were pressured by junior teams and the community to drop charges, and about one victim was harassed so much she moved out of town. I told him how few rapes are actually reported because of this shaming behaviour. In fact, out of every 100 rapes in the United States, only 46 are reported to police.  (Statistic courtesy of RAINN.)

And victims aren’t just treated like this when athletes are involved. I told Laperriere about my own experience. I told him that when I went to my friends, didn’t want to believe it happened to me. The ones who believed me said things like, “Oh, well, if you were drinking with him…” “You were wearing the wrong clothes…” “You flirt too much…” And it meant, “It’s your fault. You were probably asking for it.”

People sided with my attacker. I lost all of my friends but one. I’ve been told to quit whining about being raped, been labeled a troublemaker. It still cuts me, right to the core.

He listened to every word. When I told him how I’d been treated, he gasped. “That’s terrible,” Laperriere said. It seemed he was searching for words.

I just want you to understand what happens to survivors, I said. I want you to understand how important it is to stop assault.

I told him about a recent poll conducted by the Campus Advocacy Network. They surveyed 6,159 college students enrolled at 32 institutions in the U.S. and found that 84% of the college age men polled committed acts of sexual assault but did not consider these acts as a crime. 43% of college age men admitted to to using coercive behavior to have sex, including ignoring a woman’s protest, using physical aggression, and forcing intercourse. (Further details on the poll and statistics can be found here.

The men in this poll are the same ages as these hockey players. It’s crucial to make the public and players understand they do not get special treatment in cases of sexual assault because they’re athletes. Did you know, I asked, that many teams don’t have policies in place that treat these accusations as a serious issue? Did you know that very few teams even cover the topic of sexual assault?

“No,” Laperriere replied. “I think this would be a great idea.”

We discussed the idea of having people speak to the players about sexual assault. Not just a police officer, but a crisis counselor or even a survivor. We discussed how these different people could educate the players in different ways, and even making this training mandatory for all teams in the Flyers’ system.

Did Ian Laperriere say the wrong thing? Absolutely. Did he meant to dismiss rape in general? Absolutely not. It was clear that he sometimes struggles with how to phrase things in English, and this was one of those times. Even native English speakers struggle to say what they mean, and this is an opportunity for everyone to learn a bit more about Laperriere and how to improve the way we phrase things.

He called, explained what he actually meant in that quote that upset everyone, and he listened. And in the end, through honest discussion, I think he saw the issue differently, and I understood him in a more positive way.

When we finished, I felt hopeful. He seems sincere about in bringing in speakers on sexual assault. He talked about having a police officer speak; I suggested asking for an officer who deals specifically with sexual assault cases, perhaps a SVU officer. I also gave him the name of the only rape crisis center in Philadelphia. Laperriere wanted to make sure a survivor spoke to the players as well, and asked if I might be willing to give a testimony to the players. ]

He sounded sincere. He took the time. I believe he will follow through.

Comments (35)

  1. After watching An Invisible War recently and having a similar profile in this month’s issue of Rolling Stone, along with reading some of the horrors of College aged athletes I have to wonder what the hell is wrong with our society? Does it start with poor parenting , that they are not instilling in their children that you need to respect people? Is it the media/general society that shrug it off? Is it a lack of education for the people who should be dealing with these investigations (police etc.)? How have we come to this?

    This does not even bring up the rampant crisis that is finally coming to light on how women are treated in India.

    Also the hyperlink does not appear.

    ” (Further details on the poll and statistics can be found here.”

    • It has always been thus. Just that until very recently this stuff was not being recognized as rape. It took feminism to demand the right of women to have autonomy over their bodies to change this perception. And as you can see, there’s still a long way to go. We live in a culture that sees women’s resistance as being “hard to get” and have a long standing narrative that stalking is in fact a sign of true love. This is why education like Jennifer is talking about is so important.

  2. Well done, and good to hear. Education is the best response.

  3. Thanks for putting yourself out there, Jen. It’s great to see Laperierre get it, and it would be great if someone could sit down with all athletes (and college students, and okay our entire goddamn society) and have this same conversation.

  4. ‘ I explained to him how important it is to not use language that appears to dismiss assault as “stuff” or “stupid things,” and especially not as a consequence of partying.’

    who the F does this chick think she is? the guy clearly struggles with English, let alone speaking at all. he slipped maybe didnt choose the right wording. Now everyone is going after him as if he was the one raping women? I lost all respect for Jennifer Conway …

    • Good for you, Gar-bear. The story wasn’t about you, so no one really cares who you respect or don’t. She points out that he struggles with the language. You must as well, or one would think you would have seen that.

      Incredible that out of the entire article, that is what you focused on. Wow.

    • If you read carefully, I did quote Laperriere on his struggle with English. It’s evident in the email I quoted, and I even said “It was clear that he sometimes struggles with how to phrase things in English.”

      If that’s not stating it clearly enough, I don’t know what is.

      • You don’t need to stoop to responding to this doofus. You can let the anonymous armies of The Intenet enlighten this douchebag with a steady stream of slurs and ad hominems. He diserves nothing more.

    • Hi GARY.
      Pardon my shouting but I assumed your head is planted firmly up your ass and wouldn’t be able to hear me.
      You see statements like yours are the exact reason brave women like Jennifer needed to write this article. You’ve completely side stepping the entire issue within the article to fuel the cycle of rampant stupidity the article was attempting to dispel.
      Perhaps his English is poor, does that mean that LaPerierre should not have been given the opportunity to clarify his statement?
      Perhaps Cousins will be found not guilty of all charges, perhaps he won’t but that does not negate the fact that sexual assault has an unfortunate history in sports on all levels. I think maybe you missed the most important part of what Jennifer is saying: there needs to be a dialogue regarding this issue and it needs to start now.
      Before you react, why don’t you rethink this stance you’ve taken and think about how you yourself would react should a sister/cousin/aunt/mother/friend approached you and told you their own story of sexual assault because in Canada that accounts for an estimated 51% of women.
      Please do yourself a favour and think long and hard about this.
      Sincerely,
      A Survivor

    • If you plan on criticizing someone’s ability with the English language, you best be prepared to actually TYPE in proper English first. Everyone else seems to have covered why you are uneducated so I will leave it at that.

    • People aren’t “going after him”. He was (rightfully) receiving criticism for appearing to side with the perpetrator rather than the victim. Jen contacted him to set the story straight.

      And really, Laperrierre should expect attention and criticism. He is in a management position with a professional sports team…

    • Chick?

      You seem to struggle with language as well.

  5. Wow, Jennifer I really admire you for speaking with Laperierre, for writing this, and for publicly fighting against sexual assault. It is such a rampant yet under-discussed issue, especially in sport subcultures. Hopefully pieces like this can at least get people talking about it, thinking about it, and eventually actively trying to prevent it and change the culture that condones (or at best ignores as inconvenient) sexual assault and rape.

    And I have a lot of respect for Laperierre for calling you, listening to you, and trying to come up with productive ways to move this forward. When I heard the quote I was shocked and angry, so I am glad to hear that it was not what it sounded like and the he clearly wants to clarify what he meant. Good for you, though, for pushing him on that and not just accepting his initial explanation.

    Also, Justin – thanks for posting this. It’s a hugely important topic and it’s really great to see a major blog like this tackling it.

  6. I think alot of people forget how Québécois Lappy actually is – however I am glad to see he did make ammends on his statement and hoenstly feel this was a mis-translation.

  7. I thought the original quote was odd. From what I have heard about Lappy he is a first class guy. I briefly met him at the Winter classic and he stopped and shook everyone’s hand while trying to get to his seats.

    I think Gary is missing the point of this article. Jennifer asked him some pointed questions to try to get to the bottom of the issue. Lappy wants the truth out there because he has nothing to hide, or lie about. She didn’t go after him, she helped him clear the air.

  8. First off, Gary, did you not read the article or is English an issue for you? I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume the latter.

    She *defends* Laperierre in comparison to the attacks he’s been getting. She gave him an outlet to respond to his critics and clarify his statements. Read this concluding paragaph:

    “Did Ian Laperriere say the wrong thing? Absolutely. Did he meant to dismiss rape in general? Absolutely not. It was clear that he sometimes struggles with how to phrase things in English, and this was one of those times. Even native English speakers struggle to say what they mean, and this is an opportunity for everyone to learn a bit more about Laperriere and how to improve the way we phrase things.”

    Also, great article. Echoing dgapa that the hyperlink is missing. Would like to see it.

    • I don’t know if this is the exact study Jen means, but this is a good post dealing with similar information.

      http://yesmeansyesblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/12/meet-the-predators/

    • To be fair though.. she did defend him. But the article opens up with the premise that he is a guy that doesn’t care about sexual assault, and the article was written AFTER she had had that clarified.

      It’s an incredibly important about a terrible situation in society, but that doesn’t change the fact that she took a piece of poor english from a non-native speaker and made it about that guy instead of the accused or the broader topic. My fear would be that the next time an team official is asked for a quote, all you will get is “That’s a local police matter. The team has no comment”.

      Good topic. Bad editing.

      • I opened with that premise to prove how wrong it turned out to be. I stated several times that his remark was misconstrued and that he was eager to clarify it and state things better in the future.

        As Director of Player development, it’s his job to give statements on these sorts of things. I offered him a fair chance to explain himself when everyone else was calling him names and hurling insults, and the chance to learn how to express himself better on these topics. He stepped up, and not only explain himself, but wanted to learn more. Not many would do that, especially with someone who isn’t a reporter.

        In other words, I offered him the chance that *prevents* him from simply saying “That’s a police statement,” and he took it.

        I did make it about the broader topic. Whether or not Cousins is guilty isn’t up to us, it’s up to the courts. If he is guilty, he will be punished appropriately.

        I did ask what Laperriere intended to do to hold Cousins to his promise to be a better person. I asked what he plans to do with all of his players to prevent future assaults.

        Finally, I pointed out this is a learning moment for all of us. I’m sorry you didn’t see it that way.

        • Right. But for someone like me that didn’t see those insults and names (maybe I’m following different people on twitter?), all I see is a guys reputation being called into question (even if that question is answered correctly eventually) for the sake of a poorly phrased foreign language statement that had already been clarified.

          The miscommunication could have been handled with a simple paragraph at the beginning along the lines of “A twitter controversy that turned out to be a case of bad translation led me to a conversation with Ian L. f the Flyers public relations department. We had a frank conversation about what teams can do to help stop this scourge that stains professional sports…”

          As far as I can tell, this guy did nothing wrong apart from answering an english reporters question while being french. But the article comes across as very defensive.

          “I did not quite expect the response I got.” why? Is he a dick?

          “I explained to him how important it is to not use language that appears to dismiss assault as “stuff” or “stupid things,” Really? He didn’t know that? I thought he just made a language mistake.

          “I just want you to understand what happens to survivors,” Why is it about this guy?

          As I said, I don’t want to minimize the importance of the topic. But making one guy a symbol for the ignorance and uncaring of an entire industry is a little unfair, and exactly the reason why people will choose not go near the topic when more talk would be good.

          • It’s important that when people say “Oh well, raping a girl is an awkward situation, I wish our players would learn not to put themselves in that position” that narrative is questioned and challenged. It’s not dragging someone’s name through the mud; he did that himself, with what he said. The journalist who wrote the piece in which Laperriere was quoted is presumably completely fluent, and yet that piece treated rape in exactly the same way as Laperriere wishes he hadn’t. These statements must be criticised no matter where they come from.

            It’s not wrong of Jennifer or anyone else to stand up and say “Saying this is wrong, saying this is harmful, saying this contributes to a culture where rape is mostly a problem because it might give this guy a bad reputation”. It’s brave. They should keep doing it. I think it’s particularly generous of her to reach out and give Laperriere a chance to amend the record (he presumably has media contacts, by the way, and can mend his own reputation if he wants; talking to Jennifer speaks well of him).

          • There are a lot of long-engrained aspects of hockey culture (and sports culture, in a wider context) that need to be updated and/or outright changed. And sometimes we’re talking about society and not just hockey or sports. If constructive dialogue doesn’t happen and if nobody makes a concerted effort to change pervasive attitudes and reshape how we all think about rape – within and without sports – we’ll still be in the Dark Ages with this. Sometimes you have to make a mistake or say something that comes out wrong, acknowledge it, correct it, clarify it, and engage some dialogue to get the process going. Regardless of what language Laperriere speaks or which team he works for, his job is to identify, nurture and prepare young prospects for a professional career in hockey and as such he has an insane capacity to make a difference to the game – and its culture – in a lot of different ways. Not just meat and potatoes playing, but players. The players are the culture. So I don’t view him as a guinea pig or a poster boy for how NOT to deal. Quite to the contrary. I want to believe hockey will learn from his example and will follow what will hopefully be his lead in making this a zero-tolerance, non-issue.

            Jennifer: Excellent work. This was a brave initiative without being confrontational or whiny. You stood your ground and you stood up. Lots of people are standing with you.

            Backhand Shelf: Not surprised you published this at all. I have come to expect nothing less than provocative, relevant and stellar content from this blog. Please keep it up. :)

          • I did not expect the response I got, simply because within 5 minutes of contacting him, he called me. I expected him to call or email at a later time.

            Why about Ian? Because he is working with a person involved in a sexual assault case. It’s only fair to provide him with both sides of what happens.

            It was a poor choice of words on his part, he knew it, I knew it, and I wanted to demonstrate to him, and all of us, how using the wrong words can hurt. And I had no problem with the fact it was a non-native speaker saying something incorrect; I merely wanted to help him avoid this misunderstanding in the future.

            As for your comment on why he wouldn’t know not to dismiss rape as “stuff,” he does know better. However, he is a non-native English speaker, and at times, words fail him. It happens to us all, and when we can’t find the words we’re looking for, we default to words such as “stuff,” “things,” etc. My goal, again, was to help him not default to these phrases if the topic comes up again.

            It looked like he was a symbol of ignorance in the beginning, but now he’s not. That’s exactly why he’s the point of this article. He said something that everyone immediately jumped on, without the full story. My thought was “Maybe I can reach out and help him.” And I think I did.

            He’s now going to be the face of a movement in hockey to educate players and prevent sexual assault.

            Ultimately, It was a misunderstanding that needed to be cleared up, and I helped provide some education for him on just how important this topic is to all of us. In no way am i vilifying him, nor does Laperriere think so after reading this article. As a matter of fact, he thanked me for being willing to hear him out and then help him understand what to say.

          • Yes, Pete, you obviously are following different people on Twitter. Maybe you should be following the kind of people who are appalled when someone makes statements about sexual assault that seem to imply it’s at worst an inconvenience for the perpetrator rather than an unspeakable trauma for the victim, instead of following people who don’t even bother to mention it.

            Then maybe you would be aware of what a big deal this has been, instead of being under the mistaken impression that this article is the first time it’s been mentioned.

  9. “Rape, I said, is a complete violation of a person. It is the violation of body, but it is also a violation of mind. Rape robs you of a certain sense of self. It robs you of trust. It robs you of safety, your friends, your reputation and many other things.”

    Just wanted to say thank you to Jen for writing this piece. This is SUCH an important issue, and it does intersect with sports, so it is relevant to address it on a blog like this. I personally have not been assaulted, but I have often come across dismissive attitudes regarding rape. I don’t think some people understand how incredibly devastating this act can be to a victim.

    Thank you, Jen.

  10. Thank you for this, Jennifer; both for the article itself, and for taking the risk of reaching out to Mr Laperierre in the first place. You’re doing some really valuable work for all of us.

  11. Now this is why I love Backhand Shelf…the range of topics covered here is awesome.

  12. Jen, thanks for your thoughtful and insightful post.

    I respect and appreciate your courage in talking about your own experience to shed light on why stories like this matter.

    Also, let me extend my professional respect for your willingness to dig a little deeper into the story to get a better understanding of Laperierre’s comments. Many journalists are quick to move into attack mode on something like this without taking the time to ensure they understand the full story.

    So, in the language of this blog: double s/t to you!

  13. Just wanted to say thank you to Jennifer and Justin Bourne and anyone else involved in making this appear on a hockey blog. I can’t tell you how happy I am that a) the hockey blogosphere cared about Laperierre’s comments in the first place, and the immediate reaction was anti-rape and anti-rape culture, and b) that a mainstream hockey outlet will host such a positive article.

    So again, thank you.

  14. Excellent work. Thank you, Jennifer.

  15. Did it seem like you were lecturing him? I feel like that’s the impression this article gives.

    Speaking up about this topic takes a lot of courage for Jennifer and she should be commended for that.

    It’s important we don’t assume the best way to raise awareness is to lecture and brow beat it into every young male with the typical young male sex drive. It needs to be a discussion which means questions can be openly asked. When I was in college I attended a two sexual assault seminars. No, this does not make me an expert, but a major difference stood out between the two of them.

    One was the campus police chief (male) essentially scolding a room full of fraternity and sorority members. It felt like we were 6 year olds being told not to play soccer in the house. I felt like I should feel guilty for being a young man with a strong sex drive.

    The second seminar was a room full of students from all years, and a majority of non-greek members. It was more of a discussion/town hall atmosphere. The faciliators were a women’s crisis counselor and a trauma therapist (female and male respectively). They encouraged everyone to ask questions to drive the discussion. It was one of the best things I went to in school.

    If we are to educate and prevent horrible acts of abuse and assault, we need to accomplish it in a manner which fosters comprehension and understanding, not guilt and shame.

    • I absolutely did not lecture. There was a lot of back and forth question and answer that I condensed. It was an open and honest discussion and exchange of viewpoints.

      In no way did I attempt to shame him. I had a very open mind about what he had to say, and vice versa. At the end of the conversation, he took initiative to seek out appropriate speakers. I did not demand anything or scold.

  16. This article was very well written and this issue absolutely needs to be taken seriously. Please continue to educate on this issue. Like you stated too many people turn a blind eye on something this serious.

  17. thank you Jennifer. Outstanding article. Maybe the best I have read all year. I know Ian he is a kind person. A gentle person with a good heart, but you were right to question what he said. Right to get it clarified. You have spun some magic through this article. You took a bad situation and a comment that could have been misunderstood and turned it into a larger understanding that never would have existed before. What you did with this article is quite phenomenal. Thank you.

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