‘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.

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.

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.”

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.

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

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

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.

“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.

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.

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