As much as I’d like to write about the upcoming season, I’m still processing the fact that the Oilers brought in a guy who was accused of sexual assault and is still facing a civil suit. Ahead of such a promising season where the Oilers have a competitive roster featuring two of the best players in the world, the Oilers chose to bring in a lot of unnecessary noise. Not only have the Oilers continued to demonstrate that they really don’t care about the public’s perception of their actions and their corporate values, it’s also clear that they’re still struggling to evaluate their roster situation and assess professional-level players. PTO’s are a great way to bring in undervalued assets who can create legitimate competition in camp. Adding Virtanen doesn’t provide any on-ice solutions or improve the chances of the Oilers winning a cup. All it’s really done so far is expose the Oilers lack of social awareness, overshadow a lot of the positive stories coming out of training camp this season – and have fans question if supporting this team with their time and money is really worth it.
And what’s really bothered me since Virtanen joined the Oilers camp is how the Oilers are trying to justify it all, with Ken Holland specifically pointing to his faith in the legal system.
“The most important thing is he went through the legal system, he went to a court of law, and a jury found him not guilty,” Holland explained to reporters.
“…The biggest thing for me is to have faith in the legal system and if we lose faith in the legal system I don’t think that’s a good thing. … I’m trusting the legal system to offer a pro tryout and now over two weeks we will evaluate him, and if he’s not good enough from a hockey standpoint, we will release him.” (Source: Sportsnet)
What these comments really demonstrate is an organization’s lack of awareness regarding the current justice system, the different experiences people have had with the system and the flaws that governments are trying to improve on. There are worldwide movements as a result of the justice system including Black Lives Matter, which are focusing more attention on the systemic issues and demanding change. The provincial court of Alberta recently developed a justice strategy to better meet the needs of Indigenous people. The federal government in Canada has an initiative underway to enhance the criminal justice system recognizing system delays and inefficiencies, the over-representation of Indigenous people as offenders and victims, the lack of support for vulnerable populations and the low rate of sexual assault reporting.
But despite all of this, the general manager of the Edmonton Oilers is pointing to his faith in the justice system to justify adding a player, disregarding the negative experiences people have had with the justice system – especially women, Indigenous communities and people of color. We know the justice system tends to serve those with power and privilege, and it’s clear that the Oilers front office, especially those who made the decision to add Virtanen, are in that group.