Rushing To Judgment: Habs’ Andrew Shaw Wrongfully Accused On Twitter

It’s hockey-less Sunday. The Habs have been losing every game but their first of the season. While it’s only 8 games in, and 74 left to go, Habs Twitter (i.e. the stream of Habs fans tweeting about this team and All Things Habs) is an emotional minefield.

But it got ugly, this Sunday, as someone – namely, Scott Wheeler, a writer for the subscription-only site The Athletic –  tweeted out a millisecond-long video of Andrew Shaw from Friday night’s game. (Don’t go to his timeline looking for it – he’s deleted it)

Shaw was in the penalty box, after having been pounded by Anaheim’s Kevin Bieksa, and penalized only after he went after Bieksa.

The clip – soundless and fleeting – was tweeted out with an accusation of what it was purported that he said.

The first “f” word was easy to decipher, even for those who do not read lips well. The second f-word was misconstrued as Shaw using a derogatory term for gay people.

Twitter blew up with people jumping on Shaw’s back for this. They condemned him, they were derisive of his ambassadorship with Patrick Burke’s “You Can Play” organization (an organization that promotes a safe place in sports for gay athletes of all sports, and all levels). And they judged him based on his past.

See, when he was with the Chicago Blackhawks, Shaw did use that word. He was suspended one game, fined $5000, and sent to undergo sensitivity training – all of which he did, after issuing a public apology (one which definitely seems sincere).

Based on his past, this was a shoo-in for those quick to vilify without proof. This was Shaw, repeating his mistakes, and being a terrible person. This was Shaw who had to be suspended. Had to pay a fine. Had to be traded. Had to be benched. You name it, the armchair judges had his fate all wrapped up.

I read of it when a blog I follow retweeted the video and the post with it. I saw others jumping on the Excoriate Shaw bandwagon.

But I didn’t buy into it. See, I do read lips, and I know how difficult some sounds are to discern. A hard “g” sound isn’t visible. The clip was so fleeting, it was absolutely inconclusive.

I saw one tweet actually sent to Kevin Bieksa, encouraging him to “give that d-bag {abbreviation mine} a couple of more hits to the face next time.” Despicable, given Shaw’s recent injury (which I will discuss shortly).

Calling Shaw a homophobe. Calling for him to be traded.

I tweeted out:

I received a reply – from the person who had retweeted the video:

He came back with:

My replies:

In the evening, it came out that not only was there a longer video clip, and that it had already been looked at by the NHL; what was actually being shouted from the penalty box was:

“Not f’ing fair” – a far cry from the original accusation.

The NHL statement:

And still, some on Twitter replied, saying this was fake.

Suddenly, though, people were tweeting out that the poster who had been most vocal (the one quoted above in the exchange with me) had locked his Twitter account. This means nobody who is not a follower can see his tweets anymore.

Tweeters who had accused Shaw unfairly were suddenly justifying trying to justify their actions.

“He had done it before!”
“That’s what it looked like he said!”
“He has a record!”


“Given the video we had and his past behavior, it was a logical assumption. We still don’t know for sure what he said.”

(That is verbatim – and a tweet to which I replied that no, logical assumption is innocence, not guilt, and without evidence, her premise was utterly rejected).

I posted:

There were those who did reply, stating they were wrong. There were those who didn’t delete their original accusations but posted in apology to Shaw (who had been tagged in a majority of the angry accusations).

And yes, there were those whose tweets on the subject – judgmental, accusatory, and just plain wrong – were “magically” gone from their timelines.

For instance, Scott Wheeler, whose tweet began the whole day’s ugliness, just deleted the tweets and replied to someone who called him out on it:

But he still deleted his tweets, instead of adding to them so that those who had already commented could see how wrong he was.

I think it’s cowardly to delete tweets. We all saw them. Own up to them, quote them, and issue a mea culpa. Not only is there nothing wrong with that, it is admirable to be forthcoming when one is wrong.

Instead, they just pretended as though they never said it.

Let me explain why I gave Andrew Shaw the benefit of the doubt from the get-go:

I do believe he learned his lesson from having been penalized the first time. It was not just the fine, and suspension – I truly believe he realized how terrible it is to use that word in any circumstances, and his apology at the time was as sincere as they get.

Speaking before the team left for St. Louis, Shaw said he couldn’t sleep after Tuesday night’s game and that watching video of his outburst was difficult. It was video of the incident that went viral on social media, prompting sharp criticism and an NHL investigation.
“It was hard to see. Emotions got the best of me,” Shaw said, adding that he understands why the slur is considered hurtful. “I’ll never use that word again, that’s for sure. … That’s not the type of guy I am.”
Shaw was sent off for interference at 17 minutes, 56 seconds of the third period, hurting Chicago’s chance for a comeback in what ended up being a 4-3 loss. While sitting in the box, Shaw pounded on the glass with his stick and then yelled at someone on the ice. As video of the incident spread online, the You Can Play project, a group supporting inclusiveness in athletics, swiftly tweeted that it was planning to contact the NHL.
After the game, Shaw was asked twice about what happened and said he didn’t remember.
“Being like I just said — I’ll repeat myself for you — emotions are high,” he said. “I don’t know what was said. Obviously I was upset with the call. I wasn’t happy with the call.”
A day later, Shaw said he saw the video after he returned home from the arena and said he was “sincerely sorry for the insensitive remarks that I made.”
“I apologize to many people, including the gay and lesbian community, the Chicago Blackhawks organization, Blackhawks fans and anyone else I may have offended,” he said. “I know my words were hurtful, and I will learn from my mistake.”

I am a firm believe in not rushing to judgment. In all walks of life, we have seen terrible consequences from drawing conclusions based on nothing but assumption. This is no different.

Moreover, Andrew Shaw sustained a severe concussion last season with the Habs. He missed 14 games, and later in the season sustained another concussion – one he tried to conceal. The interview he gave, pre-season, truly sheds light on what he had gone through. An excerpt:

“I remember waking up in the middle of the night, puking, not sleeping, and I wasn’t getting more than two or three hours of sleep during that night,” Shaw said. “I was worried. If I’m worried, there’s really something wrong. The wife knew there was something wrong with me and she was angry with me for not doing anything about it earlier. A teammate came up to me and asked me if I was all right because he could see it in my eyes that I didn’t look right. He said it looked like I was looking right through him, and I was thinking there must be something wrong with me then.”

Shaw, in the game against Anaheim Friday night, had been pounded relentlessly by Kevin Bieksa, and watching the video is painful to see. His head snapped back several times under Bieksa’s fist, almost hitting the crossbar of the net against which he was pinned.

If anyone thinks, after knowing what he went through last season, that his health isn’t always first and foremost on his mind, they don’t understand post-concussion symptoms.

I do understand them. My son has had 2 concussions, and though the 2nd one was over 2 years ago, he is still experiencing symptoms. The brain is a mystery, and traumatic brain injuries are a very serious affliction.

I’m not saying that any of this is an excuse had Shaw been found to have used the slur. I’m saying that what he DID say makes a lot more sense. After Bieksa walloped him, as the refs did nothing, Shaw got up and went after his attacker. Only then was a whistle blown and both players penalized.

It makes a lot more sense that Shaw was protesting the fairness of having been penalized as well, rather than assume that he was using a homophobic slur to a referee.

But people won’t ever give others the benefit of the doubt. And it is a sad commentary on social media – and society in general – to see what transpired this Sunday.

One tweet touched me with this:


Spot on. The rush to judgment makes people holier-than-thou.And I am not hopeful, in any way, that they will have learned from this. I’m sure, however, that they will be just as quick to jump on another scapegoat without evidence to prove them wrong.

I don’t entertain any delusional aspirations that my writing about this incident will change anyone’s views or behavior. In fact, I even got this – after posting how wrong it was that Shaw had been vilified:

They can try to deflect any way they want. Some have had the class to apologize in public for their jumping to conclusions.

Maybe they’re the ones we can hope for, as those who will wait for conclusive evidence in the future.

I’m optimistic.

To a fault.

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