Earlier this month, a group chat involving Brendan Leipsic of the Washington Capitals and Florida Panthers prospect Jack Rodewald surfaced that involved vulgar, degrading, and misogynistic comments towards women. This included random women, as well as wives and girlfriends of fellow NHL players.
The NHL released a statement condemning the comments:“The National Hockey League strongly condemns the misogynistic and reprehensible remarks made by players Brendan Leipsic and Jack Rodewald in a private group chat that has surfaced on social media. There is no place in our League for such statements, attitudes and behavior, no matter the forum. We will address this inexcusable conduct with the clubs and players involved.”
The situation was handled perfectly, including the termination of Leipsic's contract. This incident also reignited the conversation about toxic masculinity in professional sports. It’s a conversation worth having, but we never have a conversation about how traditional masculinity makes so many athletes better men.
There are more gentlemen than jerks in most professional sports, which is why I have compiled a list of five gentlemanly athletes who also have great professional success. Every man on this list has a championship under his belt as well as a devotion to family, charity, or both.
Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs (MLB)
This one was a no-brainer because Anthony Rizzo is one of the most well-liked and respected athletes in professional sports. In 2016, he helped lead the Chicago Cubs to their first championship in 108 years. Rizzo is known for his charity work, which stands out because his foundation is very close to his heart.
He created the Anthony Rizzo Family Foundation in 2012, five years after he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma. His foundation is dedicated to helping cancer patients and family members of cancer patients, something he took to heart when he was in treatment.
He writes, “This was obviously terrible news for me personally, but it was even more grueling for my family because my Grandma was facing her own battle with breast cancer at the very same time. As bad as my chemotherapy treatments made me feel, I knew I had to dig deep and stay strong for everyone around me. During this time, I realized that cancer is so much more than individual hardship, but rather a battle that the whole family must face together. It was a hard road, but on September 2, 2008, my doctor, Izidore Lossos gave me the great news, ‘Anthony, you are in Remission.’ Overcoming adversity like this provided me the clarity to know that, in addition to my dreams of major league ball, I now wanted to become a role model to help cancer patients and their families.”
"Overcoming adversity like this provided me the clarity to know that, in addition to my dreams of major league ball, I now wanted to become a role model to help cancer patients and their families."
Rizzo is an alumnus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were killed in a shooting on February 14, 2018. Rizzo donated money to the National Compassion Fund to help the victims and gave an emotional speech at the vigil.
On Opening Day of the 2018 season, Rizzo hit a home run in a game against the Florida Marlins and dedicated it to the victims of the Parkland shooting. He said, "I've hit a lot of home runs. That was probably the most out-of-body experience I've had hitting a home run in my life. It just felt really good. My emotions on Opening Day are usually pretty high, but with all this, you can't really put it into words. I put my hand on the Stoneman Douglas patch and looked up to those kids up there, the adults who have lost their lives. It was a special moment for me personally."
He’s also stepped up to help healthcare workers in Chicago during the COVID-19 pandemic. And to save you all the heartache and the Google search, yes, he’s married.
Steph Curry, Golden State Warriors (NBA)
Even if he’s ruined the chances of your favorite team winning a championship, it’s hard to not love Steph Curry. Like many of the men on this list, he has an adorable family. He met his wife Ayesha, an actress and Food Network host, when they were teenagers at church camp. They have three children, Riley, 7, Ryan, 4, and Canon, 1.
Curry became known as a family man to millions of fans during his first of three championship runs with the Golden State Warriors in 2015 when two-year-old Riley stole the show at his post-game press conferences. Although he now regrets bringing her to the podium because he wants her to have as normal of a childhood as possible, their secret courtside handshake is just as adorable.
Curry is also known for his philanthropic work. He frequently donates to Nothing But Net, a charity dedicated to donating mosquito nets to malaria-ridden communities and created a limited edition sneaker in 2017, the proceeds of which went to the charity. He has partnered with former president Barack Obama in the Obama Foundation’s My Brother's Keeper Alliance, an organization dedicated to teaching “every boy and young man of color in America...that their dreams mattered as much as any other child’s.”
Curry and daughter Riley have a secret courtside handshake.
Most recently, both Curry and Ayesha have pledged to donate one million meals to students in Oakland who are missing their school lunches during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is further proof that Curry is a gentleman on and off the court.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago Blackhawks (NHL)
The story of Leipsic and Rodewald is one of the worst stories of hockey players being jerks. However, Toews is one of the best examples of a hockey player being awesome. While Leipsic and Rodewald were degrading women in a group chat, Toews has spent his entire NHL career giving back to various charities for children in Chicago and in his native Canada.
In 2018, he launched the Jonathan Toews Foundation and teamed up with Green Bronx Machine to help educate the children of Chicago Public Schools to eat healthy while supporting the environment. In an interview with the Chicago Sun-Times, Toews said, “I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many bright members of our youth community who are willing to learn and striving to be the best version of themselves. Healthy eating habits are certainly part of that, and I want to thank my partners Green Bronx Machine and CPS for their great collaboration in bringing this experience and skill set to students at a young age.”
Toews has spent his entire NHL career giving back to various charities for children in Chicago and in his native Canada.
He frequently visits children’s hospitals around Chicago, regularly donates to the charities of the Chicago Blackhawks Foundation (including $100,000 for COVID-19 relief), and surprised a young fan wishing him a happy birthday after he couldn’t attend a game on his special day due to the COVID-19 pause. He’s also worked with Canadian charities as a Jumpstart ambassador for Canadian Tire, which is “a national charity dedicated to helping kids overcome financial and accessibility barriers to sport and recreation, while providing inclusive play for kids of all abilities.”
It’s safe to say that he has a good reputation in the city of Chicago and throughout the hockey world. With his adorable relationship with girlfriend Lindsey Vecchione, he also has a reputation for being respectful towards women. And did I mention that he looks like a Disney prince and has three championship rings to his name? What a guy!
Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks (NFL)
Nothing warms my heart quite like Russell Wilson’s relationships with his wife Ciara. Wilson and Ciara began dating in 2015 after she had a very public breakup with rapper Future, the biological father of her eldest son. They both shocked everyone when they announced they were abstaining from sex until marriage. They tied the knot in 2016, and Wilson became a father figure for her son, Future Zahir. They welcomed their first child together, Sienna, in 2017 and are expecting their second child together in June.
In an appearance on The View, Ciara discussed her marriage with Wilson. With tears of joy in her eyes, she said, “God is good. When you allow yourself to be vulnerable, you become your strongest. When I met the love of my life it was not only loving me, it was to love my son.”
I can’t think of anything more gentlemanly than taking on the role of a father figure when the father of your wife’s first child is absent. That’s the action of a strong and wonderful man. Besides being a wonderful athlete (he has one Super Bowl ring with the Seattle Seahawks), husband, and father, Wilson is also a philanthropist. He frequently visits the Seattle Children’s Hospital. He started the Why Not You Foundation in 2014 which is “dedicated to creating real and lasting change in the world by motivating, empowering and preparing today’s youth to be tomorrow’s leaders.”
I can’t think of anything more gentlemanly than taking on the role of a father figure when the father of your wife’s first child is absent.
He and Ciara have also pledged to donate one million meals to Seattle families in need during the COVID-19 crisis. With his dedication to family and charity work, he’s the perfect example of traditional masculinity at its best.
TJ Oshie, Washington Capitals (NHL)
It’s no secret that TJ Oshie and his wife Lauren are #MarriageGoals. Their children Lyla, 6, Leni, 3, and Campbell, two months, are nothing short of adorable, and I could scroll through Lauren’s Instagram all day.
Oshie won over the hearts of millions after he won his first Stanley Cup with the Washington Capitals in 2018. It was special because his father and childhood coach, who has Alzheimer’s, got to watch his son raise the Stanley Cup. In a tearful post-game interview, he said, "My dad, he doesn't remember a lot of stuff these days. He remembers enough. But I tell you what, he's here tonight. I don't know where he's at, but this one will stick with him forever. You can guarantee that."
Oshie’s father raised him right. Besides his devotion to his family and hockey, he also strives to make his dad proud by working with the Alzheimer's Association, a charity that “leads the way toward ending Alzheimer’s and all other dementia.” It’s pretty safe to say that his father is proud of him on and off the ice.
Professional athletes, like any profession, are a mixed bag. There’s a mix of good ones and bad ones, but we often only hear about the bad ones. With the COVID-19 pandemic putting sports on pause and the recent issue of misogynistic behavior of two professional hockey players, it’s more important than ever to acknowledge the great gentlemanly athletes out there.