On Oct. 20, the NHL indefinitely suspended Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov after he was arrested on a domestic violence charge. The NHL’s decisive action comes in the wake of criticism over the NFL’s mismanagement of domestic violence issues.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell came under fire recently for his irresolute response to the domestic violence allegations against Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. In July, Goodell was criticized for suspending Rice for only two games. A month later, Goodell admitted he was wrong and announced a new domestic violence policy for the NFL involving heftier suspensions. Soon after, a video showing Rice striking his fiancee in an elevator instigated another round of criticism toward Goodell, and the NFL indefinitely suspensended for Rice. While Goodell denied seeing the video prior to its public release, the Associated Press reported that the NFL received the video in April.
The NHL’s response to Voynov produced far less controversy than the NFL’s flurry of domestic violence issues. The NHL showed no hesitation and announced Voynov’s indefinite suspension immediately after his arrest. On Nov. 20, it was announced that Voynov would be charged with one felony count of corporal injury to a spouse with great bodily injury. The NHL’s suspension remains active as a result.
Moreover, the NHL has not wavered in its decision. It has strictly adhered to the conditions of Voynov’s suspension. On Tuesday, Voynov was seen practicing with the Los Angeles Kings — a violation of the suspension that bans him from participating in team functions. The NHL subsequently fined the Kings $100,000.
The NHL was not so decisive a year ago under a different climate. On Oct. 30, 2013, Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov was arrested for domestic violence charges. While the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement allows the league to suspend players who are under criminal investigation, the NHL and Colorado Avalanche decided not to take action and Varlamov finished the season for the Avalanche.
The Varlamov incident did not provoke significant criticism. However, public outcry over the Rice incident made domestic violence a serious issue in professional sports. Voynov’s arrest and immediate suspension were in the wake of the NFL’s domestic abuse issues, indicative of a shift toward a no-tolerance attitude.
When addressing Voynov’s suspension, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly acknowledged the NFL’s actions and the changing climate surrounding domestic abuse issues. However, Daly stressed that the Voynov and Varlamov incidents were starkly different, as Varlamov was ultimately not charged with a felony. Still, the NHL’s inaction immediately following Varlamov’s arrest contrasts with its handling of Voynov’s case.
While the NHL waits on a ruling in Voynov’s case, the NFL continues to deal with Rice. Rice appealed his indefinite suspension to an arbitrator in September, and on Nov. 28, it was announced that he had won the appeal. He is now eligible to sign with any NFL team and resume play. Judge Barbara S. Jones, a former federal judge, ruled in favor of Rice because of Goodell’s inconsistency and lack of transparency. In her ruling, Judge Jones further stated that the suspension would have been harder to overturn if Goodell had issued an indefinite suspension from the start.
A new precedent has begun to take shape in professional sports with regard to managing domestic violence issues. While the NFL certainly provided the NHL with an example of how not to handle domestic violence issues, the NHL’s decisiveness has put the league in far better position to handle the Voynov case going forward.
Daniel Litke is a senior in the College. CAPITALS HILL appears every Friday.