NFL and NHL: Need Some Practice in Domestic Violence

The discussion continues to unfold as different organizations are confronting the question of how to respond to domestic violence investigations and how to implement policy to help their players and protect women and children from violence. As of today, the National Hockey League (NHL) is in the spotlight after LA King Slava Voynov was arrested at 2 am this morning for suspicion of domestic violence. Ray Rice, about a month ago, was also arrested for aggravated assault after brutally assaulting his wife (then fiancée) Janay Rice in a casino elevator. The responses to these incidents are indicative of how the organization regards the serious issue of domestic violence.

Rice has not played six games this season due to his suspension in September. The incident occurred in February and was described by his attorney as a “minor physical altercation”. In May, he and his wife apologized for their involvement and are grateful for the help they had received since February. In July, Rice was suspended from two games by the NFL.  It was not until September that the gravity of the assault was made public by TMZ with a video of the elevator surveillance. The NFL claimed that they never saw the video and that Rice gave a different account of the incident than what is on the tape. It was not until this moment that he was suspended indefinitely.

Similarly, domestic violence has come up in the NHL’s past before but it was handling carelessly. Last season, Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov was not suspended and remained on the team during a domestic violence investigation. The charges were eventually dropped but the lack of consequences for Varlamov should not go unnoticed.

Now it is October (FYI Domestic Violence Awareness Month) and Voynov is arrested for the suspicion of domestic violence. We have heard this story before and it is tiresome, especially for domestic violence advocates, to see these incidents continue to happen. Thankfully, there is a plot twist to this story – NHL took action and immediately suspended Voynov indefinitely pending a domestic violence investigation.

Interestingly on the same day, Rice may be reinstated to the NFL within the next month according to an NFL source. He is appealing his indefinite suspension and some say he has a strong case. Could this really happen? We will find out soon enough. It is possible that teams will not sign Rice because it may be risky due to the controversy around this domestic violence issue, but he has strong ties with different teams and their coaches. Will his behavior be disregarded because he is considered one of the best running backs? Let’s hope not.

 Domestic violence is not an issue that organizations are comfortable dealing with – they need some practice. The NFL has a domestic violence policy while the NHL does not yet each of their actions are suggesting otherwise. Although the NHL lost their opportunity to be at the forefront of the issue when handling Varlamov and his domestic violence investigation, progress is being made. The NFL should take note of the NHL’s recent addition to their playbook when handling even simple allegations. There is no video or 911call that the NHL can reference but it did not take long for them to realize how serious the issue is and respond accordingly.

The discussion of domestic violence has compelled organizations to recognize their responsibilities to respond appropriately, hold their players accountable, and provide resources for intervention and prevention.

Domestic violence should be a game changer for athletes to participate on the field. These athletes are not only making money to play their sport. They are role models and people that our youth aspire to be. The players and their associated organizations need to demonstrate that violence is not tolerated nor accepted. Some are realizing this fact and are making adjustments in their rule books.

We need to get back to hitting balls and pucks rather than women and keep the conversation going.