Whitewashing of crimes tarnishes NHL’s reputation

The first thing I’d like to get out is that I’m angry. Less than a year ago today, Gary Bettman, as commissioner of the NHL, you told me that our players “who overwhelmingly conduct themselves magnificently off the ice” don’t actually need any rules or a code of conduct. Apparently hockey “players know what’s right and wrong” already so there’s really no need.
In October of 2014, the NFL was failing as it tried to handle its own domestic violence cases after a video of Ray Rice brutally assaulting his wife was made public. Bettman, should have used this moment to enter into meaningful conversations about crafting policies that can better address the rampant sexism, misogyny and gender-based violence perpetrated by the NHL, its players and affiliates every year. Instead, he praised supposed protocols already in place to handle issues of domestic violence and claimed that the NHL and he were attempting to continue being proactive.
Really, Bettman, really? Proactive? There was no way you put even an instant of thought into that statement before you made it. Less than a year before, the NHL screwed up its own handling of a case of despicable assault. In 2013, Colorado Avalanche’s goaltender, Semyon Varlamov was arrested and charged with assaulting his girlfriend. She called police in the middle of being terrorized emotionally, mentally and physically by Varlamov and when officers arrived, she was visibly bruised and it was clear that she had been attacked. I read the arrest affidavit and her statement was one of the most horrific and sickening things I’ve ever read. I cannot imagine anyone defending such despicable acts. The fact that as he assaulted her, Varlamov continued to laugh throughout the attack makes me physically ill.
Despite all this, the Avalanche not only gave Varlamov their full support, they actually had him start and play in the Avalanche’s very next game: a rivalry game against Dallas. Surely, if the team themselves were too profit driven and morally bankrupt to do something about it, the League would, right? Wrong. The NHL chose to not “intervene in the process.”
Once again, the NHL chose to protect itself and its players at the expense of not only brutally re-traumatizing an incredibly strong survivor but also alienating every one of its female fans. The NHL has a long history of only promoting the interests of its white, male fans yet they are also itching to expand its fan base. Female fans get ridiculous ‘girls nights’ promotions thrown at them or are marketed skimpy bikinis that often don’t even feature a team name or logo [full disclosure: I 100 percent own an NJ Devils bikini and I 100 percent love it].
The NHL and its media has not only been complicit in silencing female’s and survivor’s voices but also alienating any minority that doesn’t fit the ‘norm’ of who a hockey fan is. For a League attempting to expand its reach, this is ridiculous. As an Indian, I only ever saw Manny Malhotra in the League and far too many articles and news clips simply use the ‘model minority’ template and instead of studying math and science to become a doctor or engineer, Malhotra did hockey. P.K. Subban was treated horrendously by racist Bruins fans when the Habs topped Boston in 2014. Someone threw a banana onto the ice before Wayne Simmonds took a shot in a shootout.
Evander Kane’s “money phone” picture, taken in Las Vegas during the lockout created a media storm in which he was tarnishing the very image or idea of hockey. Yet, Patrick Kane brutally beats up a cab driver for about $2 and it’s just boyish exuberance. It’s laughed off. A drunken week in Madison during which Kane allegedly sexually harassed dozens of women was barely even reported upon. Mike Ribeiro, accused of sexually assaulting multiple women, multiple times–including forcibly raping his nanny while his children were present–is simply a struggle he has had to overcome and has somehow persevered through.
The whitewashing and protection by the League and the teams of its players when they continue to perpetrate such heinous acts, is unacceptable. Look at Kane for example. There have been dozens of incidents that have suggested a larger pattern of perhaps substance abuse and violence towards women. Earlier this summer, a woman came forward and alleged that Kane had raped her. Kane, who had just won his third cup with Chicago, has been given every privilege under the sun. He faced no disciplinary action. People have not been calling him a liar. He has the full support of the League, his teammates and the press. He was able to call a press conference in which he referred to the allegations as a “distraction” and “media circus.” His accuser has been afforded none of the same privileges.
And, if you think that it’s just one guy on one team that’s causing these problems: just take a look at the LA Kings. The Kings are a perfect example of rape culture as it’s ingrained in the players and their behavior and compounded by League and team ownership inaction. And, all of this is simply reinforced by the media. In the last few years the Kings have had four players charged with a crime. There was a DUI and property damage charge, one rape charge, a domestic abuse charge and one player that attempted to cross into Canada with some OxyContin. You know the only player the Kings released for a ‘breach of conduct?” Mike Richards, who was carrying the drugs. Drew Doughty was accused of raping a woman and the League and Kings largely ignored it. Defenseman Slava Voynov, who assaulted his wife, did receive a League suspension that the Kings outright ignored as Voynov continued skating with them. He was deported back to Russia this summer though the Kings have refused to officially release him even now. Why do we have to accept the King’s choice to terminate Richards contract and publicly condone Voynov’s by maintaining his? Why do we accept the media’s reluctance to tarnish a ‘hero’ like Doughty’s reputation? Why was a ‘controversy’ about whether or not Phil Kessel bought a hot dog from a specific cart every day a bigger deal than Voynov and Ribiero’s gross misconduct and their team’s easy acceptance of that conduct?
There’s a large contingent of hockey writers attempting to bemoan the ‘glory days’ of hockey and blame the tarnished image on the fact that players simply are being watched constantly what with social media and all! Well then, what do you have to say to Denis Potvin, one of the ‘greats’, a clear image of hockey’s ‘honorable past’. Potvin beat his wife for years. Instead of any League or fan support though, Rangers fans turned it into the infamous “Beat your wife, Potvin, beat your wife!” chant to add to their “Potvin sucks!” chant (though we all know Rangers suck, obviously). His wife testified that for years Potvin would hit her, especially when he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which he frequently was.
And remember Varlamov? Well his coach is none another than famed Patrick Roy (a goaltender never as good as Martin Brodeur) who in 2000 was arrested for beating his wife. She refused to testify against him or cooperate with investigation so the charges were dropped but while Varlamov was going through the eerily similar situation, Roy defended his choice to play Varlamov. “Why wait? We’re all aware of what happened, but we just feel that he’s our guy. We have confidence in him and feel that it’s good for him to play.” Note the lack of denial that Varlamov is innocent. Even Ribeiro admitted to raping his nanny, but claimed it was because of drugs or alcohol so he wasn’t to blame. Apparently the NHL agrees.
As for Varlamov? He’s still playing for the Avalanche. According to him though “It’s just American laws [that] are on the women’s side, that’s why they can go to the police for any little thing, complain and bring a lot of problems to men.”
So yeah, I’m mad, NHL. I’m really pissed. It’s not okay to completely disregard your female fans. It’s not okay to simply ignore the problem of gender based violence in the NHL as well as junior hockey feeder leagues across North America. Every day you allow Patrick Kane to play without any penalty or even a condemnation of his actions, you discount the experience of survivors everywhere. So, no. Things are not okay, NHL.


  1. These NHL players are bad examples, and don’t deserve any special treatment just because they are hockey players. As for Potvin, he is an obnoxious egotistical blowhard, who is a former wife beater(which is well proven) and maybe still is a wife beater with his now second wife. I never liked him! These players should be charged like anybody else, and put in jail.

    • …”who is a former wife beater (which is well proven)”. Really? Can you explain? Thanks in advance.

  2. Writer AMREEN BHASIN says “Potvin beat his wife for years.” And …”would hit her, especially when he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which he frequently was.” Unless you can provide adequate proof, I would consider that slander & character assassination. Please do proper research before recklessly throwing accusations around.

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