NHL Got Initial Response To Voynov Incident Right, But There’s Still A Long Way To Go

LA Kings defenseman Slava
Voynov’s booking photo.
Photo: Redondo Beach Police Department

LOS ANGELES — Back on October 8, when the Los Angeles Kings opened their 2014-15 National Hockey League season at Staples Center in Los Angeles, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman held an informal press conference, discussing the state of the league.

Towards the end of the press conference, Bettman was asked about the league’s policies on domestic violence incidents, in light of the National Football League’s abhorrent practices and policies involving incidents of domestic violence, most notably, the Ray Rice incident.

“That’s something we’ve been doing with the [National Hockey League] Players Association for more than a decade,” Bettman replied. “We, as a league, have more than enough authority and mechanisms to punish, if necessary, in the appropriate case, of which we haven’t seen too many. But more importantly, we focus on counseling and education, and in the joint programs we have with the players association, we’ve been counseling and educating on domestic violence for more than a decade, probably well [over] a decade. I don’t remember the exact date.”

“The security department does it in their annual meetings with each team, and the behavioral counselors from the substance abuse/behavioral health program also counsel and educate the players on those and many other issues, so I’m not sure, for us, if there’s any need for a code of conduct other than our players, who overwhelmingly conduct themselves magnificently off the ice,” Bettman added. “You deal with it on a case-by-case basis. I don’t think we need to formalize anything more. Our players know what’s right and wrong, and we have the mechanisms in place to, hopefully, not get to that point.”

Little did Bettman know that his words would be put into practice, and under the microscope, so quickly.

During the early morning hours of October 20, Kings defenseman Slava Voynov was arrested for an alleged incident of domestic violence.

According to a press release from the Redondo Beach Police Department, their officers responded to a call at approximately 11:25 PM on October 19 of a “…possible family fight at a residence in the area of the 800 block of Avenue C” in Redondo Beach, Lieutenant Joe Hoffman said in the release.

Hoffman went on to say that “a female could be heard screaming for the past twenty minutes and could now be heard crying.”

Upon arrival, officers “…were able to determine which house the female was likely in, [but]…were unable to contact the female, or anyone else at the residence, and received information that the female may have left in a vehicle prior to the officers arriving,” said Hoffman.

Hoffman stated that the Redondo Beach Police Department was contacted by the Torrance Police Department after they were notified about a female being treated at the Little Company of Mary Hospital emergency room, “…for injuries that were possibly received during a domestic violence incident that had occurred earlier in the City of Redondo Beach.”

Redondo Beach officers responded to the hospital, and after determining that a domestic violence incident occurred in Redondo Beach, they arrested Voynov, who was at the hospital, on suspicion of violating section 273.5(a) of the California Penal Code.

Voynov was booked at the Redondo Beach Police Department jail, and was held on $50,000 bail. He was released on bond at approximately 9:00 AM, and is scheduled to appear in Los Angeles County Superior Court in Torrance on December 1.

The female has not been identified, nor has the Redondo Beach Police Department commented on the extent of her injuries, her age, or her relationship to Voynov because she requested confidentiality, which is her right under California law.

However, 273.5(a) of the California Penal Code requires that a couple be married, in a relationship, living together or have a child together.

Despite the arrest, according to various reports, no charges have been filed against Voynov at press time.

The NHL was quick to respond to the incident. In fact, they announced that they had suspended Voynov before the story broke here in the Los Angeles area.

“Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov has been suspended indefinitely from all club activities pending a formal investigation by the National Hockey League of an arrest this morning on charges of domestic violence,” the league said, in a statement.

“The suspension was imposed under Section 18-A.5 of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, which provides that, during the pendency of a criminal investigation, ‘The League may suspend the Player pending the League’s formal review and disposition of the matter where the failure to suspend the Player during this period would create a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the League.’”

“Voynov, who will continue to be paid during the pendency of the investigation, was arrested for California Penal Code section 273.5, Domestic Violence.”

The Kings released their own statement shortly thereafter.

“These developments are of great concern to our organization. We support the NHL’s decision to suspend Slava Voynov indefinitely during this process, and we will continue to take appropriate action as the legal proceedings and the investigation by the NHL take their course.”

Although it must be pointed out that charges have yet to be filed, and while there remains a long way to go before this case is resolved, the NHL deserves praise for its swift, initial response to the incident.

To be sure, the NHL acted quickly and without hesitation. They also acted responsibly and appropriately. Their actions are also a far cry from the NFL’s handling of its own domestic violence incidents, in which they tried to sweep everything under the rug while protecting the players involved, their teams, and their revenue streams—those were their primary concerns. They exhibited no respect or concern for the alleged victims, or civilized society as a whole, for that matter.

But now, all eyes will be on the league, the Kings and, of course, Voynov. How will they handle the situation going forward? Of the utmost importance, will they support the alleged victim? Will justice be served? Will Voynov be completely shunned by the league and its fans, regardless of the outcome of this case? Perhaps most important for Voynov, will he receive the counseling/treatment he needs to address these issues?

In light of the NFL’s massive failures, at all levels, regarding their domestic violence incidents, the NHL must get this right, at every step of the way. Indeed, they cannot afford one misstep on this issue, given that hockey remains a niche sport in the United States.

Although the league has been making progress in terms of growing its fan base south of the Canadian border, their response to this incident, as its develops, will be absolutely critical to how hardcore fans, casual fans and those who might only be mildly interested will view the NHL—the league will be under the microscope in a way never seen before.

Will the NHL continue to handle this situation appropriately, fairly and swiftly? Although their initial response bodes well for how they might handle it the rest of the way, there is a lot of room for mistakes. One blunder could be all it takes for the league to lose credibility in the eyes of its fans and the general public.

The NHL cannot afford to take backwards steps in terms of their growing popularity. With all eyes on them now regarding this incident, how they move forward and how they respond as the situation progresses will be critical. Again, they must get this right at every step. Mistakes won’t be tolerated by an unforgiving fan base and general public when it comes to issues regarding domestic violence.

Nor should they be tolerated.

On A Separate Note…

This is not directly related to the Voynov incident, although it did spur the thought…

There’s a saying in the labor movement regarding the role of women throughout history…

“Women hold up half the sky.”

Without question, that phrase applies far beyond the labor movement.

If only more people took that to heart…

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8 Responses to NHL Got Initial Response To Voynov Incident Right, But There’s Still A Long Way To Go

  1. lyzette says:

    Great piece!

  2. Bruce Cameron says:

    Well written piece Gann. We, the general pubic, really have no idea, at this point, what the facts of the case are. However, the incident itself has opened up a can of worms that the NHL, NHLPA nor the Kings probably ever considered. The NHL has the power to suspend a player to protect their reputation. But Voynov, in the American justice system, has the Right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. The last point is somewhat calmed by Voynov still receiving his salary even while banned from anything Kings related. But, and this is not inconsequential, the Kings organization seems to be in the position of being punished “on ice” for a player’s alleged offense “off ice”. So, will Bettman’s office and the NHL allow the Kings to spend over the cap to replace a contract player who has been suspended for off ice activities? I have no answers, but as you say, the league must be very careful to act judiciously for all parties in this sad situation.

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