Voynov, Russians, The NHL and Domestic Violence

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/67/Slava_Voynov_-_Los_Angeles_Kings.jpg

As per ESPN, LA Kings’ defender Slava Voynov was arrested Monday, on charges of domestic violence.

Voynov was arrested at 3:45 a.m. ET (12:45 a.m. PT) on Monday by Redondo Beach police. Voynov’s bail amount was set at $50,000, which he posted, Sgt. Paul Ribitzki of the Redondo Beach PD said. 

Officers responded to a house in Redondo Beach around 2:25 a.m. ET (11:25 p.m. PT) after a neighbor called police, saying a women was screaming for “the past 20 minutes and could now be heard crying,” according to a news release from the Redondo Beach Police Department.

 

 

The release said officers responded and found no one in the house, but around 90 minutes later, received a call from nearby Torrance policy saying a woman was being treated at Little Company of Mary Hospital for “injuries that were possibly received during a domestic violence incident.”

Redondo Beach officers met with the person at the hospital and arrested Voynov, who was at the hospital.

 

Further details of the incident have since been released, on Rich Hammond’s Orange County Register blog page via INUK’s good friend Ryan Womeldorf at TwoPadStack.

Damage Control

The Kings organisation has released a statement stating that they fully support the NHL’s subsequent decision to indefinitely suspend Voynov while investigatory proceedings are underway.  Indeed, since I began writing this piece, Kings’ GM Dean Lombardi has come out and specifically stated that the league did the right thing.

Domestic violence is something of a hot topic in North American sports at the moment, with NFL players Ray Rice, Jonathan Dwyer and Adrian Peterson being suspended and under investigation for horrendous acts against those they supposedly care for the most. The Voynov case will came under scrutiny not just from the police and NHL fans, but also the public at large who will likely have had their faith in national institutions such as the NFL shaken following their controversial reactions to the aforementioned cases.

These controversies included the Baltimore Ravens reportedly knowing Rice had knocked his wife unconscious well before it became public knowledge; Ravens’ owner Steve Bisciotti sending a message of support to Rice and guaranteeing him a job after his career ends; the NFL suspending Rice for just two games; and allegations that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell attempted to cover up the incident.

As such, the NHL’s reaction to this kind of incident was always going to be closely scrutinized.  Many have praised the NHL’s quick decision to suspend Voynov indefinitely, a quick and decisive reaction to a potentially damaging incident.  The Kings’ supportiveness of that decision allows little room for critics to point out errors in that punishment.

At the same time, the fact Voynov will still collect his pay cheques while suspended points to the fact that while the NHL does not condone criminal activity of any kind, they recognize that Voynov remains innocent until proven guilty, which many regard as a staple of “civilised society.”  Many probably won’t like that fact, but I can’t say I take issue with it.

Past Precedent?

It is, however, interesting to compare the situation and reaction to that of Semyon Varlamov’s domestic violence case last season. The Colorado Avalanche star goaltender was arrested in October 2013 on charges of second-degree kidnapping and third-degree assault.

The NHL’s immediate reaction was as follows:

“The League is aware of the situation involving Semyon Varlamov,” said an NHL spokesman. “We will not comment unless or until we have a fuller understanding of all of the facts and circumstances related to the legal charges that have been filed.”

 

The Avalanche also issued a statement with a virtually identical sentiment.

And yet, the league didn’t suspend Varlamov.  Instead, the above statement allowed them the leeway to act in the event that the allegations against the player were proven true, which of course they never were, and Varlamov was allowed to remain active as a player during the course of the investigation.

This is thanks to the clause in the CBA which states the following:

…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.

 

There is no specific clause covering domestic violence incidents, but rather the league will deal with each case individually, with the action taken dependent on how much the incident will harm the league.

Some may cry hypocrisy, that the league is essentially dealing with two domestic violence cases in completely different manners.

The simple truth of the matter is that the landscape of criminal investigations in North American professional sports has changed since October 2013.  The NHL absolutely cannot afford to look weak, and probably believe if they take a proactive and strong-but-fair stance, that they stand to gain significant respect for the manner in which they deal with the issue.  Whether that will happen remains to be seen.

A recent opinion poll by Associated Press-GfK did suggest a small dent in popularity of the league in the wake of that league’s scandals, but it seems less likely that a league will gain fans simply because of how they deal with criminal issues than losing fans because of same, in the same manner that I wouldn’t start to enjoy cock-fighting merely because the CFL (that’s what the CFL is, right Canadians?) suspends a player charged with murder.

Still, it is encouraging to see the stance taken by the NHL and the Kings, and at the very least you could argue it shows the league has learned something from the Varlamov incident and the NFL controversies.

It would be nice, on the other hand, if the league would make a stronger point of “violence against women and/or children is simply not acceptable”, as opposed to “this may make us look bad”. But, hopefully that will come in the event that Voynov is found guilty.  Is that wishful thinking?

“Enigmatic Russians”

Another interesting angle is that of the “the Russian factor”.  Anyone who follows me knows that I despise the “old-school” ways of Don Cherry and the anti-European bias that still permeates many corners of the game.  Can people look past the fact that the last two NHL players to be involved in domestic abuse cases, Voynov and Varlamov, are both Russians?  So far I haven’t seen that viewpoint displayed, but it wouldn’t surprise me to see it creep out from some corners.

A little research shows that there are serious domestic violence issues in Russia, including the fact that it is not recognised as a crime (although perpetrators can still be charged under other crimes, such as assault).  The Russian interior ministry apparently estimates 600,000 cases of domestic abuse each year – how much you believe this statistic depends on (a) how much you trust the Russian interior ministry, and (b) what the Russian interior ministry’s definition of domestic violence is.  Either way, it is regarded as a huge problem in that country, but then it is in the United States and many other countries aswell.

I’m not going to delve deeper into the statistics because, well, what’s the point? The very notion of beating up your wife or child (or anyone for that matter, though I recognise the hypocrisy I myself display there, being a hockey fan) is a disgusting one, and no amount of numbers “proving this” and “disproving that” will change anything from mine and likely your perspective.

Do those numbers mean Russian hockey players in the NHL are more likely to end up beating their wives and/or children than their North American counterparts? I would say it’s pretty unlikely, and would suggest it is unwise for anyone to state their belief that Russia is a nation of wife-beaters. You’ll only look like a fool; after all, it’s not as if Rice, Peterson and Dwyer hail from the Motherland, is it?

Follow Chris on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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