By Steve Silverman
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Ray Rice is having an impact on the NHL.
A big impact.
Gary Bettman understands the public relations nightmare the NFL is going through now because of the lenient treatment Rice got for knocking out his fiancé in an elevator last February.
The last thing Bettman wants is to be victimized by the same level of disgust as Roger Goodell after one of his players is accused of domestic violence.
So, Bettman and the NHL reacted swiftly on Tuesday when Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov was arrested after the woman he accompanied to the hospital Monday morning was determined to have been the victim of domestic violence.
Voynov has not been officially charged with a crime as of yet, and his attorney says he believes that charges will not be filed based on what the victim has said to him.
That’s exactly why Rice was suspended for two game originally by Goodell. He listened to Janay Palmer, who married Rice after the incident. She tried to absolve Rice and take the blame herself.
That’s what many domestic violence victims are wont to do, especially those involved with highly paid sports figures and celebrities.
Many are more interested in protecting a lifestyle than seeing justice done.
Bettman did the right thing, but morality is not his likely inspiration, even though he cloaks himself in it. No, the NHL commissioner does not want to be subjected to the same kind of ridicule as Goodell, and the desire to hold on to some shred of dignity is likely the cause of the league’s quick action.
Bettman is widely ridiculed and scorned whenever he makes the rounds in the NHL. His annual Stanley Cup presentations don’t hide the enmity that most fans have for him. The boos and catcalls that greet him often drown out the biggest moment of the season, particularly when the NHL champion wins its final game on the road.
Bettman tries to wear that cloak like a badge of honor, but you get the feeling that it really gets under his skin. The public dissatisfaction is well-earned, however. He has presided over three gut-wrenching lockouts, one that cost the NHL a full season, and two others that cost the league nearly half the schedule.
But apparently Bettman knows how to run his business, because NHL teams are now mostly profitable ventures even though the sport brings in far less revenue than Major League Baseball and the NBA. We won’t even begin to compare the NHL to the NFL, because that would just be too ridiculous to consider.
But in the case of domestic violence, Bettman and the NHL are taking a smarter and more consistent approach than Goodell and the NFL ever considered.
They are not rushing to judgment on Voynov, because they are continuing to pay him his salary. However, they are telling the world they do not want to associate with the defenseman until the matter is decided. In addition to not being able to play with the Kings, he is not allowed to participate in any team activity.
About a year ago, Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov was arrested on suspicion of kidnapping and assault against the woman he was living with at the time. Felony charges were never filed and the misdemeanor charge was later dropped when witnesses changed their story.
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the league suspended Voynov and not Varlamov because of “significantly different facts.”
Since Voynov has not had his day in court yet, no facts have been established. The only fact is that the public expressed its outrage against the crime of domestic violence when the videotape of Rice knocking out his girlfriend emerged.
The NHL is not going to fall into that same trap. It could have been tarred and feathered for being soft on Varlamov, and it is not going to take that chance in the Voynov case.
Bettman had been asked about the NHL’s stance on domestic violence when the Rice tape went public.
“We as a league have more than enough authority and mechanisms to punish, if necessary, in the appropriate case,” Bettman said. “Fortunately, we haven’t seen too many.”
The NHL has done the right thing, and that’s all that can be asked.
It may have come out of a desire to avoid criticism and be politically correct, but it is making a statement to any player who may have the thought of losing control around a family member that such behavior will not be tolerated.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy
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