Two Leagues Handling the Same Situation: NHL vs. NFL

Okay, so we all know the video: Ray Rice, fiancé, hotel elevator. We also know how poorly the NFL handled not just his suspension, but also the whole situation. A two game suspension was considered “punishment” for his actions, but it was more like a slap on the wrist.

Of course, after the video was released, the very timely Roger Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely. However, the commissioner and the league have faced a lot of criticism in how they handle their athletes who are arrested on charges of domestic violence.

Wouldn’t you think that since so many NFL players are arrested for domestic violence that the league would have a better strategy of handling it? Since the year 2000, there have been 85 NFL players arrested for domestic violence, and their policy seems to remain stagnant. Professional athletes are held to a higher standard, and the NFL should be no exception.

To most people, NFL player is synonymous with thug and they are not doing much to prove those associations wrong. A little less than 800 players in the NFL have been arrested since the year 2000. Among pro sports, the NFL comes in second, behind the NBA, in their domestic abuse rates; the NHL, however, does not have rates significant enough to even be on that list.

But this past week the tables have turned and the unexpected happened. Here is a headline you don’t see every day: L.A. Kings defenseman Slava Voynov arrested for domestic violence, suspended by NHL. Whoa, does that actually say an NHL player was suspended for domestic violence? Hockey players are not necessarily known for their criminal backgrounds, or lack thereof, so one would think that this arrest would create quite a stir in the world of professional hockey, right? Wrong.

Photo courtesy of Bridget Samuels / flickr.

Photo courtesy of Bridget Samuels / Flickr

Commissioner Gary Bettman was quick to act. As soon as Bettman got the news of Voynov’s arrest, he suspended the defenseman from all team activities, pending an investigation. This was no measly two-game suspension, unaffected by the investigation timeline (I’m looking at you, Mr. Goodell); this suspension is to be carried out as long as Voynov is under investigation for the domestic violence charges. He will not be coming back to play any time soon.

Comparing the lack of action of the NFL to the immediate reaction of the NHL, in situations like this, it is obvious that either:

  1. The NHL is more equipped to handle situations such as these, or
  2. The priorities of the NHL and NFL are completely different.

This is not meant to just bring down the NFL (okay, maybe just a little bit), but compared to the NHL’s disciplinary policies, the NFL still has quite a bit of work to do. The NHL deserves praise for their quick action in this case. But then again, it should not be such a big deal because this should be the norm in sports today. Regardless of skill level, you are still human, and you still committed a crime; players should not be treated any differently because of their place on the payroll.

Regardless of my gender, I am writing this as a sports fan. Really, any decent human being should see this course of action as an example for all other leagues when it comes to consequence for crimes such as these. While you want the best for your team, shouldn’t the mental and physical well being of another person take precedence over any game?

Photo courtesy of Kevin B. Moore / flickr.

Photo courtesy of Kevin B. Moore / Flickr

Their argument is that their favorite player, who was just suspended for beating someone senseless, is instrumental in creating offensive opportunities on goal. He has such a bright career ahead of him, right? Since he has these seemingly superhuman abilities in athletics, some think he should have a “get out of jail free card” when it comes to physically attacking someone else, who is often much weaker (which makes it even more pathetic).

Everyone loves a good hit on the field or a nice brawl on the ice. But just because we like to watch these grown men skating (or running) around and beating up on each other, that does not give them justification to take that violence away from the game and lash out off the ice/field.

All leagues should look at the timely response of the NHL and use that as an example when it comes to disciplining their athletes. They made the right decision in this case, no hesitancy or tiptoeing around the issue. Their response was what a typical response towards a domestic violence incident should be. The NHL is showing a zero tolerance policy for domestic violence, and that is how leagues need to see this everywhere.

While we are all sports fans, whether we are hockey lovers or football fanatics, we are all regular people first and we should always look out for each other. I know it might surprise some, but athletes are humans too! And when it comes down to it, as painful as it is to admit… It is just a game.

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Katie McGirney