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The NHL needs a policy on Domestic Violence

The National Hockey League needs to create a policy on domestic violence in the fallout from Austin Watson’s 27 game suspension being reduced to 18 games for this very charge. A policy would give the league a citable reason to suspend a player for a specific length of time and also give them grounds to terminate contracts if needed.

To craft any policy that is involving the law and victims, a sporting body should work with victim advocates to create a policy that empowers them and does not punish them for coming forward. When Chicago Cubs player Addison Russell’s ex-wife came forward with allegations of abuse, she stated that she was discouraged by her lawyer from cooperating with the MLB investigation as it could change her husband’s contract situation and therefore change the divorce settlement. Any domestic violence policy should insulate the victim from having family finances change because they come forward. Victim advocates would be able to help the NHL craft a policy that protects victims and their financial security.

The NHL and the MLS appear to be the only mainstream professional sports leagues in North America without domestic violence policies. These policies allow for leagues to have guidelines in how to deal with any incident of domestic violence including investigation, punishment, and re-instatement. The Canadian Football League’s is the most severe for the accused with the league policy stating that the player should be cut and any subsequent contract is usually not accepted by the CFL. This policy can make it harder for the victim to come forward because of financial implications, but they do have a policy to fall back on.

It is difficult to find the NBA’s policy on domestic violence because it is separated from it’s other violence policies, but it sounds like the policy has the right ideas even if it is not executed properly and can still be damaging to victims. The NFL also has a policy in regards to domestic violence, but it seems to be tied to educating players and young people about domestic violence instead of how to handle the situation when it occurs (investigation, punishment, next steps).

The MLB might have the most comprehensive policy on how to deal with domestic violence. Once the accusation has been made, the player can be suspended for up to seven days for the league to investigate the situation. Once this time period has concluded, the player can be suspended for longer, reinstated, or have judgement deferred until criminal proceedings have occurred. The MLB can re-open an investigation if new evidence has appeared (see the Addison Russell/Melisa Reidy case). They also have a committee on domestic violence which includes a group that works to end violence against women and children called Futures Without Violence.

The NHL has dealt with multiple incidences of domestic violence over the past few years: Semyon Varlamov in Colorado, Slava Voynov in LA, and Austin Watson in Nashville are the three best known ones, but Patrick Kane and Evander Kane have also had off-ice incidences that would have benefitted from the league having a comprehensive policy for dealing with incidences of domestic violence and/or domestic incidences. It helps the NHL not only determine punishment, but have proper steps in helping the victim in a humane fashion. There will be victims like Reidy, who took a year to come forward and talk with MLB investigators. The MLB’s policy allowed them to suspend Russell for a week re-open the investigation on him.

There is no policy on domestic violence that can be perfect, but the NHL needs one that has steps for punishment and support for the victim in place. All professional sports leagues in North America have athletes from all over the world. Supporting victims when they are probably away from family and might not speak the language well is important. If the victim is being isolated from a potential support system or that support system is the other partners on the team, that support system might go away as soon as the victim comes forward. There is also the financial impact a suspension can bring. Players lose their salary for all types of suspensions. This means that if a victim comes forward, the money that they live on (with any dependents) could be gone. There might be a partner who is able to work, but professional sports does not lend itself to dual income families as players can be traded at the drop of a hat and child care falls on the partner who is not travelling all the time.

There are so many components that any professional sports league needs to consider when it comes to any type of domestic incident that it is negligent to not have an official policy to fall back on, not only for punishment, but to ensure that the victim is properly supported. This policy should be crafted with the help of victim advocates to reflect their needs more than the perpetrator’s needs. The NHLPA needs to be involved because it involves player’s lives and they can also request that education and counselling be part of the policy to prevent domestic violence from even happening. What the NHL and NHLPA should want to avoid is another incident where their punishment is deemed too severe and it gets reduced by an arbitrator because they do not have a policy in place and another incident where they accidentally punish the victim by taking away the soul source of income by suspending a player without pay. This can all be figured out with a policy specifically for domestic violence and abuse.


One of our readers found the NBA’s domestic violence policy and it is quite good. It includes paid leave and counselling amongst other things. Give it a read.

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