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Voynov Should Not Return to the NHL

For years we have read or heard the phrase, “sports is my escape from the real world.” For many sports fans watching it, reading about it, writing about it or listening to sports talk radio is a nice reprieve from the office or life in general.

It still is that way for many people, and it should be. Being a fan is supposed to be fun, but sometimes it can be equally frustrating depending on the direction of the team you cheer for.

However, I believe we can’t completely separate sports from the real world anymore.

Sports is one of the few things that unites people from all walks of life. If you are an Edmonton Oilers fan it doesn’t matter what your job is, your ethnicity or your gender. You all cheer together. Look at the diversity of fans who congregate at Jurassic Park for a Toronto Raptors playoff game. Watch them erupt in joyous unison after a clutch shot. While racism still exists in our society, sporting events often show people of different colour hugging, smiling and enjoying the journey together.

It is wonderful.

However, sports, and how they are covered has opened up opportunities where real life and sports need to intersect.

One of those examples is former NHL defenceman Vyacheslav Voynov.

Yesterday arbitrator Shyam Das upheld NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman’s decision that Voynov should be suspended for the equivalent of one NHL season, but Das found Voynov should be credited with having already served 41 games of the suspension last season. So Voynov will be eligible to return midway through next season.

The Los Angeles Kings own his rights and sent out a press release soon after Das’ ruling was announced.

“Today the NHL arbitrator rendered a final decision on further discipline to Slava Voynov. From our perspective, the player will not be playing for the Kings. We will now determine the impact of the arbitrator’s decision on our rights to the player and consider our options going forward.”

Voynov won’t be playing for the Kings, but will another NHL team acquire his rights and sign him to an NHL contract?

Before we discuss that, let’s look at the situation that led to Voynov being suspended by the NHL in 2014 for domestic abuse.

Voynov spent almost two months in jail after pleading no contest to corporal injury against a spouse. Upon his release from jail he was taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, but rather than attend immigration proceedings he elected to return to Russia. He played three seasons for the KHL’s St. Petersburg’s SKA. Last year he didn’t play anywhere as he sat out his suspension.

Reading he plead no contest and went to jail is one thing. Reading what he did to get put in jail is much different.

Katie Strang outlined the viciousness of Voynov’s attack on his then-girlfriend, now wife, Marta Varlamov in an outstanding article for the Athletic last June. You can read the entire piece here. I urge you to read it. It is wonderful journalism, but also heart-breakingly painful to read how awful one human could treat another.

A few lines really stood out to me.

“A statement included within that report states that, while attending a team Halloween party, the two began arguing, during which Voynov removed [Varlamova’s] costume glasses and stomped on them in front of the guests. When they continued arguing outside the venue, Voynov “punched her in the left jaw with a closed fist.”

Strang continued to outline what the police report said.

The two returned home and their argument continued. “Voynov wrapped both of his hands around Ms. Varlamova’s neck and began to squeeze, making it difficult for her to breathe.” Voynov, according to the motion, “continued to choke her while repeatedly pushing her to the floor of the bedroom,” telling her to “get out,” that there would be “no more money for her,” and that she would be “gone.”

According to the motion, Voynov then “kicked her five or six times all over her body” and when she attempted to stand he “pushed her down directly into the bottom corner of the flat screen television that was mounted to the bedroom wall.” Varlamova sustained “a head laceration that resulted in severe bleeding” and throughout all of this “she repeatedly screamed for him to stop.”

Strang obtained 911 transcripts of a call from a neighbour worried about a women screaming and not being treated well.

I encourage you read the entire story.

ABUSE…

Even in 2019 when we are a bit more open to discuss domestic or sexual abuse than previous generations, when you read the details of what Voynov did it is much worse than the picture most of us have in our minds when we think what abuse looks like. I believe if you’ve never beaten your child or spouse (man or woman), or been a victim of abuse, it is hard to truly imagine what abuse really looks like.

It is demeaning. It is dangerous. It is ugly. And it is fucking deplorable.

But sadly, it still occurs far too often. Children are abused. Women are abused. Men are abused. The elderly are abused. No group is immune to it.

While men are still more likely to be the abuser, there are many cases of women abusing their partners or spouses.

If we never discuss it, I doubt it will diminish.

It is an uncomfortable discussion and there are many aspects to consider.

Voynov’s case is in the spotlight, and NHL fans can’t just ignore it.

Some don’t want to talk about it. Some feel it isn’t their business, that it is between Voynov and his wife.

I respect that, but I think it is worthy of discussion.

If we want change in society, then we have to discuss uncomfortable things.

Reading what Voynov did to Varlamova made me sick. I can’t imagine punching someone you love in the face. Or choking them, or kicking them repeatedly. And the scary thing is it wasn’t the first time. He not only felt it was okay to physically abuse her, he felt it was okay to do it repeatedly according to witness testimony.

But Voynov is far the only abuser in the sporting world. The statistics tell us there are likely abusers among fans, bloggers, media, players, and NHL staff. We don’t want to think about it, but we shouldn’t pretend those people don’t exist.

It is an epidemic in society that needs to stop, and if the sporting world has to be the leader, then so be it. We should welcome the responsibility.

WHAT NOW?

The Los Angeles Kings said they will not sign Voynov. Will another team trade for his rights this summer?

Yesterday on Twitter I asked people a trio of questions.

Has Voynov been punished enough for abuse?
Does he deserve a second chance?
Would you be okay if your NHL team signed him?

The results had no middle ground. You either thought yes, he deserves a second chance, or you were adamant no NHL team should sign him.

I believe in second chances, but the person has to show remorse, and also prove they have changed. How much therapy has he done? Did he go with his wife? Has he spoke publicly about what he learned and how he has changed. For me, it couldn’t just be a blind “he deserves a second chance.”

If a team signs him they better have a good PR plan of how this will work, because there will be a backlash, and rightfully so.

Voynov hasn’t played in the NHL for essentially five seasons. He played six games in 2014/2015, before the aforementioned attack occurred. But after he spent almost two months in jail, he has worked. He was employed by the KHL. He was given a second chance and he made a good living doing so.

Does the NHL owe him a second chance?

If I was a owner of an NHL team I would not sign him.

It is my business and as a business owner you have the right to choose who you employ. It would send a strong message to your staff, players and fans that you don’t condone abuse.

Companies outside the sporting world do this. They have a code of conduct, and if you don’t adhere to it, you won’t work there anymore.

Why can’t NHL teams have the same?

They should simply take a stand and say we won’t employ people who abuse their spouse or children.

If you choose to abuse someone to the despicable level that Voynov did then you won’t be employed by our team any longer or in the future.

It is very straightforward.

And this isn’t about past cases. What happened in the past is irrelevant to me. I don’t care what discipline the NHL handed out in the 1980s, 1990s or even in 2010

Just like the rules have changed and evolved on the ice, it is time the NHL evolves and changes off of the ice.

I don’t believe in 2019 we should say, “stick to sports.”

Professional sports are one of the most followed activities in the world. People of all ages, races and walks of life follow it closely.

If the NHL takes a hard stand against domestic abuse, maybe it will make someone think twice about abusing someone in the future.

Maybe it won’t stop them, but at least the NHL will have created a new code of conduct.

I hope Voynov and his family find forgiveness for each other. I have a lot of empathy for his family and I hope he has stopped abusing his wife.

But I wouldn’t have him on my team. I wonder how many owners and GMs will feel the same?

Recently by Jason Gregor:

  • Kevwan

    I don’t for a second condone what Voynov did. And I wouldn’t consider cheering or following a team he played for. Second chances? Sorry can’t see it happening with me. I don’t care what happens to him and his kind.

    But Marta is now his wife. Did she stay with him because he makes millions playing hockey? Did Janay Palmer marry Ray Rice a month after he slammed her around a casino elevator because he was in the middle of a 35 million dollar contract? What about the victims? I do care what happens to them. These women and their children need protection and financial security. That money should come from the teams and leagues.

  • Ben918

    He is a monster. That said, he is also a commodity in a business that has nothing to do with his crimes. Personally I think he still be in jail but I won’t fault a team for signing him. The league looked away when Brodeur was accused on abuse and details on that were covered up in a big way. People even looked away when Heatley killed his best friend in a DUI incident. No charges because he paid the parents to be character references for him. I think if Voynov was Canadian and richer, we wouldn’t know the full details of this and he wouldn’t have missed a game.

  • Soccer Steve

    In line with the Era of Outrage, where everyone is mad about something and their voice must be heard, we get this tripe. What an awful, unprofessional, and irresponsible article. Gregor, as much as you pump Seinfeld, and Michael Richards with it, do you not see how hypocritical it reads?

    Not one person here, Gregor included, has a clue what went on behind closed doors. What does it tell you about their relationship that they got married in the end? More than the absolute nothing you knew before reading that, that’s for sure. Not only that, but he was suspended from his job, lost his job, arrested, hired legal counsel (I assume), went to a court of law, and was sentenced to prison. But that obviously isn’t enough. Many comments, which I am certain the author would’ve easily foreseen being posted yet fanned the flames anyways, call for eternal public condemnation, violence towards and sometimes even death for this individual. But as you can see the author will not reply against any of these absurdities yet he is happy to argue with a fellow contrarian.

    And it is very lazy of the author to stop at the NHL. Why not call out the KHL for allowing him to play? Because the author knows where this leads: “No, he can’t play in the NHL. Nor the KHL. Nor as a coach, trainer, agent. Not in sport at all. Not as a cook, janitor, or garbageman either. Nothing, nowhere.”

    So remember sheeple: if you make a mistake, a BIG mistake, where you lose your job, you hire a lawyer, go to court, and you ultimately end up going to jail for what you did, you are OK with being publicly shamed, ostracized and condemned to never make a livelihood again. It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve rectified the situation privately and in the eyes of the law. It’s over for you. You live in a world where you, as some comments read, are called “scum” forever, may get beaten in the street, or might even have your life ended by morality thugs and mob vigilantism. You’re OK with this.

    • Rob...

      Did I miss something? I thought Michael Richards lost his temper at a heckler during a stand-up routine and used inappropriate racist words. Comparing that to physical assault seems a bit much. Now if Richards showed a bunch of actions beyond that incident or promoted right wing hate groups I’d say you had a point.

      • Soccer Steve

        Could’ve said Michael Jackson, Mel Gibson, Phil Spector, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, almost half of all NFL players, the list goes on and on. Went with the one that exposes the author as a hypocrite. I agree it doesn’t fit that well here but my point remains; it was a lazy, terrible article.

        • Jason Gregor

          Lazy article? What was lazy? Reporting the fact he went to jail and including the court documents and 99 calls outlining the abuse he inflicted. But it is lazy, because you say so. Gotcha. Lazy is trying to compare Michael Richards saying something dumb to Voynov beating up his wife, cutting open her head. That is the definition of lazy.

          Also, seems you missed the parts in the article where I said he can still work. I just wouldn’t want him in the NHL. He has been employed by the KHL. I don’t live in Russia and won’t try to end domestic abuse on a global level. It has to start somewhere, and I’d rather it start where I live. In Canada and North America. If we are leaders others will follow.

          Also, I scanned the comments. Didn’t see one saying he should die. I read one suggesting he get his due in jail. It was a dumb comment, I agree. I never once encouraged anyone to inflict abuse on him. He has been living just fine making millions in the KHL. You acting like he is condemned to a horrible life, because he can’t play in the NHL comes across as thought somehow he is the victim. I disagree with any notion that he is somehow the victim. He can work. I just said not in NHL. They should set a standard. There are millions of jobs in the world, never once did I say he shouldn’t be employed again. If you call that lazy, oh well, but I’d argue lazy was your comparisons and then false claims of encouraging he been condemned for live. Take care.

    • Bigdaddypuck

      How about how we had stood by and watched a murder be associated with the team and only quietly mention it. MacTavish turned his life around great he also removed someone from the face of the earth because he enjoyed drinking. Well we plucked up right after jail and if he can be celebrated and he can be talked about as a local celebrity and continue to have suscsess after he murdered someone. Why can’t Voynov have a second chance?

    • Wax Man Riley

      Well said. outrage culture is rife. Everyone wants to be outraged by something or offended by something.

      I think it says a lot when they get married. If the victim, the one that is in the situation can still continue, us as fans can stfu and enjoy hockey.

      We have no idea what happens behind closed doors. I know you aren’t allowed to say this in PC outrage culture, but I will….. What was she doing to deserve the abuse? Real question. If she was just sitting there, on her phone like “oh look, avocados are on sale” and he just comes in swinging, vs her throwing his stuff, breaking things, maybe she hit his dog or emptied his bank account or beat up his sister. Its not ok to hit a woman, but when does equality draw the line? Don’t hit women. I’m just asking the question.

  • kormega

    What’s that soap opera for? He was punished by his team and US laws. If Marta had become his wife after the incident I guess there is everything ok between them. This is a five-year-old story at long last.

    • Beer_League_Ringer

      @kormega. Here is my take.

      In some cases it’s virtue signalling (using another person’s behaviour to bolster one’s moral infallibility – e.g., “what a P.O.S., only ______ could ever _______). Sometimes it’s piling on/kicking someone while they are down. Kind of like a positive feedback loop of collective disgust. Other individuals might have direct experience with abuse and become emotional when a particularly high-profile example is described in the media. Before stoning the guy, or anyone who refuses to without knowing all the facts, I invite everyone to ask themselves some questions. What if your son was found guilty of domestic abuse? Is he then scum in your eyes? Forever? What if he went to counseling? What if his livelihood was taken away by the people/media with pitchforks AFTER he paid his debts? This is why we need law and why we need to ignore social justice in most cases. Social justice is by definition a form of punitive action exerted outside (or on top of) legal justice.

      Example: a man goes to prison for life for murder after admitting it, but a certain group of people think that’s not enough punishment. The group write letters to inmates at the same prison encouraging these inmates to punish the man further because he is a monster.

      Yikes. Put down the pitchforks.

  • blobbo

    What now? He was never a superstar and is close to thirty years of age. He would be a depth signing and it’s doubtful any team wants that kind of baggage.

    If he was a 24 year old speed demon who could score goals, he would be signed in a heartbeat with the “second chance” press release.

    • wiseguy

      And your example would be the worst type of morality. So for the same crime, a superstar should be forgiven because it benefits the business to not lose the talent, but for a lesser employee, jettison him because giving him a second chance isn’t worth the trouble to the company.

    • Beer_League_Ringer

      Cement-head might be on to something… Although I’m not sure if any NHL team would accept him, especially potential team mates (which I think is kind of what LA was getting at when they stated he wouldn’t be playing for the Kings). This is what I was getting at in my post above: even if he gets a “chance” (whether deserved or not), it probably won’t be a fair one from the media/his peers/NHL fans.

  • billsbills

    I don’t know Voynov, I have seen domestic abuse and yes it is ugly.

    If he has seriously tried to make amends, I believe he deserves a second chance.

    I don’t know that he has done that.

    • kormega

      Marta is his wife now and they got a son in 2017. I think it’s clear that she forgave him. Domestic abuse is ugly, no doubt, but that mocking from moral nazi is ugly as well. Don’t stick your nose in other people’s bedroom, they can get over with it without public advices.

  • maxedison

    This comment section is unsurprisingly disgusting. Totally agree with you Gregor. Those attempting to equivocate or excuse behaviour that is inexcusable represent a pathetic and dwindling minority.