Remove abusers from professional hockey
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To the National Hockey League, the National Hockey League Players Association, and its members:
When you say “Hockey Is For Everyone,” does that mean this sport is for violent offenders, too? From your actions – or lack thereof – it is becoming abundantly clear this is the attitude the league holds.
My name is Riley Popp and I have been playing the greatest sport on Earth since I was three years old. I grew up believing that this sport teaches respect both on and off the ice because I was fortunate enough to have some excellent role models in my life. I have gotten to work with terrific individuals including Jim Fox, Daryl Evans, Nelson Emerson, and even Luc Robitaille. They taught me respect for the game, respect for myself, and most importantly respect for others both on and off the ice. I take pride in the fact that I am a hockey player because there are so many excellent role models in the National Hockey League today. This all changed in the past few days, when I saw that news broke about Vyacheslav (formerly known as Slava) Voynov possibly making a return to the NHL. My heart sank. Normally I avoid voicing my opinions publicly on these types of things, but after a lengthy conversation with a female friend about these issues, I feel like the silence on the subject from people involved with the sport is deafening. The attitude this sport holds toward domestic and sexual abuse needs to change and the NHL must lead the way.
As a former player and a current coach, the NHL’s actions disgust me. It breaks my heart because I know that kids look up to these professionals as role models. When men like Slava Voynov, Bobby Hull, Sergei Zubov, Semyon Varlamov, and Patrick Roy are welcomed back to the NHL after committing such disgusting acts of violence, it tarnishes everything great about the sport of hockey. The NHL recently elected to honor Bobby Hull during the 2018 playoffs. This is the same Bobby Hull who has had two separate marriages end because of alleged mental and physical abuse. He even threatened his wife with a shotgun. She has been on record stating:
“I looked the worst after that Hawaii incident. I took a real beating there. [Bobby] just picked me up, threw me over his shoulder, threw me in the room, and just proceeded to knock the heck out of me. He took my shoe -- with a steel heel -- and proceeded to hit me in the head. I was covered with blood. And I can remember him holding me over the balcony and I thought this is the end, I'm going,”
This is the man who the NHL has labeled an all-time great, a hero, and an ambassador of the sport.
Then there is Patrick Roy, also lauded as “Saint Patrick” by many around the game of hockey, and largely considered the best goalie to ever play the game. He is another star with allegations of domestic disputes in his past that led to a divorce. The list goes on and on.
This brings me to Slava Voynov. Slava Voynov is likely the worst offender on this list and the final straw in my decision to create this petition. He needs to be banned from ever returning to the NHL. The police reports on this matter are public information and they are disturbing, to say the least. I understand the NHL elected to suspend him indefinitely, but that is simply not enough.
Domestic abuse is a serious issue that far too often gets swept under the rug and blatantly ignored. There is a sad precedent in sports that as long as an athlete is talented in their discipline, they can get away with acting terribly – lest we forget illegally – and all is forgiven. For the longest time, I believed the NHL was the one exception to trend, but these recent events have proved to me that I was sorely mistaken. This has been an issue that the NHL has hidden for years and years.
The blind eye the league chooses to turn to these innumerable events needs to change. Actions speak louder than words, and the NHL has been noticeably silent. Evil can be carried out in multiple ways: by committing an act of evil itself, and by watching this evil happening and doing nothing to stop it. Silence is complicity.
I have done research and understand the NHL does have programs in place that talk to players about the issues surrounding domestic violence and sexual abuse at the start of each season, but it clearly is not nearly enough. Players have stated the training they receive is usually short, an hour or two at most, and not in-depth. I urge the NHL to increase the effectiveness of such training sessions by reaching out to organizations that help the victims of these situations. This is a viable place to start.
The NHL has done significant good in the world, including campaigns including “Hockey Is For Everyone” and an incredible array of community service-driven initiatives. I have so many friends and family members who know nothing about the sport, but know that the NHL is constantly expanding their community outreach. I have been a part of that effort myself and it is an absolute honor when I get to help with these campaigns. All that goodwill is now in jeopardy with the trend of allowing these abusive men to be involved in the NHL. How can this league constantly preach “hockey is for everyone” to a group of young girls and women, only to let a documented abuser play in the league that beats up women? This is the definition of hypocrisy.
I love this sport and have been lucky enough to play it for 23 years. Hockey is a privilege that these men forfeited when they committed vile acts against another human being. Their actions not only constitute a breach of trust between the abuser and the person being abused, but additionally the trust the public, including many impressionable children, has in their role models. The athletes in the NHL play at the highest level possible, and with that power and spotlight comes great responsibility. By allowing these men to be a part of hockey in any capacity goes against everything the NHL has come to stand for over its storied history. Staying silent shows all the young girls that share a love for this sport that it is acceptable for to be beat, thrown through a television, pushed around, and mentally and emotionally abused and their abuser will face no consequences. You beat the idea that money and a metal cup mean more than their existence into them, not with fists, but with complicity. You are implicitly telling the youth of this sport, like those I coach, that there are no consequences for abusing another, while on social media you strive to indoctrinate inclusiveness. You have taken up the fight against cancer and you help out those players in need with substance abuse or medical issues, yet you don’t actively take a strong stance against domestic violence. You have the ability to make lasting changes that transform lives for the better, but you choose to ignore these egregious issues.
The problem is not only with the abusers, it is with the entire National Hockey League.
The NHL needs to do more (i.e. SOMETHING) to eliminate this problem. I propose the following:
Make a clear and concise policy about how the NHL will handle events like domestic violence and sexual abuse and make it public
Provide a better program within the NHL and the NHLPA to educate players on these issues (I understand the league does training yearly but the rumor is it is limited and generic)
Encourage spouses and significant others to join the players in learning about these issues
Reach out to victims and advocacy groups and ask for help in creating this program
Ban those convicted of such crimes from the sport entirely
If charged, players should be suspended pending results of the investigation and trial
Implement the same training requirements and consequences to all the leagues that feed into the NHL. Just like college freshmen are required to take alcohol education courses, require incoming players to complete similar training exercises.
I hope this call to action doesn’t fall on deaf ears and that the NHL makes an effort to stand against all types of abuse. It is time somebody led the way in making professional athletes accountable for their actions. At the end of the day, these men playing in the league or working on your broadcasts are your employees and therefore a direct representation of you and your ideals. It is time the NHL asked itself what it truly wants to embody. Is it an organization that wants to inspire kids to reach for their athletic dreams and strive to be the best human beings they can be along the way? Or is the NHL an organization that wants to let kids, and the world, know it will look the other way when it comes to morally bankrupt situations, as long as the athletes are talented?
Hockey has made so many great strides and I couldn’t be more proud at how far the attitude surrounding the game has come, but it’s time for those in power to make a take a stance and stick with it. Get these perpetrators of domestic abuse out of the spotlight and out of the game. Hockey is for everyone, but those of us who abuse that privilege need to be excluded.
Riley J Popp
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