The NBA has had issues with their players keeping guns in their lockers and going broke once their playing days are over. In the NFL, domestic violence, deflategate and assault issues abound and MLB, they have their hands full with PED users and cheaters. Of the four major North American sports leagues, the NHL has long been the equivalent of a straight A, honours student who helps little old ladies carry their groceries and cross the street. Up until recently, the League's biggest concerns were lockouts, Hockey Related Revenue and concussions. The past year, however, has revealed a darker side to the National Hockey League. The NHL has not been without its issues, whether it be certain players dealing with substance abuse or getting into off-ice altercations; these seemingly isolated incidents popped up every once in a while. In 2009, Patrick Kane and his cousin were arrested for allegedly punching a cab driver in the face. After proclaiming their innocence, the pair ended up pleading guilty to noncriminal disorderly conduct and were both given conditional discharges. Kane copped a mea culpa to the press and most people chalked up his behaviour to immaturity. In October of 2013, Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov was charged with felony kidnapping and assault against his girlfriend, Evgeniya Vavrinuk. The Avs issued a statement condemning this alleged behaviour but Varlamov never missed a game and the charges against him were eventually dropped. The entire event was a hotly debated topic for a while but inevitably, all was forgotten.
Last October, things started getting really ugly for the NHL when LA Kings defensemen Slava Voynov was charged with domestic violence after police say he kicked and choked his wife during an argument. What separated this from previous incidents of alleged domestic abuse involving NHL players was the existence of photographic evidence and eyewitness accounts of the damage Voynov inflicted on his wife. It was graphic, in your face and it was deplorable. The tide was turning and the NHL was having a difficult time defending its seemingly squeaky clean image and accountability.
The flood gates opened in April when details of a sexual assault lawsuit against Mike Ribeiro and his wife were made public. The suit was filed by the Ribeiro's then-nanny who alleged that Mike Ribeiro began sexually harassing and assaulting her in 2007, when she was only 12 years old. The alleged assault and harassment continued until 2012 and the case was eventually settled out of court this past summer. Before the media had time to react, UFA Jarret Stoll was charged with possession of cocaine and MDMA in Las Vegas, Kings forward Mike Richards was charged with possessing oxycodone while trying to cross the border into Manitoba in June and Ryan O'Reilly was charged with impaired driving and failing to remain at the scene of an accident on July 9th. These were three strong blows to an already wobbly NHL; an NHL that seems to be having a difficult time monitoring its employees and holding them accountable for their actions. Just when training camp was starting up and we thought the worst was over, Patrick Kane made his way into the headlines once again; albeit with a much more serious accusation. It doesn't matter that he hasn't been charged or that the case has more strange turns that Mulholland Drive; the fact remains that Kane has been implicated in a rape case and yet he continues to participate in training camp with his teammates.
The NHL and its players aren't immune to scandal and it's time to stop burying their proverbial head in the sand and figure out a way to repair the damage done to their public image. Teams have sport psychologists, nutritionists, acupuncturists, strength and conditioning coaches; everything needed to put a good product on the ice but what about the product off the ice? I know athletes are human beings and aren't infallible like some of us make them out to be but as long as they're employed by multi-million dollar companies and public figures, they need to hold themselves to a higher standard and the League needs to aid them in that. Kings GM Dean Lombardi recently announced a partnership with The Herren Project which educates people on drug and alcohol abuse. They've also created a Player Assistance position within the organization and the team will undergo sexual harassment training. These are all positive steps that shouldn't only be team-wide initiatives but League-wide initiatives as well.