Scars On Ice: Is Gary Bettman Really Any Better Than Roger Goodell?

by Kolby Solinsky

Editor, White Cover Magazine

LINE - White Cover Magazine

Yes, all hail Gary Bettman. The anti-Goodell, right?

Wrong.

I won’t not give Bettman credit for indefinitely suspending L.A. Kings defenceman Slava Voynov. It’s the right thing to do, or at least it’s the socially leaned-upon thing to do right now. With the way the NFL’s commissioner fumbled (pun intended) his handling of Ray Rice’s domestic assault case, the heads of America’s other three major leagues have a pretty clear template now for how to deal with the issue when one of their athletes is looking for his league to cover it up – react harshly, and go from there.

I’m not saying that’s not how it should be. I have no time for Rice, or for Voynov now.

But where was the pressure on Bettman a year ago? You know, when Semyon Varlamov was arrested after “his girlfriend told police he knocked her down with a kick, stomped on her chest and dragged her by her hair at their apartment” (CBC News). I’ll tell you where it was – it existed until the case was dropped on Dec. 20, roughly two months after the incident. And it wasn’t dropped because Varlamov didn’t do it, it was dropped because the prosecution didn’t believe they could win a conviction. Varlamov had already played 17 games in between the night of the incident and the night the incident seemed to not matter anymore, and Varlamov went on to finish a 41-season and collect his first Vezina nomination as the league’s best goaltender.

But of course, that was so long ago. Like, last year. And it didn’t happen in an elevator in a Jersey casino, where videotape was just a phone call – or not, apparently – away.

In between then and now, Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, Jonathan Dwyer, and Adrian Peterson have turned the once-ignored topic of domestic abuse on its head, at least when it comes to the ever-weird world of sports, where athletes and their employers live in another universe. You can whack a guy across the head with a stick, you can sucker punch someone from behind and bust their back, you can do stuff like this and this, and the only person you’ll ever answer to is the guy in a suit in an office far away from you, who’s livelihood depends on the same game yours does.

But it’s no longer good enough for a guy like Goodell – or Bettman – to get off on the excuse that they rule over players, not people. It used to be, if you did something stupid off the ice or off the field, your team or your commish could leave it to the authorities. They could say it wasn’t their job to suspend a guy like Varlamov or Voynov for whatever they did in their own home, because the only home they ruled over was the Pepsi Center or Staples Center. (And I can’t totally blame them for that, because nobody on our side of the stands put any pressure on them.)

But then Goodell got caught not doing what countless executives were never caught not doing, and it tipped everyone else like him off – so they could say, ‘If a hockey player or a baseball player or a basketball player does the same thing, we’ve gotta bring the hammer down. Maybe not even for the spouse’s sake, but for our sake.’

Remember, Ray Rice isn’t in jail, either.

And should he really never be allowed to work again? That was always the debate. And the abuser used to always win. That’s how Michael Vick returned to the NFL. He just couldn’t do it with Atlanta because, boy, that would be embarrassing, right?

It’s good the thermometer’s more sensitive now. It’s good the dial has shifted – the national conversation no longer allows someone like Adrian Peterson to whip his kids with a tree branch without consequence. It no longer allows someone who defends that or defends Peterson’s right to do it get off without shame or humiliation. Likewise, you can no longer blame your own prejudices on God without sounding like a pre-modern tool. These are positive progressions.

(NOTE: In Voynov’s case, keep in mind that he’s not being suspended as punishment for what he did, for actually for the official reason that not suspending him “would create a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the league.” And quite honestly, nobody knows how Voynov should be punished because nobody knows what happened – L.A. police haven’t given the public any details of what happened, only saying that the blueliner was booked under the penal code’s “domestic violence/spousal abuse” section. And apparently, no charges have been filed against Voynov, who checked out of jail on bail this morning.)

The mob is good when it’s right. But it’s wrong sometimes, too. It will be wrong again. And the mob is short-sighted, high-tempered, and reactionary.

So stop writing headlines like ‘NHL Passes First New Domestic Violence Test‘ or ‘Slava Voynov Domestic Violence Suspension Shows Bettman Is No Goodell‘.

Just. Stop.

By the way, what’s a new domestic violence test? Doesn’t that just mean, ‘They only matter from here on out’? The past ones, especially the ones we don’t know about, were spilled milk, right? Or spilled blood, I guess.

And as far as Bettman being no Goodell, that’s bull, too. The only way he’s no Goodell is that he’s apparently learning from Goodell’s mistakes, whereas Goodell can’t learn from his own mistakes because he doesn’t know they’re mistakes. In that article above on Puck Daddy, editor Greg Wyshynski writes “in 2014, in professional sports, on a domestic violence arrest… this is the only way to respond.” Yes, it’s the only way. So then, why are we giving Bettman credit for doing the only thing he can do?

Bettman’s lucky. He’s lucky he wasn’t the first one put to the test, and he’s lucky he’s with the NHL and not the NFL, because most people don’t care about Semyon Varlamov as much as they care about Ray Rice or Greg Hardy or Adrian Peterson.

It’s not a typo if nobody’s reading the paper, right?