This isn’t about second chances. This isn’t about redemption or character rebuilding or someone realizing the error in his ways and the arc of his character.
When it comes to Slava Voynov — and where the NHL stands on domestic violence — this is about right or wrong, and the league really only has one option: It should not reinstate Voynov. It feels crazy to even be writing that sentence, to have to build a case as to why someone convicted of the crime Voynov served jail time for has no place working for a business with any moral fibers in its DNA, particularly one so public and privileged.
But, here we are.
On Monday, Voynov’s petition to a Los Angeles court to expunge his record of domestic violence was granted. It is that checkered, disgusting past that should make the NHL cringe at the idea of Voynov putting on a jersey of any of its 31 clubs right now. It’s never that simple, though, even if Voynov made it that way with his abhorrent behavior.
On Oct. 14, 2014, Voynov was arrested after an argument between him and his wife, Varlamova, turned violent, as detailed gruesomely in police reports and court documents from the incident. Voynov was charged with a misdemeanor count of corporal injury to a spouse before being held in an ICE facility. Before his immigration situation could be sorted out while the legal proceedings continued, Voynov instead returned to his native Russia, where he spent the past three years in the KHL, before deciding he wanted to return to the NHL for the 2018-19 season.
Those are the facts. Because the NHL does not have a specific domestic violence policy — the only of North America’s four major professional sports leagues without one — the onus is on commissioner Gary Bettman to deem that Voynov deserves reinstatement, based his personal meetings with Voynov and the NHL’s private investigation into the matter. It remains possible Voynov would face a subsequent suspension, but there has already been reported interest from NHL teams , for whatever inept reasons.
But it should never get that far, because, in the eyes of the NHL — in Bettman’s eyes — there should be no reason for Voynov to ever step foot in an NHL arena again.
The Athletic’s Katie Strang has done a fantastic job covering this story, and in a recent piece discussing the protocols and procedures Voynov will have will have to pass through to get back to playing NHL games, she also perfectly summed up why this story has nothing do with rules and regulations.
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From Strang’s story, some of the graphic details involving the moments leading up to Voynov’s arrest:
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.”
Court documents detail how the fight continued when the two arrived home and the contents are equally grim. In one motion, filed on behalf of the District Attorney’s office, it states that 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.”
These clubs should also know that Varlamova’s seven-year-old daughter was reportedly at home at the time of the incident, and apparently, it did not end there.
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.”
If the clubs were not previously aware, they should know that the screaming was apparently so loud that a neighbor called emergency dispatchers, fearful of what was taking place.
According to the 911 transcripts obtained by The Athletic, the concerned neighbor said she heard 20 minutes worth of screaming and said there were “terrible noises.”
“It sounds like a woman is not being treated well,” the neighbor told the dispatcher.
In the middle of describing the location of the house to the dispatcher, the neighbor stops to say: “Oh my God. She’s really screaming.”
Any club considering trading for or signing Voynov should also consider that Varlamova, once she arrived at Providence Little Company of Mary Medical Center hospital for treatment, required eight sutures to close the 3 cm laceration on her left eyebrow. She then reportedly told those attending to her injuries that this was not an isolated incident.
At times like these, it’s when it makes sense for one to reference the NHL’s Declaration of Principles. It’s often the de facto, “Hey, what about this?” thing to reference in moments of moral crisis for the NHL. Like when the Ottawa Senators took two weeks to decide their assistant general manager shouldn’t be at the NHL Draft after he had been accused of harassing an 19-year-old boy.
But back to Voynov, and juxtaposing his indefensible behavior against this document that’s supposed to be a moral north star for the NHL. Literally the first line on that page:
“All hockey organizations — regardless of size or level of competition — bring value to players and families in their ability to deliver a positive family experience.”
It really shouldn’t take a handbook or a bunch of two-sentence mantras to understand the ethics involved in the possibility of reinstating Voynov. You don’t need to have a sentence on a website that reads, “All hockey programs should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status,” to understand what Voynov did was deplorable, and that he has no business being employed by an NHL member club.
Why is this something we even need to discuss? Why is this even a second thought?
When Ray Rice was caught on video violently punching his wife and then dragging her limp body out of an elevator, there was a tremendous backlash given the NFL’s lack of an initial punishment, suspending him two games. Only after the tape was publicly released did the Baltimore Ravens terminate Rice’s contract, and the NFL indefinitely suspended him. Rice was eventually reinstated, but no NFL team would give him work for obvious reasons.
In the aftermath of this, whether you believe his actions to be genuine or a PR play, Rice has made himself seem remorseful. He has expressed a desire to raise awareness on the issue of domestic violence in the NFL, offering to work with the league, been outspoken on the issue, all while saying and doing the right things, giving off the impression he understands he did something horrible.
“I totally understand what my visual did and the effect it had on society and the survivors of domestic violence,” Rice said to ESPN. “So, for me, to never be forgiven … I understand those things, and I totally take full responsibility for my actions. The one thing I can say is … I have made a lifelong decision to raising awareness about this.
“I used to have a situation where kids were like, ‘I wanna be like Ray Rice.’ And now I have to think about kids and parents saying, ‘I don’t want you to be like Ray Rice.’ And that haunts me.”
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Police records filed for Voynov’s arrest indicated Varlamova told police this wasn’t the first instance of abuse. He returned to Russia to avoid deportation issues, which also abbreviated the NHL’s ability to conduct its own investigation into this incident. He pleaded no contest to the criminal charge of domestic violence, not an admission of guilt, but not exactly the plea of an innocent man. And at no time in this process, or in the four years that followed, has there been any public hint of Voynov feeling the slightest bit of remorse.
In 2016, Voynov was barred from playing in the World Cup of Hockey, an international tournament put on by the NHL. What exactly has changed since then?
One of the problems is there’s really no way of knowing that. Voynov went back to Russia. As Strang reported on Monday, the Los Angeles County’s district attorney argued against Voynov’s petition to have his record expunged for that very reason. There is no way of verifying that any of the conditions of his probation were met. Yes, he did jail time. But there are no tangible signs Voynov has changed, and that this isn’t the story of a serial domestic abuser not just being given a free second chance, but trying to sweep the heinous things he did under the rug.
The first bit of damage control came Monday when his petition to have his records expunged was granted. And of course, the sole reason in doing that wasn’t to set the record straight because Voynov is innocent, but because it brings him one step closer to NHL reinstatement.
But the league shouldn’t even entertain such an idea. If Voynov requests Bettman’s presence, it should be an incredibly short meeting, one in which Bettman tells Voynov the league has no interest in reinstating him. Heck, why would any team want to bring this guy into their locker room?
It’s maddeningly frustrating to even have to be asking these questions.