Earlier this week, Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov was suspended indefinitely by the NHL following his arrest on charges of domestic violence. The incident, which took place in Redondo Beach, California, involved Voynov and a woman admitted to a hospital in Torrance. The 24-year-old Russian player was released on $50,000 bail. The rest of the details have yet to come in.
In a time where domestic violence has become one of the hottest topics in sports, why aren’t we talking more about this?
Hockey is the cellar dweller in terms of revenue and audience of the four major sports in America. Even with stars like Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Quick, Claude Giroux, and Jonathan Toews, to name a few, it seems that the NHL won’t catch up to the revenue generated by the NBA, NFL or Major League Baseball anytime soon. That despite a record-setting 10-year TV contract signed with NBC Sports in 2011.
It’s not just lack of audience in comparison to the other major American pro leagues that has been a struggle for the NHL brand. Beyond the record of their favorite team, what many sports fans associate with the NHL, sadly, are its lockouts. Three in the last 20 years to be exact, one of which cost the league an entire season in 2004. Teams, nearby businesses, and the league itself all lost money, and the NHL failed to renew their deal with sports broadcast king ESPN, partly due to the 2004 stalemate.
While teams have passionate, ardent home followings, the league has largely failed to bring a comparable experience to a national TV audience in a manner similar to the other leagues. Product and level of play aside, it seems hockey may be wedded to its also-ran status, barring a major lockout or scandal––the likes of which we’ve rarely seen––in another major league.
To simplify: not a lot of people watch hockey.
As true as that may be, there’s got to be more to it than that.
In the past few months, Ravens running back Ray Rice, Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer, 49ers lineman Ray McDonald, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, and Panthers lineman Greg Hardy have been inactive due to alleged off-field violence.
They’ve all been major headlines. Part of this is undoubtedly due to their on-field impact: Rice, Peterson, and Hardy are all former Pro-Bowlers, McDonald was in San Francisco’s D-line rotation, and Dwyer was expected to contribute to an Arizona backfield lacking a bona fide star. With the exception of Rice, who was coming off a year in which he averaged a career low in yards-per-carry, the players have been sorely missed on the field. The suspensions of players with varying levels of importance to teams expected to compete is newsworthy regardless of the reason.
So why aren’t we talking about a defenseman who played an integral role for the team that won the last Stanley Cup?
Domestic violence, for all of the ire its perpetrators (or alleged perpetrators) draw from the court of public opinion, is a tougher sell when perpetrated by a white body. Consider this: Nobody cares John Lennon nearly beat a man to death after the man suggested he was gay. Jimmy Page is Led Zeppelin’s guitarist to most, not the guy who kidnapped and raped a 14-year old girl. Woody Allen is defended by actors and members of the media alike. Ben Roethlisberger, twice accused of sexual assault, defended himself by claiming he couldn’t have assaulted one alleged victim due to her looks. He served a four-game suspension and has largely escaped stigma.
With the exception of Big Ben, these allegations have undeservedly stayed separate from the common narratives surrounding these figures. Chris Brown, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Ike Turner, and Michael Jackson, among a few others, wish they had that going for them. The prominent coverage of violence and assault by black men goes to reinforce our society’s decision to make violence and ignorance part and parcel of black male life, while we accept our propensity to display the actions of white figures as positives and––when all else fails––lapses in judgment. It’s born out of the same reasons for the way we describe players, too.
Hockey, and the people who cover it, will fail to buck this trend. Not only will it further prove our hesitance to discuss white domestic violence, it will do the NHL a grave disservice.
Hockey, again, is fourth out of four. They’re not making any significant headway beyond their core fan base. So why not play up their quick response to an issue plaguing the biggest fish in the pond? It’s certainly something to pat themselves on the back about: they recognized the gravity of a problem and acted before critics, removing every hint of discrepancy.
Chances are the NHL isn’t talking about Voynov for the same reason nobody else is: with a white perpetrator, nobody knows how.