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Alex Coffey: The NHL has no domestic or sexual violence policy. The Hockey Canada scandal is another reminder of how badly it needs one.

Alex Coffey, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in Hockey

Four days after five professional hockey players, including Flyers goalie Carter Hart, were charged with sexual assault, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman sat at a dais on All-Star weekend and claimed his league has a domestic violence/sexual assault policy in place. Here’s the problem: The policy is nowhere to be found. It exists in Bettman’s head.

A small section of the league’s collective bargaining agreement — Section 18-A — allows him the power to discipline any player who is “guilty of conduct that is detrimental to or against the welfare of the League or the game of hockey.”

That is the core of the “policy.”

There is no statement about what the league will not tolerate. No thorough explanation of how the league investigates alleged misconduct. No mention of treatment plans, or of experts who can enforce treatment plans.

No mention, even, of the words “sexual assault,” “domestic violence,” or “victim.” The policy is Bettman, and how he’s feeling that day, and what his opinion is. He, alone, decides who in the NHL will be punished for acts of sexual violence, and what that punishment entails. An NHL spokesperson recently redirected The Inquirer to the following quote from Bettman after sexual assault allegations by former Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kyle Beach against the team’s video coach Brad Aldrich came to light in 2021:

“We do have a sexual misconduct policy. We don’t tolerate it. And we punish as appropriate,” Bettman said then, despite the league’s not having an official policy.

 

To be clear: no other major professional men’s sports league operates this way. The NFL, the NBA, and MLB all have dedicated policies. MLB’s policy is 13 pages long. The NHL is refusing to do the bare minimum in this specific area, while its policy for on-ice misconduct, in Section 18 of the CBA, goes into extraordinary detail.

This is even more galling when you look at the NHL’s history of sexual violence.

You could start with the most recent debacle: the aforementioned five pro players — Hart, Dillon Dubé, Michael McLeod, Cal Foote, and Alex Formenton — who were charged with sexual assault in London, Ontario. They are accused of sexually assaulting a woman in a hotel room following a June 2018 Hockey Canada event. None of those players have been suspended and are currently on paid leave through the end of the season.

Or, you could look to last November, when a second former Blackhawks prospect sued the team for “overlooking his complaints” of sexual assault from Aldrich. Later that month, Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic was arrested for assault and battery against his wife, to which he pleaded not guilty. Prosecutors dropped the case against Lucic on Friday.

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