What should the NHL do about Austin Watson?

Photo courtesy of The Tennesseean

As sports fans, sometimes we can find it hard to remember that the players are actual human beings. We remember this at times with heartwarming stories, like the Sochi dogs rescued by then-Blues David Backes, TJ Oshie, and our very own Kevin Shattenkirk. Sometimes, it’s seeing all the great work and unbelievable funding that PK Subban devotes to the Montreal Children’s Hospital, despite not living there anymore.

Unfortunately, recently the news has focused on a case of domestic abuse, a topic that is no stranger to professional sports. Austin Watson, a 26-year-old forward on the Predators (no pun intended?), was arrested last month for battering his girlfriend and mother of his child. He pleaded out yesterday to receive probation and completion of an anger management-adjacent course.

Other leagues have domestic violence policies in place — though how well they enforce them is another story. The NFL is infamous for the Ray Rice situation, and the subsequent policy is more like a suggestion box for how long the commissioner decides to (or not to) suspend guilty players. MLB is more strict and has more sanctions associated with their DV policy, despite not having specific timeframes for suspension. The NHL? Nothing.

This comes into play right now with Watson, but really should’ve been prevalent as teams considered signing Slava Voynov early this month. In case you missed it, Voynov punched, kicked, and choked his wife before throwing her into a flat screen TV and cracking her head open. The injuries sustained by his wife were consistent with the story, and Voynov fled to Russia and has been huddled in the KHL since then, until the charges were recently dropped.

So the question stands: is a league required to further punish a player for a domestic violence incident, or is state or federal law enough?

Before we judge, let’s remember something: domestic abuse is extremely difficult for so many reasons. There is a huge psychological factor to it, as you could tell by battered mates staying with their partners. Many wives (in these cases, specifically) are emotionally and financially dependent on their husbands, and feel as though there are no other options. Add in children and you’ve got custody and child support issues. Many of the abusers either grew up around the same behavior – one report states that almost 1 in 4 reported incidents were witnessed by a child.

The NHL right now has the opportunity to create a domestic violence policy from scratch, which goes in whichever direction it decides. They could have defined suspensions with mandatory psychological treatment, or they could have a more lackadaisical NFL-esque “policy” for PR purposes. Understanding the complexity of the topic, suspensions should be mandatory; whether minor or severe, statistics show that 76-81% of repeat victims had been abused by the same partner before. This means that taking a ‘minor’ offense lightly will almost certainly result in a repeat crime.

On such a sensitive topic, it’s important to remember that, although these are athletes, they are human. People are flawed, but giving free passes and pretending incidents didn’t happen because they weren’t seen through in trial is naive and dangerous. The NHL is overdue to implement a strong policy that could be seen as a benchmark in professional sports, and should do so before another Austin Watson situation occurs.


If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, please know there are resources available for you. The domestic abuse hotline is available 24/7 in 200+ languages at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). You can also visit here for more options for help.

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  • For the fact that the NHL does not have a policy on matters such as these, is further proof of the complete and utter incompetency from which it operates.

    They don’t protect their own players, why should they protect the players’ families?

    Completely embarrassing and disgraceful.

    As for Watson:

    #1. Let the courts decide it.
    #2. If the case is “dropped” then the league needs to investigate on its own because dropping the case does not mean “innocence.” And if there are violations, the a suspension is in order, without pay.

    • It reads odd. The issue that precipitated the event involved the woman’s drinking, yet he has to do drug/alcohol counseling on top of anger management.


      • The reason his original court date was pushed back was because she went back to rehab so she is getting help as well.

      • Almost victim blaming. Close enough.

        I don’t recall the part where her drinking problem — whether there is one or not — led to her becoming violent against him, so not sure why it matters in this particular criminal case.

        • Since you missed it the 1st time:

          Because the argument of *her* drinking issues (which apparently resulted in her entering rehab) lead to an act of domestic violence, yet the male(who was driving and wasn’t charged with DUI on top of DV) was directed to drink/drug counseling as part of his sentence. I found that interesting, so I raised the point and asked a question.

          But if you feel I’m playing blame the victim, arguing with drunk people is like arguing with people who can’t read a sentence. They only read/hear what they want to justify their own worldview.

    • Suggesting that the NHL should independently investigate criminal allegations of spousal abuse is a bad idea. Police and lawyers have the best training and years of experience investigating these crimes, which no NHL worker has.

      • No, you missed my point on this, sometimes a woman drops the case even though the man is guilty, that they do not want to pursue it legally.

        Just because the woman does not pursue the case doesn’t mean that the man didn’t do it.

        That was my point.

        • If you believe in the rule of law, then it’s impossible for the accused to be guilty when his accuser drops the case. If you don’t believe in the rule of law, you’ll use extralegal methods to get punishments.

          My point still stands. The police and lawyers who routinely investigate spousal assault accusations have better training and more experience than untrained NHL officials trying to determine whether an accused player is “guilty” – even though he was never found guilty.

          • “My point still stands. The police and lawyers who routinely investigate spousal assault accusations have better training and more experience than untrained NHL officials trying to determine whether an accused player is “guilty” – even though he was never found guilty.”

            I agree with this and there is no reason why that information could not be used by the league. Allowing any player to play that does this to their significant other is a disgrace, regardless of the legal proceedings.

          • Is it a disgrace to say, “My name is NYR 2018 and I’m not a experienced detective, so I don’t comment on anyone’s criminal guilt or innocence”?

            Is it a disgrace to say, “My name is NYR2018 and I’m not an oncologist, so I don’t comment on anyone’s cancer treatment regimen”?

            If not, then it isn’t a disgrace for the NHL to refuse to comment, investigate, nor administer discipline on any player merely *accused* of spousal abuse. It’s just the NHL collectively saying, “My name is the NHL, and I’m not the police.”

          • I don’t know why this is so hard. Every other sports leagues does their own digging into stuff like this.

            This is not a unique idea that I came up with.

            If a man smacks the hell out of a woman and the woman drops the case because she’s in love with the man and wants the man to take care of her financially, then I think the league has every right to tell that man that he should take a “time out” and seek counseling before “possibly” coming back.

            Voynov’s significant other ended up dropping the case, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t give her the bruises.

            Feel free to disagree.

          • The accuser doesn’t bring the case or file charges. The state does. Victims of domestic violence routinely ask for charges to be dropped. The state makes the decision whether to proceed or not. So, no, the victim refusing to cooperate or not supporting the case does make it impossible for the accused to be guilty.

          • If the victim asks for the charges to be dropped, and the state complies, then the accused is not guilty. Richter’s original statement doesn’t acknowledge this routine outcome.

          • “then the accused is not guilty.”

            That’s the LEGAL outcome, doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.

            Any sports league has the fiduciary responsibility to the conduct of its players. Just like the Giants investigated its kicker after numerous reports about possible abuse.

            I’m not understanding why your view is so narrow.

      • The NHL conducting independent investigations is covered under CBA 18-A, but they defer it until after the legal things have ended so as to not prejudice things.

    • The mutts that gave the thumbs down, are the cowards that do these things to women.

      I’m trying to understand why anyone would disagree with what I said and not be in support of transgressors. I can’t come up with an answer.

      • Tony

        It’s the usual suspects, gutless, and dumb as a stump. The three stooges fall into this category, and they all should be called out for their collective lack of intestinal fortitude!!!!!! I play with them, by calling them wife beaters to embarrass them, but they are classless, and have no shame…………….

      • “The mutts that gave the thumbs down, are the cowards that do these things to women.”

        This is an uncivil comment, and an accusation without evidence.

        • Really? I think the “intent” of my comment was pretty clear and to the point that this behavior is unacceptable to the defense of women in these situations.

          If that view is “uncivil” then so f–king be it. IMO, the thumbs down is uncivil.

          So I guess that you and I are at different ends of this discussion, which is fine. That’s America.

          • The American legal system was designed to be the pinnacle of providing civil protections to the criminally accused. And a primary purpose of the American educational system is to teach its citizens why those civil protections are important.

            So while you proclaim to have “clear intentions” , and proclaim pride in your incivility, the only message that comes across is your failure to educate yourself about civil protections in the American legal system.

          • Thank you for the education but I know what the law is all about.

            The disconnect is that you fail to separate the law and what actually happened. Me murdering someone and getting off on a legal technicality does not mean that I didn’t murder the person.

            The NHL has every right to suspend whomever they want if THEY deem it necessary and appropriate. The players work for the NHL.

            We can go round and round on this. The funny thing is that I’m agreeing with you on the legal side (which for some reason you’re not getting) but then extending the issue to the NHL which is what Becky’s point of the article to begin with.

          • First, you make a reference to “what actually happened”

            Second, you immediately follow that with,”Me murdering someone and getting off on a legal technicality doesn’t mean that I didn’t murder the person.”

            But this isn’t “what actually happened”. It’s a metaphorical example of something else (which may, or may not, have happened) – which only you know about, because you never explained it.

            Richter, compose yourself, then speak directly about “what really happened” – without metaphors nor hypotheticals.

          • Becky: “So the question stands: is a league required to further punish a player for a domestic violence incident, or is state or federal law enough?”

            IMO, the NHL is required to further punish, just like every other sports league.

            That’s where I stand and I speak directly to the situation at hand. I’m very composed and sure of my thought process.

  • The way my parents raised me, and I did my sons, is any man that strikes a woman is pure dig shit!!!!!!!!!!

    You just turn your back and walk away to avoid the temptation!!!!!!!!!

  • I am sorry, but one does not hit a woman. Period. Hands off. No excuses.

    The NHL should suspend him for an unlimited period of time until all the legal stuff plays out. If it takes a year or two, so be it. Suspension without pay. Then decide what to do based on how this all plays out.

  • Before delving in, I’d like to start by stating that in absolutely no way, shape, or form, is domestic violence okay. I believe, if he did as accused, the courts will take care of this, and hopefully the NHL will as well.

    However, I think a point that often confuses me is the concept that, yes they are human, but they are also employees, just like majority of us keyboard warriors. If any of us did something like this, and our employers found out, we’d likely be let go. Of course it’s slightly different with contracts, but majority of these contracts have termination clauses, for things like this.

    Why is the onus exclusively on the NHL to create a policy, making them solely responsible for discipline. I think there should be just as much pressure on owners (who I understand, are represented by Bettman/NHL), to individually discipline their employees.

    If a company like Google went out, and put a guy under investigation for domestic abuse on their Board, there’d be backlash and outrage. I think it’s an interesting conversation to think that the responsibility here should be on individual owners (employers), to handle their employees, on top of a blanket “league policy”.

  • “So the question stands: is a league required to further punish a player for a domestic violence incident, or is state or federal law enough?”

    It is a privlidge to play in the NHL not a right.

    Are they required to puhish him, under the current rules of the NHL? No.
    Are they required to continue to employ him under the current rules of the NHL? Yes, until the second buyout window opens if the team is eligible for that second window.
    Are they required to give him further employment when his contract expires? No.
    Should this factor into a decision to further employ him? Yes.

  • Do nothing, he paid enough for his anger, shit happens and law enforcement system is cruel enough. I am not talking about legal issues NHL has in such cases

  • Well the NHL didn’t ban Bertuzzi for almost killing somebody on the ice so I doubt they’ll do anything substantial. Remember varlamov had an incident too and league was willfully ignorant

  • The league needs a general policy on how to treat players who perform heinous acts both on and off the ice. Some kind of “code of conduct” policy. A weak league has weak enforcement policies.

  • Community here became as in ex Soviet Union, man made a mistake, man paid for it, but crowd asking for revenge and trying to drown person completely…. IMHO it’s a dangers path, remember USSR

  • You all know how I feel about domestic abuse, and know how I handled the guy who put his hands on my sister. But let me now tell you something I found out which is very disturbing. Violence against men has gone up well over 1,000 percent! Since I have 8 police officers in my family I know of stories of attacks which aren’t even reported because men are made fun of and laughed at if they do. Recently my own son finally let us know of his abuse. We were thinking it was from playing sports or other things.
    I am in no way taking away from what the coward men do, and raised my sons to always walk away. But now we need to start giving these men the same support the woman get. They should not be made fun of or have it minimized. A friend of mine was stabbed by his wife and nothing happened to the woman. The cops came to the house and refused to arrest her and told him just leave the house.
    Abuse of ANYONE is totally unacceptable and it is time men who are being abused get the help they need. From my recent research I am finding out these men have more trouble then the woman. Many people think what they are dealing with is no big deal that they should: MAN UP! Our society is basically saying getting hit by a woman is no big deal. I urge any person out there to go get help as soon as you can. I am trying to organize a support group for these men because there really isn’t much out there for them. I am guilty of not supporting my son and as a result he has a very low self esteem suffers from depression and other issues. From what I’m hearing the violence against men is increasing at an alarming rate and we all need to start realizing this is a problem we need to face. To my son and all the others I AM SORRY I DIDN’T SUPPORT YOU

  • Once again this website has chosen to censor people who don’t agree with them. This is exactly how Nazi Germany started in the 1930’s. As long as you agree with them you could speak. These types are the biggest hypocrites of all. They scream fairness and tolerance but deny it to anyone who disagrees with them. You know nothing of democracy and how it works. You are like dictators who deny others the right to disagree. You pick and chose what is to be read or not. I’m sure you won’t allow this as well. I served my country proudly to give people like you the right to say whatever they want at any time. What I find is the people like you who scream the loudest about wanting this freedom are the first to deny it to others.

    • It’s called a spam filter. You’re not the only one that the new config has impacted. You aren’t special.

      And you compared the blog to Nazi Germany? Really?

      • Dave, he is right, this is how it was looked at least in Soviet Union, you open here political subject, eat it, but all sides have right for their opinion, otherwise…. welcome back to USSR

        • That’s under the premise he was censored. He wasn’t. It’s called a spam filter. I’m not sitting here running through comments deleting things I don’t like.

      • My apologies to all of you on this site for wrongly posting. As I am a computer dummy I know nothing of spam and all that stuff. I ASSUMED wrongly and for that I ask your forgiveness! I’m human and made a mistake. Maybe I should try and learn more about computers. Again I ask for your forgiveness for being stupid!

  • Some good thoughts being batted around, but his always an extremely difficult situation, and each case needs to be evaluated on its own merits. That being said, the league definitely needs a policy that is enforced consistently, not something that I can see Gary “head-in-the-sand” Bettman ever implementing. At the very least, I’d say there needs to be a suspension until the legal questions are resolved. Longer suspensions after that are the biggest issue, in my mind. Releasing the player, essentially firing him, deprives his spouse and any children of their financial support, punishing them for what he did. Maybe letting him play, but automatically deducting any financial support required by law from his salary and sending it directly to the wife and kids. Certainly requiring counseling, monitored to make sure he attends every session, as a condition. Maybe requiring the team to make payments to the dependents for the length of his contract, whether he plays or not
    (unlikely, but it would make them be a lot more careful about who they sign).

  • I have a suggestion, try sticking to just hockey stuff and don’t bring up social issues when you only allow one side (YOUR SIDE) of the issue to be presented

  • I just hope that every person here who decries domestic violence against women also believes that it applies to domestic violence against men as well as the corporeal punishment of children in any form — and that in all cases it should result in charges, rehabilitation and possible imprisonment depending on the severity or repeated nature of the crime. I don’t believe that violence, in all these cases, resolves anything.

    • I guess one person out there must love to beat their kid(s) … or believes that men are never physically hit by women, because you know women are always perfect and too weak to hit men. 😉

  • Becky, to answer your question, I don’t think the NHL should do anything in these cases.

    The primary purpose of the NHL is to be a profit-creating entertainment company. And to do this, the league must protect its players above all else. While a convicted spousal abuser (like Austin Watson) no longer deserves league protection, any player merely accused of domestic violence merits league protection – until the matter is legally concluded. And this protection is best created by the NHL refusing to comment, investigate, nor punish during any ongoing investigations.

  • Relevant: a federal judge dismissed the misdemeanor domestic violence conviction against Slava Voynov, (over prosecutorial objections), potentially creating a path for his return to the NHL.

    • Relevant: Because he (supposedly) went through the process of the terms of his release from his 2 month prison sentence, which the ADA disputed vehemently was impossible to confirm since Voynov was in Russia.

      How convenient that his spouse would be so amenable to “forgiveness” that would allow Voynov back into the NHL, so he could get paid millions from which she would benefit.

      This is all too often how it goes, and to adhere strictly to the letter of the legal system is why these incidences do not stop.

      There are too many victims that do not get justice, whether it is related to domestic violence or day to day life.

      • “This is all too often how it goes, and to adhere strictly to the letter of the legal system is why these incidences do not stop.”

        Which of the following is true about you, Richter?

        1. You have personally known and interviewed hundreds of men who hit their wives/girlfriends, and are making your quoted claim based on that personal knowledge.

        2. You have personally dated hundreds of women, all of whom you repeatedly abused, and are making your quoted-claim based on your own personal experience as a long-time abuser of women.

        3. You’ve no intimate personal knowledge of being an abuser of women, nor extensive personal friendships with abusers of women, meaning your quoted claim has no evidence to support it.

        • #3. if you must know and based on the tone of your comments, you’re either a defense attorney or in the “there’s always 2 sides of the story” narrative.

          But I think that I can have an opinion, right counselor? Plus, I’m pretty confident that most rationale people share my view, which doesn’t make me right, but more humane.

          • P.S. I love this discussion (not the reason for the discussion, BTW), you’re challenging me.

            So thank you for that.

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