July 3, 2015 By Paul Gackle

Appropriate Action: Should Slava Voynov Get A Second Chance In The NHL?

Nearly 10 months after TMZ published a video of NFL running back Ray Rice punching his wife unconscious in an Atlantic City casino elevator, the former-pro bowl selection continues to be unemployed.

The incident sparked a national debate about how employers should respond to domestic violence in the sports world and society at large. While the debate raised awareness about issues related to domestic violence, it failed to provide an appropriate blueprint for handling future incidents in pro sports because every case presents a unique set of circumstances.

But if the Rice case did teach us anything, it’s that domestic violence is just one phase in a cycle of abuse and prosecution doesn’t necessary deter future incidents.

While Rice has been reinstated by the NFL, owners across the league are staying away from the 28-year-old running back as former teammates, like San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Torrey Smith, insist that he deserves a second chance.

Now, it’s the NHL’s turn to dive into the issue of domestic violence and determine an appropriate response to Los Angeles Kings’ defenseman Slava Voynov’s no contest plea to a misdemeanor count of corporal injury to a spouse on Thursday.

Upon first look, Voynov should be suspended for at least another year, if not banned from playing in the NHL all together, for the alleged violence he committed against his wife, Marta Varlamova, on Oct. 20, 2014.

Can you imagine what the public response would be if a video were to surface showing Voynov punching his Varlamova in the left jaw as was alleged in the police report? What if we could see him push her to the ground with two hands six or seven times and then kick her five or six times while she was down? How outraged would we be if we saw video footage of him shoving her into a flatscreen TV, opening a 1.2 inch gash above her left eye? What if we saw the blood that allegedly covered the couple’s bedroom at their home in Redondo Beach after the incident?

A good chunk of the population would probably want to throw Voynov on a plane and ship him back to Russia. He can get his second chance in the KHL, they’d say.

But this is where things actually get complicated. Is our No.1 priority to punish Voynov for this despicable crime or to protect Varlamova and reduce the likelihood of another future incident?

Unfortunately, a couple of recurring themes in domestic violence cases appear to be in play here.

After providing Redondo Beach police with the aforementioned details (the punch, the pushing, the kicking, the shove into the flatscreen TV), Varlamova had refused to testify if the case were to go to trial. According to defense attorneys, Varlamova, a native Russian speaker, doesn’t understand English well and things got lost in translation.

Varlamova also reportedly indicated to a nurse at Providence Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance that it wasn’t the couple’s first domestic violence incident.

It’s common for a victim of domestic abuse to deny the violence committed against them and for more incidents to occur in the future.

If Voynov is banished from the league (he’s currently suspended indefinitely) or U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement decides he should be deported (which it can do legally), the chances of recurring violence toward Varlamova will increase dramatically in Russia.

The NHL could pat itself on the back for being tough on domestic violence, but Varlamova will be in greater danger if the couple isn’t engaged in long-term counseling and therapy in the U.S.

In addition to his 90-day jail sentence, Voynov must complete a 52-week domestic violence prevention program as part of his plea deal. It isn’t a perfect solution, but it is a step in the right direction.

While counseling alone doesn’t guarantee that another offense won’t be committed, it offers a better chance of thwarting the cycle of violence than unemployment, similar to Rice, and eventual deportation to Russia.

Does Voynov deserve a second chance? Not really. The violence he committed against his wife is intolerable and shouldn’t be accepted by the NHL or any of its 30 teams.

But if the Rice incident taught us anything, it should be that our top concern is with Varlamova, not Voynov, and intervention offers the best road to protection.

This column was sponsored by Tilden Park Golf Course. Join the Players’ Club for $39.99 a month. Daily range access. Free green fees. Free golf clinics!

  • Azim Esmail

    Yeah, why not? Craig MacTavish did.