In wake of multiple abuse allegations made against a variety of NHL coaches — including Mike Babcock, Bill Peters and Marc Crawford — the NHL is taking action.
League commissioner Gary Bettman announced in a press release on Monday that the league is taking steps to implement changes, new policies and new initiatives in order to address inappropriate conduct and abuse moving forward.
“Whether it happened 10 years ago or last week, the answer must be the same — it is unacceptable,” Bettman said of the alleged abuse.
“While we may not have known, the fact is that we as a league — on behalf of ourselves, our teams and our players, coaches, organizations and fans — must respond in a clear, meaningful and appropriate manner. Professionalism and respect have always been important to the league, but it is now a particularly important time to discuss it because everyone is entitled to a respectful workplace.”
According to Bettman, the league “will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind” while emphasizing the importance of inclusion in today’s game.
“Inclusion and diversity are not simply buzzwords, they are foundational principles for the NHL,” Bettman said. “It’s why we initiated the Declaration of Principles and why we invest so much time and effort, along with so many resources into our ‘Learn to Play’ and ‘Hockey is for Everyone’ programs.”
Bettman went on to provide an outline as to the NHL’s plan to address the situation, as was discussed with the league’s Board of Governors during a meeting.
Moving forward, NHL teams must “immediately [advise]” the NHL office if they “become aware of an incident of conduct involving the NHL personnel on or off the ice that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive, or that may violate the League’s policies.” If this rule is not followed or teams fail to report any inappropriate or abusive conduct, the team and its members “can expect severe discipline.”
The release is coming off the heels of the Bill Peters scandal, in which the now-former Calgary Flames head coach was accused of directing racial slurs toward former player Akim Aliu — as reported by Aliu himself — as well as kicking former Hurricanes forward Michal Jordan and punching another player in the head during his tenure in Carolina, an allegation made by Jordan and backed by current Canes coach Rod Brind’Amour.
Moving forward, the NHL is also initiating an annual training program, which will be mandatory for all head coaches, minor league coaches, assistant coaches, general managers and assistant GMs. The program will focus on “counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion,” and will be structured by outside professionals, with the help and consolation of the NHLPA and Coaches’ association.
“We will focus the programming on training and other exercises and initiatives to ensure respectful locker rooms, training facilities, games and all other hockey-related activities,” Bettman added. “And teach to ensure bystander intervention techniques, anti-harassment-anti-hazing, non-retaliation and anti-bullying best practices.”
If there is inappropriate conduct by club personnel moving forward, they will be disciplined by team, league or both in a manner that is “severe and appropriate and designed to remedy the situation and ensure that the conduct does not occur again,” as per Bettman.
Lastly, the league will set up a hotline for members of an organization to report any inappropriate conduct or abusive behavior from any team personnel — including players, coaches and executives — either anonymously or with attribution. Bettman added that it will be set up similar to the NHL’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health hotline.
“Not everyone will approve of every coach’s methods. However, there are lines that cannot be crossed — clearly physical abuse and racial and homophobic language cross the line,” Bettman said as part of his closing points. “And while we acknowledge that there may be other actions that could cross the line or fall in a gray area, we hope the program we create and its attendant consciousness-rating will help better define what is and what is not acceptable conduct and will make for a better playing and coaching environment.
“Over time, we have been able to change the culture of our game as it relates to substance abuse and player safety. And while we have taken many important steps forward on diversity and inclusiveness, as well as respect and professionalism in hockey, we intend to do more and faster.”
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