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What Has Happened to the Character of the NHL?

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The National Hockey League used to be revered and commended for its character and the character of its players. While leagues like the MLB were dealing with substance abuse allegations and the NFL was dealing with domestic abuse allegations, the NHL seemed above it all. Concussion debates have always been an issue for the NHL, but that has nothing to do with its character. Analyst like Don Cherry use to boast how mature and morally sound NHL players were. But recently there have been many cases of illegal and downright negligent actions by NHL players.

The most recent case that comes to mind is the Patrick Kane rape allegation. That allegation was really the cause of this article’s writing. It’s an unfortunate and unsettling case that could take away a tremendous talent in Patrick Kane and possibly deter the entire Blackhawks franchise. However, there are plenty of incidents aside from Kane’s ongoing rape debacle. Cases and instances that not only support this article, but seriously call into question the current moral character of the NHL and its esteemed players.

First, and foremost, is the drug issue. I’m talking about PEDs, even, I’m talking about recreational and hardcore drugs. Just this year two former Los Angeles Kings players, Jarrett Stoll and Mike Richards, were charged with possession of drugs like cocaine and Oxycontin. These are players that are suppose to be role models for children. These men knew that with the luxuries of an athletes life also come the responsibility of being role models and setting examples for children. Drugs like cocaine and Oxycontin are not just illegal, but dangerous drugs that ruin careers and even the lives of athletes. Richards was even terminated from his contract due to his drug possession. Stoll wasn’t re-signed by the Kings, but signed by the New York Rangers. Hopefully, Stoll can have somewhat of a redemption story here in New York.

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Then there’s the incidents with public intoxication and DUI’s. The most recent case involved Ryan O’Reilly formerly of the Colorado Avalanche and now playing for the Buffalo Sabres. O’Reilly crashed his new pickup truck into a Tim Horton’s in Ontario while under the influence. While no one was hurt he was charged with a DUI, leaving the scene of an accident, and property damage. This is another case of a “role model” setting a bad example for kids that look up to him. It’s a stupid incident, but one that makes you wonder what possesses these players to do things like this and what makes them think they’ll get away with it.

The last example and the most troubling is the domestic abuse allegations. As far back as 2013, Semyon Varlamov of the Colorado Avalanche was accused by his girlfriend of domestic violence. While the prosecution dropped the charges due to a lack of evidence, Varlamov is still in the midst of civil suit with his ex. The most recent example of domestic violence and the most controversial one is that of Los Angeles Kings defenseman, Slava Voynov. Yes, another L.A. King. I guess its something in the water. The third King of this article was accused late last year of assaulting his wife and suspended indefinitely by the NHL. He has since been charged, pleaded no-contest, and spent 90 days in jail. Now, Voynov is at risk of deportation. Domestic violence is a serious crime and should be taken seriously even against star athletes. Its nice that since the Ray Rice scandal of 2014 the four major sports are taking a more serious stance on domestic violence (took them long enough).

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In the end, I’m still a hockey fan and as a hockey fan I’m unsettled by the seemingly diminished moral character of NHL players. While these are only a few instances it’s saddening and hard to come to grips with. In no way should any athlete be let off from a crime due to their status. I still think the NHL has a high moral character as they have tried to handle these incidents precisely. But its still unsettling the direction that players are heading in, and I hope these are all just isolated incidents and that we can move on from this demoralizing year of hockey.

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