Lombardi: Missing the PointVoynov: Felon Among Fools?

Let's get something straight. NHL players are the best of the best on the ice. Off the ice? We're reading a lot about that these days. Well, mostly we're reading a lot about how one player allegedly beat his wife to the point that their bedroom was covered in blood, repeatedly shoved her down and kicked her as she lie on the ground, and then tried to strangle her three times according to the testimony of the responding police officer. But let's be clear, these horrific alleged actions are those of an outlier, one alleged criminal among more than 700 active players.

The vast majority of NHL players are good people. They are men with families who love their wives and their kids. They have human failings, just like the rest of us, and life on the road takes a toll. Martin Biron summed it up well when he reflected on his career following retirement, "[W]hen you're 27, 28 and you miss Halloween with the kids because you have a game, that doesn't feel the same as when you're 35 and you miss Halloween with the kids."

While the allegations against Voynov are undeniably disturbing, the public reaction by the LA Kings is making things worse—way, way worse at a time when the NHL is struggling to find its way with female fans. It's almost as though the Kings have coordinated a response that attempts to trivialize Voynov's alleged bludgeoning of his wife. First came GM Dean Lombardi's patently absurd public comment on Voynov's case and resulting suspension (with pay): "Quite frankly, I'm beyond caring about reinstatement or cap relief," Lombardi said. "My biggest concern is that if he is charged with a felony, this one incident could jeopardize Slava's entire career."

Did Dean Lombardi really say that holding Voynov accountable for his alleged crime would somehow be unfair because he might have to give up a career in hockey? Talk about a lack of perspective. Voynov is facing nine years in prison and deportation if convicted.

Then, on December 2, after the District Attorney charged Voynov with one felony count of corporal injury to spouse with great bodily injury, the Kings included Voynov in an "optional skate" because Dean Lombardi "thought it'd be good for Voynov to be around his teammates again," apparently not considering whether it would be good for the Kings to invite Voynov to violate the terms of his NHL suspension which prohibits him "from participating in team activities (practices and other mandatory or optional team functions)." The NHL promptly fined the Kings $100,000 for the violation.

Notably absent from the Kings is any statement acknowledging that the gravity of the charges against Voynov and disturbing nature of the graphic evidence presented at the preliminary hearing. It's just not that difficult for the Kings to issue a statement like, "The felony assault charges against Slava are serious, and while we wait for the legal process to reach its conclusion, we will abide by the terms of his suspension. Domestic violence is never acceptable. Never."

At Voynov's preliminary hearing on December 15, 2014, the District Attorney presented sufficient evidence for Judge Hector Guzman to order Voynov to stand trial on the felony charge of corporal injury to spouse with great bodily injury. Voynov's motions to dismiss the charge and to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor were both denied. Voynov is represented by attorney Pamela Robillard Mackey who famously represented Kobe Bryant in his Colorado rape trial that ended in an acquittal. Voynov's arraignment is set for December 29.

In a July 2, 2014 public announcement, the San Jose Sharks announced auditions for a new, "co-ed, high-energy ice team that supports the San Jose Sharks..."

Many Sharks fans were outraged by the photograph that accompanied the announcement depicting two young women wearing cropped Sharks jerseys that exposed the models’ midriffs and by the stated requirements for audition applicants that included, "Physically fit/athletic appearance," and an implication that applicants should look good in "form fitting [uniforms] with some skin exposure," as referenced in the FAQ section.

Sharks management admits it anticipated community outrage
but went ahead with its plans anyway

In the days that followed the Ice Team Auditions announcement, scores of vocal fans contacted the Sharks directly to let the team know they opposed creation of the "Ice Girls" squad. Thousands of fans took to social media, including Twitter and fans even established a SayNoToSharksIceGirls page on Facebook. By July 16, 2014, the Facebook page had more than 800 "likes," and Mr. Tortora, the Sharks Chief Operating Officer, was quoted in the San Jose Mercury News as stating the backlash was, "about what we expected."

Local Press Coverage

Mark Purdy opposes creation of the Ice Girls squad and in a column on July 16, 2014, Mr. Purdy proposed a constructive, gender-neutral, alternative used at the Olympics in Sochi that would not alienate the community.

Coverage in The Hockey News

The Sharks Ice Girls controversy sparked Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News to pen a column concluding, "[I]t’s nice to see that fans of the franchise are standing up and saying that they like their hockey distraction-free."

Igniting a Debate

The controversy in San Jose has generated discussion in many NHL cities about whether Ice Girls are appropriate, including Phoenix and across Canada.

Loyal Sharks fans deserve
honesty, accountability, and respect

hockey fight

Management Has Not Been
Truthful

Mr. Tortora said, "Our first priority is finding people who can skate and do a good job of cleaning the ice," but in reality the job requirements specifically state that the ability to skate is not required, unlike a "fit/athletic appearance" and looking good in a uniform with "skin exposure."

Tortotra Memed 1

Sharks Management Says
Ice Team is "tasteful"

Even after sending out the announcement with cropped topped jerseys and appearance requirements, Sharks COO John Tortora said the team planned to proceed with plans to develop the "Ice Team" "in a way that works for us within our game experience..." He further called the team’s approach, "tasteful."

Old Vancouver Hockey Club

Ice Girls Aren’t "Progress"

John Tortora characterized the Ice Girls as "progress" for the fan experience at the Tank. "[W]e don’t want to be status quo, on or off the ice. If you’re status quo, you aren’t progressing."

Men and Women Are Hockey Fans

Women Are More Than 1/3 Of NHL Fans

According to data collected by Scarborough Sports Marketing, 36% of NHL fans are female. At the same time, the growth of female participation in hockey outpaces that of male participation nearly 2:1.

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