After what has been a whirlwind couple weeks for the NHL, sparked by allegations that former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters used racial slurs and physically abused two players during his time with the Carolina Hurricanes, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has made clear that there is no place for such conduct in the NHL and acknowledged that the league must be at the forefront of driving change in the culture surrounding the game.
Speaking following Monday’s Board of Governors meeting, Bettman stated that the league’s message moving forward is “unequivocal,” adding there will be zero tolerance for “abusive behavior of any kind.” In an effort to prevent future incidents, Bettman outlined the ways in which the league will move forward, beginning with the handling of inappropriate conduct moving forward.
Stating that the situation involving Peters caught those in the NHL’s front office off guard – “We don’t like surprises,” Bettman said – the commissioner stated the league office must be notified immediately of any conduct “involving NHL personnel on or off the ice that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive, or that may violate the League’s policies.” Failure to do so will not go unpunished, and Bettman made clear that those who do not comply can expect severe discipline.
As for those who engage in the inappropriate conduct, Bettman indicated that discipline must be handed out on a “case-by-case basis,” but again reiterated that the league will take the matters seriously. Punishment doled out for future incidents, he said, “must be severe and appropriate and designed to remedy the situation and ensure that the conduct does not occur again.”
In an effort to curb any incidents before they occur, however, the league will be adopting “mandatory annual program on counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion.” All coaches in the NHL and at the minor-league levels that are contracted by NHL franchises, as well as GMs and assistant GMs, will take the course as mandated by the league. But it will not be the NHL at the helm of the program. Instead, Bettman noted that outside professionals will create the program with input from the NHL Players’ Association and the NHL Coaches’ Association.
As for what will rise to the level of inappropriate conduct, Bettman said he understands that, “not everyone will approve of every coach’s methods,” but added there are lines that cannot be crossed. “Clearly physical abuse and racial and homophobic language cross the line,” Bettman said. “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-raising will help better define what is and what is not acceptable conduct and will make for a better playing and coaching environment.”
In addition, the league will discuss with the NHLPA the options available for player-based programs and NHL executive vice president Kim Davis will lead the formation of a “multidisciplinary council to suggest initiatives, monitor progress and coordinate efforts with all levels of hockey.” The council, Bettman said, will make resources available to those organizations that reach out.
Most importantly, though, Bettman acknowledged the need for a platform for players or team personnel to report inappropriate conduct that may otherwise go unreported. Bettman suggested the platform could take the form of a hotline, similar to the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health program, which the commissioner said has been “credible and effective.” Those who come forward will be protected by the league, Bettman said, stating that the league understands “the critical importance of ensuring that no one is retaliated against for raising a concern or participating in an investigation.” Bettman guaranteed that all reports made by players, staff or other members of NHL organizations will be taken seriously and that the league will follow up.
As it pertains to the Flames’ investigation of Peters’ conduct, Bettman said it was “timely, professional and appropriate,” and commended Calgary for achieving an “appropriate result.” Bettman noted that the level of due diligence teams conduct moving forward when hiring coaches will reach unprecedented levels as a result of the situation involving Peters.
“The world is changing for the better,” Bettman said. “This is an opportunity, and a moment, for positive change and this evolution should be expedited – for the benefit of everyone associated with the game we love. And even while change is taking effect, we still must acknowledge things that were wrong in the past. That acknowledgment allows those who were wronged to be heard, and it gives all of us an opportunity to prevent these things from happening again.”
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Read Bettman’s full statement below:
As one of the preeminent professional sports leagues in the world and the preeminent hockey league in the world, we recognize and embrace our role in setting an example.
We are now obviously aware of conduct that was and is unacceptable. Whether it happened 10 years ago or last week, the answer must be the same – it is unacceptable.
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.
The world is changing for the better. This is an opportunity, and a moment, for positive change and this evolution should be expedited – for the benefit of everyone associated with the game we love. And even while change is taking effect, we still must acknowledge things that were wrong in the past. That acknowledgment allows those who were wronged to be heard, and it gives all of us an opportunity to prevent these things from happening again.
Inclusion and diversity are not simply buzzwords, they are foundational principles for the NHL. 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. Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind.
So, let me now address how we move forward.
I’d like to convey to you exactly what was said to the Board of Governors during our meeting.
1. We don’t like surprises – the Bill Peters situation was a complete surprise.
Going forward, our clubs are on notice that if they become aware of an incident of conduct involving NHL personnel on or off the ice that is clearly inappropriate, unlawful or demonstrably abusive, or that may violate the League’s policies, involving NHL Club personnel, on or off the ice, we at the League office – Bill Daly or me – must be immediately advised. There will be zero tolerance for any failure to notify us and in the event of such failure, the club and individuals involved can expect severe discipline.
As it relates to incidents involving Bill Peters in Carolina – there seems to be some confusion between statements by Peter Karmanos and Ron Francis, which I still need to sort out. However, I am fairly clear that none of this has anything to do with Carolina under Tom Dundon, who was among the first to call me when Peters’ conduct came to light and he first learned about the Peters physical abuse allegations in Carolina.
2. While I do not believe most NHL coaches conduct themselves in an inappropriate manner – in fact, I believe most NHL coaches are professional and respectful in the way they coach and the profession is not deserving of blanket condemnation because of the conduct of some individuals – however in order to expedite a change in culture and make clear the expectations we have for the conduct of coaches and other personnel, we will formulate a mandatory annual program on counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion.
This program will be required for all Head Coaches, Minor League Coaches under contract with NHL teams, Assistant Coaches, General Managers and Assistant General Managers. 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; and teach to ensure bystander intervention techniques, anti-harassment, anti-hazing, non-retaliation and anti-bullying best practices.
The exact structure of the program will be created by outside professionals in the field and we will consult with the Players’ Association and the Coaches’ Association in the program’s creation. We will also discuss with the Players’ Association the extent to which this program or another customized program should be presented to the players. Also, under the direction of NHL Executive Vice President Kim Davis, we will form a multidisciplinary council to suggest initiatives, monitor progress and coordinate efforts with all levels of hockey. The council will also make resources available to help any organization that might reach out for assistance.
3. Inappropriate conduct engaged in by club personnel will be disciplined, either by the team, the League or both. While discipline as always must be on a case-by-case basis – it is my intention that it must be severe and appropriate and designed to remedy the situation and ensure that the conduct does not occur again.
4. In that light, the passage of time is not the most effective way to address these situations. Accordingly, we will create a platform – perhaps a hotline – where instances of inappropriate conduct connected to the NHL can be reported either anonymously or for attribution for us to follow up. It can be any team personnel such as a teammate, trainer, or even the player himself. In this regard, we understand the critical importance of ensuring that no one is retaliated against for raising a concern or participating in an investigation – again either anonymously or for attribution - and I guarantee we will take all reports seriously and follow up. My expectation is that this hotline can function like our SABH hotline, which has been credible and effective.
A couple of closing points:
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. 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-raising 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.
Calgary’s response initially to Akim Aliu’s allegations and then the Carolina issue, was timely, professional and appropriate. While none of Bill Peters’ inappropriate conduct occurred on the Flames’ watch, they undertook the important effort to try to understand what happened 10 years ago and thereafter. Once Calgary could satisfy itself as to what transpired, they achieved an appropriate result and I commend the Calgary organization and in particular, Brad Treliving, for their efforts and cooperation. I think it is pretty fair to say that from now on when a Club is hiring a coach, the due diligence a team conducts will go to levels never seen before. And, that is a good thing.
Finally, Bill Daly and I had a constructive meeting last week with Akim Aliu and his lawyers. We heard what they had to say, have initiated our own review and will ultimately determine how we believe most appropriate to proceed.