NHL Faces Criticism Over Handling of Players Charged with Sexual Assault

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has come under scrutiny for his stance on not suspending four players who face criminal charges over an alleged sexual assault linked to the 2018 World Junior Canadian hockey team. The incident, purported to have occurred in a hotel room after a Hockey Canada event, has ignited a fierce debate on the league’s approach to serious allegations involving its players.

During a press conference, Bettman revealed that the accused players, now free agents nearing the end of their contracts, were on leave but continued to receive their salaries. “I don’t think that’s necessary at this stage,” Bettman remarked, addressing the absence of immediate suspensions. He justified the decision by highlighting the players’ current disassociation from their teams and the complex nature of the situation.

The charges involve players Michael McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils, both of whom were re-signed last summer, and Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers, Dillion Dubé of the Calgary Flames, and Alex Formenton, a former Ottawa Senator now playing in Switzerland. The legal representatives for the players have stated their intentions to plead not guilty, denying any misconduct.

When pressed about whether he felt the recent arrests of players for sexual assault pointed toward a systemic culture issue in the NHL and the sport, league commissioner Gary Bettman said to make that characterization would be ‘both inaccurate and unfair’ and that ‘99.9 per cent of the players … conduct themselves appropriately.’

This controversy arrives amidst ongoing deliberations over the NHL’s internal investigation into the allegations, which concluded last year without public disclosure. Bettman cited ongoing criminal proceedings as the reason for withholding the investigation’s findings, a decision that has further fueled calls for transparency within the league.

Critics, including Canada’s former sports minister Pascale St-Onge, argue that the incident reflects broader issues of sexual violence and toxic masculinity within hockey culture, a claim Bettman staunchly refutes. “Ninety-nine-point-nine percent of players, certainly in our league, conduct themselves appropriately,” Bettman asserted, defending the sport against blanket condemnations.

The legal and public fallout continues as the woman at the center of the allegations, identified only as “E.M.” in court documents, settled a lawsuit with Hockey Canada for $3.5 million. The settlement, funded in part by registration fees from unsuspecting parents, has sparked outrage and led to a reevaluation of Hockey Canada’s handling of sexual abuse allegations.

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