NHL adds whistleblower process, diversity and inclusion training
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman: "Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind."
The NHL will introduce tools focused on diversity and inclusion in an attempt to eliminate the kind of behavior and abuse scandals that have made news recently.
Commissioner Gary Bettman announced Monday at the league’s board of governors meeting in Pebble Beach, Calif., that the league will have a platform for whistleblowers and an annual training program on diversity and inclusion.
"Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behavior of any kind," he said on ESPN.com.
Former Red Wings assistant coach Bill Peters resigned as coach of the Calgary Flames after two of his former players came forward with abuse allegations. Former NHL player Akim Aliu, who is Nigerian and Russian, said that Peters used a racial epithet towards him when Peters was coaching Aliu with the Rockford Ice Hogs, the Chicago Blackhawks AHL affiliate in 2009-10. And former NHL defenseman Michal Jordan said that Peters kicked him and punched another player in the head when he was coach of the Carolina Hurricanes.
Two other players confirmed Aliu’s story, and current Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour, who was a Hurricanes assistant coach at the time, confirmed Jordan’s claims.
"We don't like surprises. The Bill Peters situation was a complete surprise," Bettman said. "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 league policies, either (deputy commissioner) Bill Daly or me must be immediately advised."
Bettman said there will be zero tolerance for any failure to notify the league, "and in the event of such failure, the club and individuals involved can expect severe discipline."
He also said the NHL is still investigating the Peters incidents.
Brind’Amour said that then-Carolina general manager Ron Francis was informed of Peters’ actions and the situation was handled “In house.” Francis, who is also the GM of the Seattle expansion franchise, said he informed then-Hurricanes principal owner Peter Karmanos of the incident. But Karmanos has disputed that claim in published comments.
The league’s new platform for whistleblowers is expected to be a phone hotline, on which inappropriate behavior by team officials can be reported anonymously or with attribution. The hotline will be available to current or former team personnel. Most of the claims have been made by former players.
"Anonymity will be protected," Bettman said.
The NHL also announced there will be a "mandatory, annual program on counseling, consciousness raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion. The program will be required for all NHL coaches, minor league coaches under NHL contracts, general managers and assistant general managers."
The league will work with outside professionals to create the program and with both the NHLPA and the NHL Coaches Association.
Also, NHL executive vice president Kim Davis, who focuses on diversity initiatives, will "form a multi-disciplinary council to suggest initiatives, monitor progress and coordinate efforts with all levels of hockey," Bettman said.
Meanwhile, other claims against NHL coaches have been reported.
Chicago Blackhawks assistant coach Marc Crawford is on administrative leave because of claims by former players Sean Avery, Brent Sopel and Patrick O’Sullivan of physical and verbal abuse.
Avery has said that he deserved what he got from Crawford, while Sopel said that he told the story for entertainment and not to vilify Crawford and that Crawford helped him become a better player.
But O’Sullivan, who originally made his claims in a book he published in 2015, has continued to accuse Crawford of "verbal abuse (that) included homophobic slurs on a regular basis."
Avery and Sopel have also come out in support of Crawford, but O’Sullivan has not, accusing Crawford of "verbal abuse (that) included homophobic slurs on a regular basis."
NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said the Blackhawks’ investigation of the Crawford incidents continues.
Also, the Dallas Stars fired coach Jim Montgomery on Tuesday. Dallas GM Jim Nill, former Red Wings assistant GM, said Montgomery was fired for “unprofessional conduct” but not for any of the reasons related to the league’s announcement on Monday.
The claims against former Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Mike Babcock by Chris Chelios and Johan Franzen, whom, Chelios said, Babcock cause to have a “nervous breakdown” represent a gray area when it comes to potentially mentally abusive behavior.
Bettman does not want things to get close to that gray area.
"Even if there's a line, why get too close to it? Let's have a respectful workplace," he said.
Bettman, Daly and other league officials met with Aliu last week in Toronto. Bettman was asked if the NHL has a racism problem.
"I think that we've been very proactive," he said. "Our levels of diversity and inclusiveness are the best they've ever been. Unfortunately, there are incidents. But overwhelmingly, our personnel conduct themselves in the appropriate way that they should.
“One incident is too many. But our goal is to continue to educate, consciousness-raise and continue to do the right things to keep incidents of inappropriate conduct to a minimum or eliminate them entirely and let people know that our game is open and inclusive."
Aliu released a statement on social media that he is pleased with the NHL’s announcement.
"I am encouraged the commissioner embraced many of the changes we proposed at the meeting," Aliu said. "Now the hard work begins of focusing on specifics and implementing policy that will make this sport more diverse, safer and accountable. We have to ensure that future generations of hockey players do not face the barriers and racism that I have throughout my career. Together we can do something truly great and transformative for hockey."