On Thursday, International Day of the Girl, an impartial arbitrator ruled to reduce Austin Watson’s suspension for domestic violence from 27 games to 18 games.
Shyam Das, who was fired as Major League Baseball’s impartial arbitrator after overturning Ryan Braun’s 2012 50-game suspension for PED’s, was the impartial arbitrator for the NHL and NHLPA.
NHL Public Relations released a one-sentence statement on the matter.
NEW YORK/TORONTO (October 11, 2018) – The National Hockey League Players’ Association and National Hockey League announced today that Nashville Predators’ forward Austin Watson’s 27-game suspension issued pursuant to Article 18-A of the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement has been reduced by Arbitrator Shyam Das to a suspension covering the first 18 games of the 2018-19 regular season.
The Predators then released a statement of their own, distancing themselves from the appeals process.
Our organization was not involved in the appeal of Austin Watson’s 27-game suspension, but we are aware of its reduction to 18 games. As previously stated, our focus has and will continue to be the health and well-being of Austin and his family.
It’s important to note here that the NHL is the only one of the four major North American sports leagues that does not have an outlined domestic violence policy, although there has been outside pressure on the league to come up with one.
Many NHL supporters are rightfully frustrated by the ruling.
Actions speak louder than words. pic.twitter.com/kyJHFniu2K
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) October 11, 2018
Austin Watson – 18 games for domestic violence
Tom Wilson – 20 games for a garbage hit
— Katie Brown (@katiebhockey) October 11, 2018
Austin Watson will be suspended for fewer games for assaulting the mother of his child than Nate Schmidt will be for eating a tainted hamburger. Unconscionable. https://t.co/YdI9JaG3Mj
— Jeff Jones (@jmjones) October 11, 2018
Tom Wilson and Nate Schmidt are now serving a larger game suspension for their respective incidents than Austin Watson is for domestic abuse he pleaded guilty to. The NHL, we wanted this ONE thing. You were SO close.
— Leighann Strollo (@LeighannStrollo) October 12, 2018
It’s important to understand the facts of Watson’s case and why the neutral arbitrator may have reduced the sentence.
In July, Watson pleaded no-contest to domestic assault charges, which means he neither admitted nor denied guilt. Instead, the court placed Watson on judicial diversion and if he fulfilled the terms of his probation, the case would be expunged from his record.
Watson was placed on three months probation and had to complete a 26-week batterer intervention course and inpatient treatment for drugs and alcohol. The NHL then dealt Watson a 27-game suspension for violating rule 18-A of the collective bargaining agreement for “unacceptable off ice conduct.” 27 games is roughly three months, or a third of the season, and matches the length of his probationary period.
Gary Bettman’s statement on the 27-game suspension for Austin Watson: pic.twitter.com/Scg8apB4rV
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) September 12, 2018
The NHLPA appealed the suspension on Watson’s behalf, looking for three points where they could contest the length of suspension in rule 18-A.4 of the CBA:
(i) the facts and circumstances surrounding the conduct at issue; (ii) whether the penalty was proportionate to the gravity of the offense; and (iii) the legitimate interests of both the Player and the League.
The facts of the case are that Watson pleaded no-contest, which means he is considered neither guilty nor innocent, but that if he fulfills his probation the charge will be expunged. The penalty appears to be proportionate to the gravity of the offense, as domestic violence is a matter that should be taken seriously. The legitimate interests of the player are to keep playing.
The NHL and NHLPA are now bound by this ruling.
I’d love to know how Shyam Das arrived at the decision to reduce Austin Watson’s suspension. I’d also like to know if the NHL is going to move to remove Das as arbitrator (which is within their rights — the MLB removed Das after Das overturned Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension).
— Scott Wheeler (@scottcwheeler) October 11, 2018
SportsNet’s Doug MacLean’s take on this should honestly be everyone’s take on this.
Doug Maclean sharing his thoughts about the Austin Watson appeal is good: pic.twitter.com/bKawZ3o1Sg
— Halloween Mike Pfeil (@mikeFAIL) October 12, 2018
I don’t know who to be more upset with here. I’m appalled that the NHLPA appealed this. I’m appalled that the arbitrator reduced the suspension. This is a societal issue and we do this? Not the National Hockey League, but this situation. What message does this send to young men, to young ladies, to our fans? I mean, come on. This is ridiculous. I don’t get it for a minute. I’m upset about it. I’m ticked off. And I am lost to whatever—who was thinking this.
The message this sends young men is that this behavior is condoned and if you play in the league, the NHLPA thinks that domestic violence should not preclude you from playing. The message it sends women is that this particular arbitrator does not take domestic violence seriously, and the NHLPA and NHL will use the rulings as a shield for missteps. The message it sends to fans is that it will tolerate this kind of behavior from players.
If the league truly wants to rectify the situation, they will institute a domestic violence policy into the next round of negotiations for the CBA.
The NHL’s Declaration of Principles states:
All hockey programs should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, age, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. Simply put, hockey is for everyone.
Maybe one day that principle will ring true. The league could take a page from the Predators and work with an organization like AMEND, who “seek to challenge the culture that supports violence, cultivate healthy masculinity in men and boys, and change the future for women and girls.”
Austin Watson is in the video below, and it was published before the domestic violence charges against him surfaced.
Donations to AMEND can be made on their website.
UPDATE 1:15pm: NHL Public Relations has released a statement disagreeing with arbitrator Shyam Das’ ruling.
The National Hockey League released the following statement today regarding an arbitrator’s decision in the NHLPA’s appeal of Nashville Predators’ forward Austin Watson’s League-imposed suspension for domestic assault: pic.twitter.com/bB0UFl3YGs
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) October 12, 2018
We have reviewed Arbitrator Shyam Das’ opinion in the NHLPA’s appeal of Austin Watson’s suspension for domestic assault which reduced the League-imposed suspension of 27 games to 18 games. We are disappointed with the Arbitrator’s decision. We firmly believe that the right of appeal to an arbitrator of League discipline was never intended to substitute the arbitrator’s judgement for that of the Commissioner, particularly on matters of important League policy and the articulation of acceptable standards of conduct for individuals involved in the National Hockey League.
The NHL remains committed to continuing to do what we believe is right. And, in this regard, we intend to continue our steadfast efforts to ensure everyone in our League is adequately educated and sensitized to the importance of this serious social issue. We will not hesitate to adhere and enforce — through firm discipline as necessary — the standards of personal conduct we fell are appropriate for our League.
UPDATE 7:30pm: The NHLPA has released a statement of its own on Shyam Das’ arbitration ruling.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) October 12, 2018
TORONTO (Oct. 12, 2018) — The National Hockey League Players’ Association issued the following statement this evening regarding the impartial arbitrator’s decision to reduce Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson’s suspension from 27 to 18 NHL games:
“The NHLPA takes domestic violence seriously and continues to work together with the NHL to ensure that players are educated on this important societal issue. As part of those efforts, the NHL/NHLPA conduct domestic violence awareness training at our Rookie Orientation Program and during the season for all NHL players.
The CBA provides players with the right to appeal discipline imposed by the NHL for off-ice conduct to an impartial arbitrator. This essential right is intended to encourage the fair and consistent application of discipline. The arbitrator’s independence helps ensure that the process and decision are fair. That is a principle to which we should always strive to adhere, even in cases where the subject matter is as difficult as domestic violence.”
Headline photo: Claus Andersen/Getty Images North America
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