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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Will the NHL Do the Right Thing In the Varlamov Case? @ChicksDigHockey

We live in a society that worships athletes. From a very young age males are taught to prize athletic ability over scholarly strength.  The lucky few who rise to the top of their sport to become paid professionals are rewarded with not only lucrative contracts but rich endorsement deals, VIP treatment, the adoration of fans and their choice of any number of women who wait in line. In a sport like Hockey a premium is placed on aggression and violent behavior. We, the fan, reward it with wealth and fame. For the glory of being a professional athlete, we create a class of individuals who feel above reproach.

When a man rises to an elite level in a sport like hockey and plays on an international stage it must be intoxicating. Imagine being a young boy who lives for the moments when he straps on his skates to play the game he loves. You imagine in your head you’re Mario Lemieux splitting the D and burying the puck in the net as the crowd goes wild. Maybe you imagine you’re Marc Andre Fleury in game 7 in Detroit with the weight of the Stanley Cup on your shoulders. Imagine practicing and sacrificing all your life for the moment when you stand on the ice and the crowd chants your name…”Varly! Varly! Varly!”

Semyon Varlamov is such a man. The 6’2’’ 210 lb. goalie started playing in net at the age of eight. He established himself as a dominate goalie by the time he was in his early teens. Born in Kuybyshev, Russia, Varlamov rose thru the ranks of Lokomotiv Yaroslavl leading them to the Russian Super League finals in 2008. He was drafted by the Washington Capitals 23rd overall in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft. He came to North America for the 2008–09 season and played well  with the Capitals' minor league affiliate, the Hershey Bears of the AHL until backup goalie Brent Johnson went down with a hip injury in 2009 and Varly was called up to back up Jose Theodor. After the 2010 season when Theodore’s contract was not renewed, Varlamov was disappointed that he was not named the Caps’ number one goalie. In July of 2010, Varlamov announced he was changing his jersey number from 40 to 1. He was traded to the Colorado Avalanche in July of 2011.

Goalies are an interesting breed. They are the last vestige between the puck and the net. They defend the roughly 6’ radius semi-circle goal crease with their body as pucks sail at them at speeds that can reach 100 mph. They don’t flinch. They take it all with the tenacity of a mother bear guarding her den.  When they are on top of their game, as Varlamov has been this season, the crowd chants their name…”Varly! Varly! Varly!”  The adoration must feel almost erotic.

On Tues, Oct 29 a warrant was issued for Semyon Varlamov’s arrest and around 6pm Oct 30 he voluntarily turned himself in to Denver Police.  He has been charged with third-degree assault and second-degree kidnapping. The kidnapping is a class 4 felony and the assault is a class 1 misdemeanor. Initially the police released few details other than to say it involved someone who Varlamov was in an intimate relationship with. He spent the night in jail and was released on bond the following day. Just hours after appearing in court wearing a yellow jumpsuit and shackles, Varlamov was driven by a black car to Denver International Airport. He was granted permission to travel by a judge and released on an absurdly low $5,000 bond.

The Avs issued the following statement: "The Colorado Avalanche organization is aware of the allegations concerning Semyon Varlamov. At this time, and until the conclusion of this investigation, the Avalanche organization will have no further comment on this situation." 

Avs coach Patrick Roy had something to say. On Friday, the morning of the next game following Varlamov’s arrest, Roy said in an interview:  "We're all aware of what happened, but we just feel that he's our guy. We have confidence in him and feel that it's good for him to play tonight.” less than 48 hours after being arrested on charges of domestic violence and kidnapping against his girlfriend, Varly was in net for the Avs. The Avalanche downed Dallas 3-2 and improved to 11-1-0 the season. 

The message is clear; you go with the hot goalie….right? It’s not like he kicked a dog or anything.
Who is the woman who made the accusations against Varlamov? Evgeniya Vavrinyuk is a 24 yr. old model from Russia She said in an interview (thru an interpreter) that she has known him for 4 yrs. but that they have been together as a couple for a year. She offered that she was living in Hong Kong and working as a model when Varlamov asked her to move in with him.  She broke her modeling contract and moved to his place because, “He asked me to do it.” She said he had beaten her at least four times before in other countries where the police seemed to look the other way. She remained in her relationship with Varlamov, hopeful that he could change.

Here’s a portion of the interpreted interview which first appeared in The Denver Post:

Interpreter: Please tell us how this happened.
Evgeniya Vavrinyuk: It happened on Tuesday at 6 a.m. My boyfriend came home drunk and acting strange and rushed at me with the intention of beating me. He grabbed my hands and twisted me. When I tried to close the door to the room and get him out of the room, he kicked me in the chest with his leg. Twice I fell on the ground and it hurt me a lot. After that we had a small fight between the kitchen and the lobby. At this moment he was laughing and it seemed like he didn't understand what he was actually doing. And he was very drunk.
Interpreter: It's not the first time it happened and they want to know if you can tell them if there were any more incidents.
Vavrinyuk: During the NHL lockout we lived in the city of Yaroslavl in Russia where he played for the "Locomotive" team. During that time we often had small fights at home. Similar to this case, he drank a lot and he acted strangely.

When asked further about the abuse she said:

Vavrinyuk: Well ... He thinks he can get away with anything. He tells me these things openly. He says to me, "So, who are you? What have you achieved in your life? I'm the star and the NHL player. And you haven't done anything in your life. I'm a celebrity. You don't have anything, but I'm a millionaire, who can easily spend $2 million a day. And I will do what I want to do." I just don't want him to get away with it.

Interpreter: Why didn't you leave the first or second time it happened?

Vavrinyuk: There's a limit to anything. I used to love this man. I wanted to have family with him. I was thinking that he would change over time. But people don't change. And this event was my limit, my last drop. I didn't want to go to the police this time either. But when I got back home, I saw my stuff by the door. I was thrown out like a dog. And that was the reason I decided to go to the police. Please tell them that until recently he (Varlamov) was thinking that I was joking with him, that I was just fooling and I wouldn't go to the police. When I texted him that I was going to the police, he just replied wishing me good luck. He thought that this time he would also remain unpunished.

When asked about Varlamov’s drinking, Evgeniya responded; “He doesn't know when to stop. When he's drinking, he always gets drunk and it turns off his head. He turns into a beast…. We had guests in our house on that day. So he started drinking with them at 2 p.m. They drank two big boxes of beer... Then we went to a Halloween party and he drank there, too. He drank beer and also various shots. He was drinking from 2 p.m. until 6 a.m.”

Following Friday night’s victory Roy told the press: "The guys wanted to do well for (Varlamov). They wanted to play a strong game in front of him and I thought that was a great game from our team,"
Varlamov spoke briefly to the press stating, "I think I am the luckiest guy in the world because I play in the NHL and I play for this team. I've got such good teammates, so I don't think about what's happening,”

Good. We’d hate for Varly to be in net bothered by nasty thoughts of hitting his girlfriend.

NHL Deputy commissioner Bill Daly (NOT Mr. Bettman) responded to a request for a statement  from ESPN.com with the following:  "There may come a point in time where we feel it is either necessary or appropriate to take a different approach, but that's not where we are right now," Daly said. "We are and will remain in close contact with the club and will see how the underlying facts unfold."

Varlamov is said to have sworn to Roy that the allegations are untrue.The Avs have staked their reputation on the word of their starting goalie above that of a woman whose allegations were truly disturbing."Varly is like me,” Roy said during a press conference adding, “Let’s not make a judgment before the process is done.” Roy had his own domestic violence episode 13 years ago, when he was arrested after he pulled two doors off their hinges during an argument with his wife at the time. Roy was not charged, but the incident remains in his biography.

When you commit a crime in the USA, you’re entitled to due process and presumed innocent until proven guilty. Semyon Varlamov is entitled to such consideration. A question lingers about Varlamov’s legal status. It is not clear if he is a Russian citizen or has dual citizenship in the United States.  Many Russian hockey players are in this country on what’s known as a P1-A visa, which is designed for international professional athletes. It requires an applicant to prove their skill and affiliation with a professional team. Visas can be revoked for criminal convictions of even less severe crimes.

I have read most of what was written on this case. Not one story, interview or prepared statement expressed concern for the victim. There were countless opportunities for The Avalanche and Coach Roy to say something like, “Our thoughts and prayers go out to Evgeniya and her family during what must be a difficult time for them”. Instead, I found nothing to show they even acknowledged there was a victim behind the inconvenience of their star goalie being arrested. 

The mentality that has been drilled into athlete’s brains is that it is necessary to 'win at all cost' no matter what is required. That explains why Varlamov was in net for the Avs less than 48 hours after being charged. What message does it send to reward him with a start in net after spending the night in jail?

Winning is prized above the life and health of a mere woman. After all, boys will be boys...right?

Professional athletes are not the only individuals with careers that are enhanced by aggressiveness or that require brute strength. But they may be the only ones for which we – the teams, the leagues, the fans  justify it. They may transfer these violent emotions home and take them out on their wives and girlfriends. The women involved, 'the victims,' are often too scared to press charges against athletes because they fear that the athletes in question will become angry and even more violent. Victims also think that society will not believe them; that their athlete role models would never become violent off the field, especially toward women.

Hitting and taking a hit has been a hockey player's way of life since youth sports and in adulthood it is their livelihood.  Time and money are invested in years of skill development but no attention is paid to character development. These behaviors carry over into their personal lives, harming those around them. The NHL needs to get in front of this problem. Teach players to keep their aggression on the ice. Make it mandatory for coaches and players to be educated as some players are not psychologically equipped to compartmentalize that behavior that makes them successful on the ice.

This is your chance, NHL and NHLPA, to do something important. Take a stand against this type of violence. If he would have committed such violent acts against a child or the family pet you would have been out raged but because it was a woman, many wonder what she did. If he kicked a fan in the chest with one of those powerful legs would he have been in net the next game? Goalies have to be able to dismiss their emotions quickly. Combine that with a highly conditioned athlete who excels in a violent sport and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Educate the men who play the game we all love to leave it on the ice.

1 comment:

  1. Gee. Hmm. Does it bug you that you completely jumped the gun on this one? He was innocent - and just was awarded his lawsuit against HER for lies. Interesting this article is still up. If I had written it, I would be too humiliated with myself to leave it up. YOU are why our justice system sucks today. Thank God the jury was much more intelligent than YOU


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