By David D. Dodge
Following a recent meeting of the National Hockey League (NHL) Board of Governors, League Commissioner Gary Bettman announced new steps are being taken to combat “inappropriate, unlawful, or demonstrably abusive” behavior in the sport. This announcement came in the wake of recent incidents and revelations regarding alleged abusive behavior engaged in by certain coaches. Bettman noted that the Board of Governors was fully supportive of the League’s plans to develop a program to combat abusive behavior and the NHL Players’ Association (NHLPA) is a committed and willing participant.
According to Bettman’s statement, under the new rules, teams must report any troubling conduct occurring on or off the ice immediately or face “severe discipline.” The Commissioner went on to state “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.”
The Commissioner said the League will establish a “mandatory annual training program on counseling, consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion that must be attended by all NHL coaches, assistants, general managers, and assistant general managers as well as minor league coaches under contract with an NHL team.” Bettman also said the League will work with an external organization to create the program and that the NHLPA and the NHL Coaches’ Association will be consulted. The Commissioner further reported on plans to establish a hotline to allow misconduct to be reported to the NHL anonymously when necessary. In that regard, Bettman said the League “understands the critical importance of ensuring that no one is retaliated against for raising a concern or participating in an investigation.” He further stated, “I guarantee we will take all reports seriously and follow-up.”
Under the League’s new program, reportedly any incident of inappropriate conduct will be met with discipline by either the team, the League, or both.
While the NHL’s plans to develop a program to combat abusive behavior within its ranks does not resemble a formal, comprehensive, compliance and ethics program, it could serve as the foundation for such a program. More formal programs have proven effective on countless occasions in preventing misconduct, wrongdoing, and scandals in other businesses and industries. Further, while most sports organizations have not yet established such programs, it is apparent that many are beginning to implement various components such as: 1) training programs to educate their personnel; 2) hotlines to enable individuals to report misconduct and wrongdoing; and 3) policies and procedures to protect whistle-blowers.
The below checklist could be useful for the NHL in establishing the new program, and could also be expanded to address all areas of compliance risk for the League beyond simply abusive behavior:
Questions to Ask Yourself Before Getting Started
CODE OF CONDUCT
POLICIES AND PROCEDURES
DIVERSITY, INCLUSION, COMPLIANCE AND ETHICS OFFICER
EDUCATION AND TRAINING
The NHL Board of Governors and the Commissioner should be congratulated on their leadership and commitment to establishing a program designed to prevent misconduct, wrongdoing, and abusive behavior within the League. However, taking the extra step now to address all areas of compliance risk through the development of an effective, broadly-based preventive program would be even more beneficial in ensuring that the League consistently operates in an ethical and scandal-free environment.