NHL Commissioner: We Will Not Tolerate Abusive Behaviour

MONTEREY, Calif. — NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday that the league will work swiftly to make changes to better deal with personnel conduct issues in the wake of incidents that surfaced in recent weeks.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Speaking at the end of the first day of the Board of Governors meeting at the Inn at Spanish Bay resort in Pebble Beach, Bettman told reporters that NHL personnel will be required to attend mandatory counselling regarding racism and anti-bullying. Bettman also talked about the formation of a hotline for people to call to report any such incidents.

“Inclusion and diversity are not simply buzz words. They are foundational principles of the NHL,” Bettman said. “Our message is unequivocal: We will not tolerate abusive behaviour of any kind.”

Bettman’s comments were his first publicly since former NHL player Akim Aliu alleged that former Calgary Flames coach Bill Peters previously directed racial slurs toward him while in the minor leagues a decade ago. Peters, who has also been accused of physical abuse while coaching Carolina, resigned following the accusations by Aliu.

While Bettman said that the NHL is conducting its own review of the Peters-Aliu situation, the commissioner made it clear that there will be zero tolerance from the league moving forward.

Bill Peters Calgary Flames
Calgary Flames head coach Bill Peters (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh)

To that end, Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Board of Governors about a multi-point plan designed to curb any further issues while allowing coaches to still do their job.

“Professionalism and respect have been important to this league but it is now a particularly important time to discuss it because everyone is entitled to a respectful workplace,” Bettman said.

Included in the proposed plan:

  • Teams will be required to immediately report any incidents of inappropriate behaviour by club personnel that has been brought to their attention. Failure to do so will result in “severe discipline,” according to Bettman.
  • Swift and severe punishment for those involved in any future or past incidents that are brought to the NHL’s attention.
  • A mandatory annual counselling program that all NHL coaches, assistant coaches, minor league coaches, general managers and assistant general managers must attend. The program, which will be created by professionals in the field outside of the NHL, will focus on consciousness-raising, education and training on diversity and inclusion. The players association and coaches association will be consulted in the formation of the program as well.
  • The formation of a disciplinary counsel that will be run under the direction of NHL executive vice-president Kim Davis.

Bettman also spoke about the possibility of creating a hotline for people to call to report incidents of abuse, racism or other things that might fall into a ‘grey area’ as Bettman referred to it.

“We understand the critical importance that no one is retaliated against for raising a concern or participating in an investigation. I guarantee we will take all reports seriously and follow up,” Bettman said.

Aliu accused Peters of using racial slurs while the two were with the Rockford IceHogs of the American Hockey League from 2008-10.

Bettman said he spoke with the Board of Governors regarding the code of conduct plan and received full support.

Michael Wagaman, The Associated Press