(Trigger warning: discussion of domestic abuse, rape)
Sometimes I see a news item and have such a deep opinion on it that it takes me a while to articulate it because I have all these thoughts all at once, and my brain needs time to sort them properly. I’ve been like that for months on one such news bit, and today is finally the day when I NEED to set this down into words.
The nominations for the Vezina Trophy were announced today. I can understand two of the nominations – Tuukka Rask and Ben Bishop. I’m 99 percent certain that Tuukka will get it. What I don’t understand is why the third nominee, Semyon Varlamov, was even considered. It’s not because he was a bad goalie; he was far from that. It’s because of the message his nomination sends, which is who cares about what you do off the ice, all that matters is how well you play.
This all goes back to October 2013. Varlamov was arrested in Denver for assaulting his girlfriend. Rape culture reared its ugly head almost immediately, with Colorado Avalanche fans (and Varlamov fans in Russia) doing a ton of slut shaming and victim blaming and declaring Varlamov’s innocence. The victim, Evgenia, and her family received death threats in Russia. To make matters worse, Russian fans adopted this wild conspiracy theory that it was all a trick to keep Varlamov from playing in the Olympics so the Russian team would tank (they did that anyway, with him on the team). I really bristled when I’d read that general manager Joe Sakic and coach Patrick Roy (himself a domestic abuser) said they’d sat down with their goalie and believed his side of the story. I shouldn’t have been surprised at that, I guess.
We later found out through interviews with Evgenia that this wasn’t the first time Varlamov had done this. Sadly, the reason she didn’t report the prior incidents is because they occurred in countries that overlook or completely ignore domestic abuse. Russia is the worst for a lot of reasons, and this is one of them.
Yes, the charges brought against Varlamov were eventually dropped, but not because nothing happened. In the criminal justice realm, there’s a difference between innocent and not guilty. Innocent means you didn’t do it at all. Not guilty means you most likely did it, but the burden of proof wasn’t met. Oh, and that burden of proof, on the shoulders of the prosecution, is called “beyond a reasonable doubt”. The threshold for that is 95 percent – a jury has to be 95 percent certain that the accused is guilty. The prosecutors in Denver didn’t have enough to meet that 95 percent.
The narrative surrounding Varlamov and his nomination points to rape culture. Famous athlete is accused of sexual assault/domestic abuse, but nothing will come of it because either charges are dropped or never even filed in the first place. He does well, and anyone who mentions what he did is met with “how dare you talk about this, he’s innocent”. Bonus “he overcame adversity to be the best”, which makes me sick because people who say that believe that charges of abuse or assault are a hardship that one must rise above. Those people are gross.
It’s the same narrative that fuels the howling over fans continually pointing out that Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Josh Lueke raped a girl in 2008. Some don’t want that mentioned because “he’s redeemed himself”. What does redemption mean, that he’s done well since it happened? That doesn’t erase what he did.
It’s the same narrative that came to light when Jameis Winston won the Heisman Trophy last year. He was accused of sexually assaulting a young woman, but of course he claimed it was consentual. No charges were brought against him by the state (although there’s a federal investigation now).
It’s the same narrative that popped up here in Ohio. Remember the rape case in Steubenville? Instead of sympathizing with the victim, it was “these poor boys have their lives ruined now”, mostly from the media. No mention of how shattered their victim’s life is and always will be to some extent.
I could go on about rape culture and give you stats on reporting assault, but I get too angry about it. I’m disappointed in the general managers who thought Varlamov deserved a nomination, thus diminishing and dismissing what he did. No amount of praise will ever take away the fact that he’s an awful human being.
So, to summarize my thoughts on this year’s Vezina nominees: 18-3-204. No matter how far the Avs go in the playoffs, don’t forget that number.