The following editorial reflects only the opinions of this author, not necessarily the opinions of the staff at OnTheForecheck.
The Nashville Predators must make a decision regarding Austin Watson, even amid the league’s investigation into Watson’s recent domestic assault conviction.
At a court hearing in Williamson County on Tuesday, Austin Watson pled no contest to a domestic assault charge that came from an incident in Franklin in June. Watson will now face three months of probation, during which he must have “peaceful contact” with the victim and complete both an inpatient treatment for drugs and alcohol as well as a 26-week batterer intervention course. Any violation of this probation could lead to up to a year in jail.
At this point, this much is clear: Austin Watson has now been convicted of domestic assault. And while Watson’s record can be expunged once probation is complete, the fact remains that the Predators have a convicted batterer on their roster.
So this leaves the Predators with the opportunity to make good on their promise to “bring attention to the horrific statistics regarding violence against women” and to continue to make Nashville “the safest city in America for women and girls.”
The Predators made a generous donation to MEND Nashville back in January 2017. With it, they pledged a comprehensive effort to “educate young men” about domestic violence.
From the Preds release regarding the partnership:
“I think the best way to get to a solution on this is people elevating those stats, those numbers, and the sheer epidemic of it and almost demanding the companies that you work with, the teams that you support, get involved,” [CEO Sean Henry] said. “Because the more people we have involved in a positive way, the easier it’s going to be for that 12-year-old-boy to tell his friends at the lunch table, ‘no, that’s not funny,’ or ‘delete that tweet.’ That’s what we need to do, we need to embolden these young men so they start stopping it.”
“With something like this, you assume some people will come forward and say ‘why are you doing this, why this cause, why you guys,’ but it’s just the opposite. People are thanking us, people are saying ‘how do I get involved,’ and that’s what you want. The reason we put our brand behind something is to get the passion of our fans, and that’s exactly what’s happening.”
Putting the brand behind something is the right thing to do, especially regarding an issue as important as domestic violence, but how much of this is just words on paper? Ink on a check?
Action—irreconcilable, appropriate, definitive action—is what counts in this moment.
The NHL released a statement regarding the Watson conviction, saying they would begin a “full investigation into the matter, pursuant to the procedures set forth in the collective bargaining agreement, to determine the extent to which league discipline for Mr. Watson’s off-ice conduct may be warranted and/or appropriate.”
The team responded to the league’s announcement:
...Our priority right now is surrounding Austin, Jen and their family with the care and resources they need to heal and move forward.”— On The Forecheck (@OnTheForecheck) July 24, 2018
The Predators, under the rules of the CBA, must wait for league discipline regarding off-the-ice issues.
Under Article 18-A of the collective bargaining agreement, the Commissioner has authority to impose discipline for “conduct that is detrimental to or against the welfare of the League or the game of hockey” and can suspend a player, cancel a contract, or impose a fine.
As for what “conduct detrimental to or against the welfare of the league” means, it is important to point out that the league has no policy regarding domestic violence. The league has suspended players before amid domestic violence charges—but they do not have a consistent track record on this front.
So why not take immediate action? If they are serious about taking domestic violence seriously, the decision should be easy.
The Predators have inconsistencies when handling off-ice issues regarding players. From the 2012 playoffs “night out” debacle to the inexplicable re-signing of Mike Ribeiro in 2015, the Predators have fumbled their way through tough non-hockey related situations.
Which is what makes this situation so baffling. It seems so clear. Austin Watson should be cut from the roster or his contract should be bought out. He should not be a member of the Nashville Predators anymore.
The issue is a simple one: a player the team entrusted with upholding the values of its own domestic violence initiative was just convicted of domestic assault. This poisons the very nature of the initiative, and even if he is no longer an ambassador of the program, completely invalidates everything the program ever stood for. Unless they take action.
Removing Watson from the roster would resolve the disciplinary issue from the Predators’ perspective and it would preserve the team’s commitment to a very important issue regarding domestic violence.
What does a real commitment to making this city the safest in America for women and girls look like? It sure doesn’t look like relying on the league to handle your off-ice domestic violence issues for you.
The Predators—not the league—need to make this right.