NHL commissioner Gary Bettman should rip a page from the National Football League's playbook when it comes to dealing with players like Winnipeg Jets goaltender Ondrej Pavelec and impaired driving, the head of MADD Canada says.
MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie said the NFL's desire to crack down on the high number of its players charged with driving under the influence prompted it to call in Mothers Against Drunk Driving to address rookie football players about the issue.
"The NHL has shown no signs of any interest in taking a stand like the NFL has," Murie said. "I think the NFL is setting a good example for sport franchise organizations to kind of say that our players are part of the community, people look up to them as role models, and they should be.'
"As Canadians, we admire our hockey players. We love them to death. We put them up on pedestals. But part of being put up on the pedestal (involves) community responsibility as well. I think the Jets have the perfect opportunity to say impaired driving is not acceptable and that we are going to do everything we can with our players and our fans to reduce it in our community.' "
Last month, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell sent a warning letter to players and staff reminding them of the tragic consequences of impaired driving and the league's personal-conduct policy, which can be used to fine or suspend a player even without a conviction.
"The personal-conduct policy makes clear that we must all conduct ourselves in a manner that is 'responsible, that promotes the values upon which the league is based, and is lawful,' Goodell said in the memo. "Every negative incident undermines the respect we have earned from our fans, erodes the confidence of our business partners and threatens the continued success of the league."
Murie said Pavelec's recent conviction for drunk driving causing a crash in his hometown, Kladno, Czech Republic, May 26, and Jets defenceman Dustin Byfuglien's upcoming trial in Minneapolis on charges that include impaired boating, should signal the Jets and especially Bettman to take action similar to the NFL's.
"The problem in the NHL is if you left this to the teams, you would get 30 different types of actions, depending on where the moral value lies," Murie said. "If it isn't your starting goalie and it's a fourth-line player, marginal player, it's easier to get tough on that type of player where the commissioner and league can set standards."
Pavelec, 24, was banned from driving for 20 months in the Czech Republic and received a six-month suspended sentence.
He signed a new five-year contract with the Jets in June.
Manitoba Public Insurance spokesman Brian Smiley, while not commenting directly on Pavelec's case, said by law, his driving ban will follow him to Manitoba, even though the province does not have a reciprocity agreement with the Czech Republic.
Smiley said to legally drive in Manitoba, a person from outside Canada needs a valid driver's licence from their home country. Because Pavelec's licence has been suspended, he does not have a valid licence and so is not entitled to drive in Manitoba until the suspension period ends in the Czech Republic.
The province does have reciprocity agreements with about 20 countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, South Korea, Austria and Switzerland.
Murie said the Jets need to become more proactive on the issue with its fans and its players.
"Maybe the team's players have to hear from victims of impaired driving to find out the other side of it and what some of the consequences of it are," he said.
Murie said the NFL reached out to MADD after eight NFL players were arrested for DUI this off-season.
NFL teams also have designated-driver programs in which fans get free soft drinks in exchange for driving other fans home safely, and victims of impaired driving speak to players when a team member has been charged with DUI.
"The commissioner just kind of said, 'I'm sick and tired of this,' " Murie said. "Bettman has shown no interest, and the Jets as a team can encourage the commissioner to do these types of things."