Sexism in commentary about Semyon Varlamov arrest for beating his girlfriend?
The arrest of Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov for allegedly beating girlfriend Evgeniya Vavrinyuk is a story that naturally falls into both the news and sports categories. As such, it's also been a major topic on sports-talk radio -- and on Friday, ESPN Denver and 104.3/The Fan took vastly different approaches to the subject. While the ESPN broadcasters struck a sober tone during the segment I heard, the 104.3 yakkers heavily implied that the accusations were trumped up in a way more or less explained by the phrase "Bitches be crazy."
To be clear: Neither D-Mac nor former Denver Broncos standout Alfred Williams used these specific words during a segment of The Drive, the afternoon program they host on the station. Instead, D-Mac highlighted what he described as "the facts" we know about the case -- and some items, like the highly limited amount of information we've heard thus far, actually fit this description. There's no question that the account publicized to date has been largely drawn from the police report included below, as well as Vavrinyuk's public statements, including her assertion that the goalie was drunk and laughing as he pummeled her.
But other D-Mac "facts" actually included a heaping helping of interpretation. For instance, he noted that the Avalanche had decided that Varlamov would be allowed to travel with the team, as well as play, as he did on Friday night, when he was in net for the Avs' 3-2 overtime win versus the Dallas Stars. In the host's view, this move suggested team executives saw the evidence in the case as potentially "shaky" and were confident Varlamov wasn't the kind of person who could possibly have committed the acts his girlfriend described.
To put it mildly, this analysis left out some important information, including Avs coach Patrick Roy's arrest for domestic violence back in 2000. Yes, the case against Roy was later dismissed -- but excluding mention of this actual fact during the argument was an incredible oversight. Did Roy's experience make him hyper-sensitive to such accusations, giving him even more credibility in the case? Or did it leave him predisposed to assume an athlete in this position had to be guilt-free? Impossible to say with certainty -- especially if this event isn't even noted.
As for Williams, he was even more blunt, stating simply that from where he sat, this looked like a case of Varlamov simply having chosen a "bad girlfriend." This line inspired D-Mac to go into one of his trademark raps, stating that young athletes were foolish to either get married or enter into a serious, live-in relationship during their playing careers, because doing so invites the sort of troubles Varlamov had experienced.
Semyon Varlamov during his first court appearance.
In other words, bang all the babes you want, but keep them at a distance, because the minute they get close, they can become insanely jealous or otherwise go off the rails and plunge you into a public-relations nightmare.
Views like these are hardly unique when it comes to commentary about athletes and crime. Remember the Kobe Bryant case, where his accuser was painted as a clingy loon by much of the sports press? No one knew if the portrait was on the mark or a terrible disservice to a victim, but that didn't seem to matter.
For this reason, Nate Kreckman and Gary Miller, afternoon cohorts on ESPN Radio Denver's The Locker Room, deserve credit for not immediately branding either Varlamov or Vavrinyuk as villains. Instead, they discussed the seriousness of the allegations, and although Miller felt Varlamov shouldn't suit up for the Dallas game, his reasoning had to do with the optics of the situation, not his certainty that the goalie was guilty. For his part, Kreckman was critical of Roy for pre-game comments in which he seemed to shrug off the Varlamov situation entirely. One key comment: "Why wait?"
This attitude is certainly defensible from a hockey perspective: Varlamov's record after the Dallas win was a sparkling 8-1 this season. But when it comes to assessing guilt or innocence regarding the assault beef, waiting is actually a very good idea. Deciding prematurely that the charges against Varlamov are trumped up not only contributes to uncalled-for attacks on Vavrinyuk, who's said to have received death threats since coming forward. It also makes justice in the situation that much harder to achieve.
Look below to see a 7News report featuring a Vavrinyuk interview and the arrest affidavit.
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