Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Mike Ribeiro, sexual assault, and the NHL

Friday 13th, March 2015 / 21:12 Written by
Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Mike Ribeiro, sexual assault, and the NHL

By Toni McIntyre, Guest Contributor

From time to time we’ll be publishing pieces from guest contributors with a strong point of view. Opinions expressed in guest contributor pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire staff of The Other Half. Interested in being a guest contributor? Contact us at pitches@otherhalfsports.com.

Mike Ribeiro was bought out of his contract with the Arizona Coyotes, on June 27th 2014.

On July 15th, he was signed to a one-year contract with the Nashville Predators.

Nine days later, on July 24th, a lawsuit was filed against him in federal court in Texas.

The suit states that in 2012, while Ribeiro lived in Texas and played for the Dallas Stars, he caused “body injury” to a woman who, at the time, had just graduated high school and was employed as Ribeiro’s nanny.

This woman, speaking through her lawyer, told the Associated Press that Ribeiro sexually assaulted her. And that she, like so many others like her, opted not to go to the police in the wake of what happened because she was “terrified.” Ribero’s wife is also named in the suit, accused of having threatened the young woman.

Now, you and I are being asked to believe—by Ribeiro, the NHL, the Arizona Coyotes and the Nashville Predators, that Ribeiro’s movement had nothing to do with the sexual assault suit. That, rather, it has everything to do with Ribeiro’s history of drug and alcohol abuse.

It’s something I’m finding increasingly hard to swallow. Especially when I consider Arizona GM Don Maloney’s explanation for dismissing Ribeiro. Maloney said, “At the end of the year and all the background checking and what happened, we felt that for us to move forward, we couldn’t have him a part of this team.”

Background checking. That’s an interesting detail to drop in there, isn’t it?

Which brings me to the Nashville Predators.

You don’t sign a deal, even a one-year contract, with a guy without doing some digging. And yes, they sat down with him and reportedly received some very sincere statements that showed them Ribeiro would ‘toe the line’ but I still think they had to have also known about the impending lawsuit. No part of me delights in thinking about this. To be honest, it makes me feel ill—but I think Nashville took the lawsuit and Ribeiro’s alleged behavior, measured that against a team with a new coach and new offensive priorities, and they like so many others prioritized game winning and a championship over social responsibility.

Why is Mike Ribeiro still allowed to play hockey?

For one thing, his wrongdoing doesn’t align perfectly with that of Ray Rice’s. Likely the only reason the NHL acted as quickly as they did to suspend Slava Voynov was because he stood accused of the same crime as Rice. The NHL saw the fallout from the NFL’s stuttering actions to penalize Rice and they weren’t about to make the same mistake.

There simply isn’t the same external pressure to suspend Ribeiro. He didn’t attack his wife and contribute to the mounting ire towards domestic violence kicked up in the wake of Rice’s assault on Janay Palmer. Ribeiro also wasn’t arrested. Voynov was.

It’s a little sad that at this point I can already see how a lack of Ribeiro being arrested will be used to defend him against suspension, and it really shouldn’t be. Sexual assault cases are incredibly hard to prosecute. Only a small fraction of them actually make it to trial. Scared victims, usually abused by someone they trusted, combined with a prosecution that knows most trials won’t arrive at a conviction, means only a small fraction of these cases ever make it to court.

The fact that Ribeiro was not arrested should not stand alone as proof that he is innocent.

That the victim has opted to sue should not stand as proof that she is somehow lying.

In America we tend to view every lawsuit as a trivial attempt to gauge money from people—but because of the way our society views victims of sexual assault it is often the only way for them to get any kind of justice.

In civil suits such as the one being brought against Ribeiro, juries determine guilt using a lower burden of proof than in criminal cases. There isn’t the need to prove guilt “beyond a reasonable doubt.” It’s a system that favors the victim more than criminal trials.

There are likely still people who will insist we “hear both sides” on this, to which I say: the court of public opinion does not have the same burden as the court of law. I am not obligated to assume Ribeiro is innocent and neither is the National Hockey League.

Let’s set aside the fact that the incredible burden of being a victim—having to share intimate details of your own violation over and over, opening yourself up to harassment from a public that refuses to believe women—means that sex crimes are by far the MOST underreported.

The NHL can still suspend Ribeiro.

According to the most-current version of the CBA, the Commissioner has the right to either expel or suspend a player for “a definite or indefinite period” of time if the off-ice behavior of that player “is detrimental to or against the welfare of the League or the game of hockey.”

The CBA also outlines Ribeiro’s right to a hearing–like those offered to players in person or over the phone following a serious on-ice infraction. However the Commissioner could suspend Ribeiro prior to any hearing if “failure to do so would create a substantial risk of material harm” to the interests or “reputation of the League.”

Ribeiro’s behavior, this lawsuit, absolutely qualifies as being detrimental to the League and the game of hockey. When a team knows what Ribeiro is accused of doing and signs him anyway, it becomes very clear how little they, and by extension the League, value women and it absolutely causes real “material harm.”

The League likely still won’t suspend Ribeiro. They risk opening themselves up to suit should Ribeiro decide the suspension was unwarranted, or unjustly damaged his reputation. Short-term it’s in their best interest to let Ribeiro play. Even if it, long-term, continues to feed the hungry beast of institutional sexism that chases female fans away in droves.

It’s easier to buy wholesale into the narrative Nashville and Ribeiro are selling. That Ribeiro had demons, but they’re behind him. That he’s in the middle of a redemption story. That he’s a big offensive talent working hard to push a rebuilt team through to the playoffs.

Ribeiro certainly doesn’t seem to be losing any sleep over the sexual assault allegations. His focus as of last week was “doing all he can to help Nashville win its first-ever Stanley Cup.”

And who are the Predators to argue with what serves them best? After all, “Mike has indicated that the charge is without merit.” And that’s good enough for them.

But it shouldn’t be.

Toni McIntyre can be found on Twitter at @ToniMacAttack.

Editor’s Note: Due to the influx of antagonistic and personally insulting comments this opinion piece has been receiving, The Other Half editorial staff has decided to close and revoke the comments at this time. Opinion pieces invite disagreement by their very nature, and we welcome civil conversation on all of our posts, but the kind of vitriol we have been receiving is inappropriate. Please note that all comments have been removed, including those in agreement with the article.

Guest Contributor
From time to time we'll be publishing pieces from guest contributors with a strong point of view. Opinions expressed in guest contributor pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of the entire staff of The Other Half. Interested in being a guest contributor? Contact us at pitches@otherhalfsports.com.

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