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NBC’s Mike Milbury calls Slava Voynov domestic abuse situation an ‘unfortunate incident’


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Slava Voynov’s presence on the Olympic Athletes of Russia ice hockey team is a topic perhaps best avoided, as NBC discovered during the game between the United States and the Olympic Athletes from Russia team.

On Saturday, hockey analyst Mike Milbury drew fire on social media for attempting to add his two cents about Slava Voynov, the former NHL player who was convicted of domestic abuse in 2014 and sentenced to 90 days in jail on a misdemeanor charge of corporal injury to a spouse.

“Here’s Voynov, who won two Stanley Cups with the Kings,” Kenny Albert began, summarizing Voynov’s history in Los Angeles neatly. “He was arrested on domestic violence charges, subsequently suspended by the National Hockey League, now playing in the KHL (Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League).”

To that, Milbury chimed in, “He left a huge void in the Los Angeles Kings’ defense, otherwise may have gone on to win more than the championships they did already. This guy was a special player, and an unfortunate incident left the Los Angeles Kings without a great defenseman.”

“Unfortunate.” Really? Milbury admittedly is on the scene to cover hockey, not to opine on domestic violence, but, in this case, perhaps saying nothing would have been smarter, as social media reaction showed.

Milbury later defended his comment, saying he had supported Voynov’s suspension and was merely adding the context of what the loss of Voynov meant to the Kings. “After my colleague laid out the facts about Voynov – which included being arrested, suspended by the NHL, and leaving the U.S. to return to Russia – I provided the on-ice impact of his being thrown out of the league,” he said in a statement emailed to The Washington Post. “As I said at the time when he was suspended, the league made the right call, 100 percent.”

Since his conviction and suspension, Voynov has had little to say publicly and continued that practice in Pyeongchang. “I know that he’s a good player and obviously he deserves to be here,” teammate Mikhail Grigorenko told the Associated Press. “He’s one of our leaders on defence, so I’m not surprised he’s here. The around-hockey stuff, there’s people that decide that.”

And sometimes they decide poorly, especially at a time when, as NBC and others know, social media means that every word is subject to instant scrutiny. The blowback has left it apologizing a few times since these Games began.

Bode Miller apologized for blaming an Olympic skier’s struggles on marriage, saying that he made an “ill-advised attempt at a joke” when he said, “it’s historically very challenging to race on the World Cup with a family or after being married. Not to blame the spouses, but I just want to toss that out there, that it could be her husband’s fault.”

Katie Couric apologized for saying Dutch speed skaters are so dominant because “skating is an important mode of transportation” in the Netherlands.

Shaun White apologized after dismissing sexual harassment claims against him in 2016 as gossip, admitting later, “It was a poor choice of words to describe such a sensitive subject in the world today.”

It isn’t easy to supply the words that accompany 2,400 hours of coverage, particularly when every word carries so much weight. Still, sometimes the smartest way to lend a voice to something is simple silence.