The NHL has missed a huge opportunity to dispel the myth of being an organization rooted in gross sexual bias toward women.

I do not watch sports, and only attend sporting events as a chaperone (usually responsible for grabbing kosher hot dogs and facilitating bathroom breaks). I do however, have an 11-year-old son whose passion for all sports, particularly hockey, is obsessive (instead of counting sheep on sleepless nights, he recites the names of NHL players in alphabetical order). Noah idolizes hockey players.

As the mother to this son, I am grief stricken by the alleged sexual assault of a young lady. As an employment lawyer, I am disgusted by the NHL’s imprudent response to these damning allegations.

Make no mistake, these players have an employment relationship with the NHL. That relationship involves a great deal of money and is governed by a contract — that could have (and should have) been terminated the moment that Hockey Canada, and then the NHL learned of the allegations.

Leaving aside the fact that any investigation prior to the publicizing of this case was likely non-existent, it belies incredulity that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is suggesting that the terminating of these contracts was not necessary, largely because he says it was “a fairly complicated matter” and because the players had been paid the “vast bulk” of their salaries already. The NHL aims to convince us that the status as “free agents” for these players is punishment enough for the abuse that was allegedly inflicted upon this young lady. It is not.

This abhorrent response from NHL’s mother ship means only one thing: the NHL’s attitude toward the issue is benevolent at best, and their interest now is nothing more than an effort to placate the public. Certainly, it has little to do with justice for this young lady, or the many before her who have been abused by professional athletes. All I hear from the NHL are empty platitudes on the steps they are taking now, and excuses around why they did nothing when they learned of the abuse.

From a pure employment perspective, these allegations are viciously brand damaging ones. Terminating these contracts for cause, would have sent a strong message to both the players and the public, namely that abuse of any kind would not be tolerated by the NHL. Instead, the NHL has missed a huge opportunity to dispel the myth of being an organization rooted in gross sexual bias toward women.

While some may suggest that the type of action I outline above undermines presumed innocence on the part of the players, I disagree. Some misconduct, even in the form of allegations, is so objectively damaging that it demands a swift and retaliatory response.

The standard advice I give to all employer clients applies here: If what you do in private, erodes the core values of the organization that you are affiliated with, that organization has the right to terminate you — for cause. What are the core values that the NHL aligns itself with? Surely, Bettman and the NHL generally recognize the importance of hockey as a family experience. What would this fan base expect?

Bettman says, “In order to terminate a contract successfully, you need to be able to prove certain things.” My response: mere allegations around a young lady being sexually assaulted by multiple men at the same time is enough to terminate a contract.

Bettman also spoke about the conduct not being “typical of NHL players.” Bettman is clearly impervious to this inherently contradictory statement. If the conduct is not typical of the NHL, then it is all the more reason to take a harsh line on this incident.

While I can appreciate that any termination would have been largely performative at this point (with the contracts being largely paid out), I am certain it is a performance that would have drawn a standing ovation from the public. The NHL and Hockey Canada (with a fund set aside to deal with these allegations) have spoken: they will protect their players at all costs.

Muneeza Sheikh is an employment lawyer in Toronto.