By Frank Pingue
TORONTO (Reuters) - In light of the National Football League's poor response to its domestic violence crisis, National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman said on Monday there is no margin for error when doling out discipline.
Speaking at a luncheon for The Canadian Club of Toronto, Bettman did not specifically mention the NFL or its embattled commissioner Roger Goodell but did stress the importance of being proactive about off-ice conduct.
"Whenever that phone rings, and sometimes it does at two in the morning, you've got to respond and you've got to have your A-game otherwise you're liable to make a mistake. And when you make a mistake in this position it gets magnified," said Bettman.
"And it doesn't matter if you're right 99 out of 100 times, which is a pretty good batting record, it's that one that you'll have to live with and deal with."
Goodell has been under fire over the NFL's slow and fumbled response to the domestic violence incident involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice, and questions about his leadership mushroomed as other cases have come to light.
Bettman said NHL players are expected to do the right thing and if they don't are held accountable. More importantly, the 62-year-old commissioner said leagues must get ahead of key issues to help prevent any negative incidents from happening.
"Our code of conduct is we expect you to do the right things and if you don't we hold you accountable. More important than that is I believe you need to be proactive," said Bettman.
When it comes to domestic violence, Bettman said the NHL has been educating its players for more than a decade, including at the league's rookie orientation camp. Education on substance abuse has been going on for over 20 years, he added.
"We have an obligation as a sport to try and do the right things," Bettman, said during a 30-minute question and answer session with Hockey Night in Canada host George Stroumboulopoulos.
"Sports can be a great vehicle for positive social change, whether or not its inclusiveness, diversity, or AIDS ... I've always believed that we need to be in front of these things and sometimes you need to punish but more importantly it's better to educate and counsel."
The NFL's domestic violence issue emerged when Goodell suspended Rice for two games after he knocked out fiance Janay Palmer, who is now his wife, in an Atlantic City, New Jersey, casino elevator. Many saw the penalty as too lenient.
Only when a video of the punch emerged on the website TMZ on Sept. 8 did Goodell decide to suspend Rice indefinitely.
On the topic of expansion, Bettman shot down recent talk that the NHL has plans to expand by four teams in the next three years. He said this is the most stable the NHL's 30 franchises have ever been and the healthiest the league has been.
"We are not looking to expand right now, no teams are relocating," said Bettman. "I'm not suggesting that at some point in the future we might not look at it, but we are not ready to do it now."
Bettman also poured cold water on talk of expanding the league across Europe. He cited issues with travel and the presence of established leagues in many of the key cities as reasons for not having franchises in Europe.
"It's not something that we are focused on," said Bettman." All my efforts have been on growing the game where it's more important to us, in Canada and the United States, and in both countries its never been healthier."
(Editing by Steve Keating.)