If you Google the name Semyon Varlamov, the first hit you come across will probably involve his less-than-stellar performance as a goalie for the Russian Federation during last month’s Winter Olympics. Like this story from Sports Illustrated:
When Semyon Varlamov was yanked in Russia’s final hockey game at the Sochi Olympics after allowing three goals in 15 shots, the shock wave was felt 6,269 miles away in Denver.
Fans of the Colorado Avalanche wondered how their goaltender’s ego would hold up over the remainder of the NHL season.
Upon returning to Denver, Varlamov showed he had taken the disappointment in stride.
Or, you might come across a story about the five-year contract extension Varlamov signed with the Colorado Avalanche shortly before he left for Sochi. Like this one from CBSSports.com:
The team doesn’t release the money on the contract but ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun reports it’s for $29.5 million, or $5.9 million per season. Whoa, that’s a lot of cash.
Indeed that is a lot of cash, which is not bad for a Russian guy you’ve probably never heard of unless you’re a fanatical hockey fan or you happen to live in Denver.
But here’s something about Mr. Varlamov you’re not likely to come across unless you know where to look. Last November, he was arrested by Denver Police and charged with second-degree kidnapping and third-degree assault. The victim? Evgeniya Vavrinyuk, Varlamov’s 24-year-old girlfriend with whom he shared an apartment. According to the Denver Post:
She told Denver police he came home drunk Monday and kicked her, knocked her down, dragged her by her hair and told her in Russian that “if this were Russia, he would have beat her more.”
Sounds pretty serious, right?
Not to worry. By December, the whole thing had been swept under the rug. See, the prosecuting attorneys determined that they lacked sufficient evidence to prove Varlamov guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, despite the fact that Vavrinyuk’s physical injuries were consistent with the story she told police. So, the state dropped the charges.
Well. That was convenient. What with the Olympics coming up just a couple of months later in Varlamov’s home country and all.
“From the start the organization as well as his teammates supported him,” Avalanche spokesman Jean Martineau said at the time. “And with today’s DA’s decision, this file comes to an end.”
Except, it didn’t come to an end for Evgeniya Vavrinyuk, Varlamov’s girlfriend – the one with injuries consistent with being kicked, knocked down, and dragged by the hair – who stood by her story even though the state elected to pursue it no further. In a statement released the day after the charges were dropped, Vavrinyuk said:
I am saddened by the decision of the Office of the Denver District Attorney not to pursue the case, but I understand that it is difficult to have enough evidence to prove domestic violence cases. I maintain that all of my statements to the press and investigators have been truthful throughout the process.
As I told police, I was badly beaten by Semyon in the early morning hours of October 29th and very scared, but decided that I had to report it as he had been abusive throughout our relationship and would not change. I left the residence that we shared with only my personal items, $10 in my pocket and nowhere to live. I was very much vulnerable, alone and confused in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language or have any family or support system. While Semyon continued to play hockey, his fans and his employer, the Colorado Avalanche, rallied to his support. Meanwhile, many people made derogatory remarks about me and several people profited from my dire circumstances, including those whom I unfortunately trusted.”
Vavrinyuk also said that the October 2013 incident was the fifth such incident of abuse during their relationship, and that, although she had visible injuries from the latest attack, the police wanted to see whether she had scars from prior incidents.
So, yes, despite his weak performance in the Olympics, life goes on for Semyon Varlamov. Life with a new contract, and with the support of his teammates, Colorado Avalanche management, and, apparently, Avalanche fans. But for Evgeniya Vavrinyuk, it’s not that simple.
Meanwhile, the rest of us can go on with our lives, too, suspending our natural instincts in cases like Varlamov’s, pretending that we actually believe the dismissal of the charges against him is some sort of vindication of the man and his character, that it somehow proves the attack on Vavrinyuk – allegedly, the fifth such attack – didn’t actually happen, even though we all know that incidents of domestic violence happen and go unpunished all the damn time . . . because that’s business as usual for sports fans, isn’t it?
Because the alternative would require you to . . . to do what, exactly? To speak out? To boycott games? To change the channel? To let the NHL’s sponsors know you don’t support domestic abusers and won’t watch them play?
Good god, man. That would take away from the enjoyment of the game! And lord knows, we can’t have that.