There are consequences to saying the quiet thing out loud.
The NHL has severed ties with referee Tim Peel after Peel was heard via a hot mic talking about his decision to call an early penalty on the Nashville Predators in a Tuesday night game against Detroit.
Said Peel of the decision, “It wasn’t much but I wanted to get a f–king penalty against Nashville early in the –”
The NHL announced on Wednesday morning that Peel will no longer be working NHL games “now or in the future.”
“Nothing is more important than ensuring the integrity of our game,” NHL senior executive V.P. of hockey operations Colin Campbell said in a statement. “Tim Peel’s conduct is in direct contradiction to the adherence to the cornerstone principle that we demand of our officials and that our fans, players, coaches and all those associated with our game expect and deserve. There is no justification for his comments, no matter the context or his intention, and the National Hockey League will take any and all steps necessary to protect the integrity of our game.”
On the surface, the NHL had no choice but to take swift and dramatic action. Peel created the impression that he exercises discretion to call penalties that maybe shouldn’t be penalties. In an age of legalized wagering, the idea that any official is doing anything other than calling or not calling fouls by the book undermines the broader integrity of the sport — and invites external legislative, regulatory, or judicial scrutiny.
At a deeper level, it would be interesting to know more about why Peel did what he did. Was he trying to send a message in order to keep the game from getting out of hand? Although there officially may be no justification for the comments, there could be justification for the reasoning that resulted in the call.
The broader message to all officials in all pro sports is nevertheless clear: If you’re going to be making penalty calls in borderline cases for strategic reasons, don’t verbalize it. That’s why Peel is gone. Even if he had good intentions, those kinds of comments can lead to arguments that the fix is in, and the last thing any sport needs at the dawn of a multi-billion-dollar sports gambling industry is an accidental Tim Donaghy scandal.