Artemi Panarin is taking some time off from hockey as he faces allegations of assault.
But there could be more to the story than initially meets the eye.
The New York Rangers on Monday announced Panarin was taking a leave of absence after he was accused of brutally assaulting an 18-year-old woman in Latvia in 2011.
The accuser, Panarin’s former KHL coach Andrei Nazarov, claimed Panarin “sent her to the floor with several powerful blows,” per ESPN’s Emily Kaplan, during an interview recently published by a Russian newspaper.
So, what exactly is going on here?
Sports and political experts alike believe Panarin potentially is being targeted for his political beliefs.
The Rangers also suggested this in Monday’s statement and argued this is an attempt to silence the Russian native for comments about “recent political events.”
“Artemi vehemently and unequivocally denies any and all allegations in this fabricated story,” the team said Monday. “This is clearly an intimidation tactic being used against him for being outspoken on recent political events. Artemi is obviously shaken and concerned and will take some time away from the team. The Rangers fully support Artemi and will work with him to identify the source of these unfounded allegations.”
Panarin voiced his support for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny via Instagram in January. It’s not the only time he’s spoken out against Putin either.
In 2019, Panarin expressed frustration during a Russian language interview about Russia’s economic development under Putin, which has stalled in almost every area except among the elite.
Nazarov, meanwhile, is a stark Putin supporter and has been for years. He has criticized Panarin’s comments about Putin in the past, too.
First, it’s important to note that this is speculation. Nothing officially has been uncovered about any sort of conspiracy or attempt to intentionally slander Panarin’s name.
Secondly, it’s important that allegations of assault are investigated to the fullest, no matter what possible paper trail is left behind. NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told ESPN on Monday that the league intends to look into the allegations made.
And while this might seem like just a war of words, it is a serious situation.