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Opinion: The NHL's Official Response to Blackhawks Scandal is Disappointing

The NHL's press conference gave the league an opportunity to address Chicago's sexual assault report in an official manner. Sweet sentiments like that are nice. Less so, however, arriving a decade too late. And that's precisely what the league's response boiled down to on Monday: words in lieu of actions.
Gary Bettman

If it wasn't obvious that Gary Bettman is a lawyer, it should be abundantly clear by now. 

Speaking to the media for the first time since the report detailing how the Chicago Blackhawks mishandled sexual assault allegations against former video coach Brad Aldrich in 2010 was published, Bettman fielded questions in a manner that would make any defense attorney proud, ducking and dodging accusations that would place even a modicum of blame upon himself or the league while still reiterating just how sorry the NHL was for the pain Beach suffered under their watch.

Sweet sentiments like that are nice. Less so, however, arriving a decade too late. 

And that's precisely what Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly's response boiled down to on Monday afternoon: Words in lieu of actions.

When asked to explain why he chose to fine the Blackhawks $2 million for the worst sexual misconduct cover-up in league history despite previously fining the New Jersey Devils nearly double that amount (when adjusting for inflation) for issuing Ilya Kovalchuk an illegal contract, Bettman's reasoning was, verbatim, "Different context, different facts". 

An illegal contract is certainly viewed through a different context than sexual assault. One pertains to the game's health on the ice, while the other extends to that of its players off of it. 

Bettman's words may have tried to paint one story. But his actions outlined exactly which context the NHL values more. 

Hint: it's not the latter. 

Nowhere was this more evident than in Bettman's reasoning for allowing Joel Quenneville - who has since resigned as Florida Panthers head coach due to his role in actively covering up Beach's abuse claims and then lying about his knowledge of them years later - to coach on Wednesday night despite being under investigation. 

"He's already coached 867 NHL games at that point," Bettman explained. 

"And I didn't want him to think I had pre-judged him"

The fact is, Quenneville had already been judged. Many times throughout the report's 107 pages, in fact. The document offered multiple corroborated testimonies detailing how the veteran coach knew about the allegations and actively suppressed them from being taken to law enforcement or human resources at the time. 

But, no. Quenneville's 867 games behind an NHL bench granted him a grace period from consequence. That is, at least, in the eyes of the commissioner. 

"I want to make it clear that the NHL has made significant progress from where it was a decade ago", Bettman affirmed with words minutes later. 

His actions, once again, demonstrated far different. 

When asked to explain why the NHL doesn't have a sexual misconduct policy that outlines specific consequences for offenders, Bettman expounded that it's because the league handles those situations on a case-by-case basis. 

What, then, does Bettman think the NHL has done in light of the past week's events to convince both players and fans alike of its competence in handling these allegations themselves? 

Frankly, his answer might be even more frightening than the question. 

And from there, the contradictions came in hot and heavy. 

The NHL wants its employees to speak up whenever they are aware of instances of sexual misconduct happening at their workplace. Kevin Cheveldayoff, however, was deemed immune from blame in this case because his role as assistant general manager wasn't senior enough for him to do so. 

The NHL wants to make it clear that they take allegations of sexual misconduct seriously and are committed to ensuring that they are met with due process. And yet it was a full 40 minutes into the Zoom call before TSN's Rick Westhead, the reporter who first broke the Blackhawks story months ago and has since been at the forefront of covering the investigation, was allowed to ask a question. 

Multiple reporters were granted the opportunity to ask an initial and follow-up question before Westhead was finally given the chance. The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun even felt compelled enough to begin his own follow-up with a plea for Westhead to be given the floor before the call was finished. Ultimately, the league relented. 

It shouldn't be all that surprising, then, that the pre-eminent voice on the silencing of sexual misconduct claims within the NHL was, himself, nearly silenced by the NHL. 

Worth noting, too, is how the sidebar displayed during every NHL-hosted media Zoom call that lists each of its participants was curiously absent for this one. 

What a coincidence. 

The time for talk is over. Talk does not heal Kyle Beach. Talk does not paint over the horrors of what he endured. And it certainly does not absolve those who allowed those horrors to happen. 

What Beach, survivors, and the world at large need now is action. The tangible kind, carried out by those in power to ensure that this will never happen to anyone ever again. 

The NHL tried their best to talk those actions into existence on Monday. Their efforts failed. And now, it's hard to imagine anyone walking away from Bettman's remarks feeling confident that anything has changed. 

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