If the Chicago Blackhawks and the NHL dig themselves any deeper, they’ll reach the Earth’s core. It’s that bad.
During a week of shocking revelations about the sexual assault allegations against former Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich, culminating in former Blackhawks left winger Kyle Beach revealing himself as the victim in a devastating interview on TSN Wednesday, any party remotely complicit in the coverup has doubled down, tripled down, quadrupled down and quintupled down on buck passing, victim blaming, gaslighting and attempting to paint guilty parties as victims.
It’s embarrassment upon embarrassment upon embarrassment for the sport. Where do we start? After Jenner & Block’s investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Aldrich by two former players concluded earlier this week, Stan Bowman stepped down as Blackhawks GM and GM of Team USA’s 2022 men’s Olympic team. The Jenner & Block investigation revealed that former Blackhawks team president John McDonough, hockey operations executive Al MacIsaac, former executive vice-president Jay Blunk, GM Bowman, then-head coach Joel Quenneville, and then-assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff were present at a meeting in which John Doe, now revealed as Beach, came forward with his allegations. No action was taken for three weeks afterward, a period that included the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup, Aldrich having his name engraved on the Cup and participating in all post-championship festivities – with Beach present – and Aldrich enjoying his day with the Stanley Cup. He resigned from the team in July 2010.
“The only way I could describe it was that I felt sick, I felt sick to my stomach,” Beach told TSN investigative reporter Rick Westhead in Wednesday’s interview. “I reported this and I was made aware that it made it all the way up the chain of command by ‘Doc’ (James) Gary and nothing happened. It was like his life was the same as the day before. Same every day. And then when they won, to see him paraded around lifting the Cup, at the parade, at the team pictures, at celebrations, it made me feel like nothing. It made me feel like I didn’t exist. It made me feel like, that I wasn’t important and…it made me feel like he was in the right and I was wrong.”
Upon his departure this week, Bowman’s statement included a humdinger of a buck-pass: “I relied on the direction of my superior that he would take appropriate action. Looking back, now knowing he did not handle the matter promptly, I regret assuming he would do so.”
There’s more. The Blackhawks quite obviously prioritized winning over protecting a sexual assault victim and were comfortable keeping the accuser and accused in the same physical settings. Yet, in a statement released by the franchise Wednesday in “support” of Beach, the team included the shockingly tone-deaf proclamation about “hiring a new leadership team that is committed to winning championships.”
There’s more. After Wednesday night’s game, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews asserted that “Stan and Al…were not directly complicit in the activities that happened” and that he had a lot of respect for them as people.
There’s more. The Florida Panthers also allowed Quenneville to coach the Florida Panthers last night, as if no revelations had landed about his knowledge of the Aldridge situation in 2010, yet the Panthers also did not make Quenneville available to media after the game.
There’s more. The NHL’s website posted a headline – which has since been amended – detailing Beach’s interview, reading, “Kyle Beach reveals self as Chicago accuser,” days after Jenner & Block’s investigation concluded – and days after the league fined the Blackhawks $2 million for “Inadequate Procedures and Mishandling of the 2010 Matter Related to the Conduct of Former Video Coach Brad Aldrich,” punishing a franchise less for covering up a sexual assault than it did the New Jersey Devils for circumventing the salary cap in 2010. That carried a $3-million fine and the forfeiture of draft picks.
Gut punch after gut punch after gut punch. The Blackhawks failed Beach so horribly by being molasses-slow to react and stand up for their player, and the NHL, which conducted no investigation of its own into the allegations, has been borderline catatonic in its support. The NHL Players’ Association, establishing the floor as the bar, at least used the word “sorry” in the statement it conveniently soft-launched at 11:53 p.m. ET Wednesday night:
“Kyle Beach has been through a horrific experience and has shown true courage in telling his story,” said NHLPA executive director Don Fehr in the statement. “There is no doubt that the system failed to support him in his time of need, and we are part of that system.
“In his media interview, Mr. Beach stated that several months after the incident he told someone at the NHLPA the details of what happened to him. He is referring to one of the program doctors with the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. While this program is confidential between players and the doctors, the grave nature of this incident should have resulted in further action on our part. The fact that it did not was a serious failure. I am truly sorry, and I am committed to making changes to ensure it does not happen again.”
The sport’s sad protocol has been established when dealing with assault victims at this point: wait, hope it goes away, react only if it comes to light, ask for forgiveness, hope it goes away.
And while we can hope Beach’s incredibly selfless decision to come forward will set a new precedent, we have a right to be skeptical about how much will change. Look what happened three months ago, after all. The Montreal Canadiens selected Logan Mailloux 30th overall in the NHL draft despite him urging teams not to pick him because he’d been convicted of sharing lewd photos of a woman without her consent. They made him a first-round pick. It sent a message that his admitted transgressions carried few if any consequences.
Abuse victims can’t trust hockey to protect them right now. And that’s why one of the key takeaways from Beach’s interview last night was a suggestion he made about how to help victims going forward:
“The one thing I want to make sure comes from this is change,” Beach told Westhead. “I want to make sure in any way possible that this does not happen to somebody else. Because it will happen again. I will not be the only one. Whether it’s in hockey, soccer, any sport, any business, any company, there needs to be a system in place that it gets dealt with. And that it’s somebody making the decision to deal with it that has no skin in the game. Because if this had been reported to someone other than John McDonough, or Joel Quenneville or Stan Bowman that didn’t have skin in the game of winning a Stanley Cup, it would have been dealt with and would have protected all of the survivors that came after me.”
Trailblazer Sheldon Kennedy, who came forward in 1996 as a sexual assault victim at the hands of former Swift Current Broncos coach Graham James, made a similar statement this week. Kennedy explained that, while the NHL player assistance program provides a lifeline for a number of issues, players have no third-party options to report abuse.
When Akim Aliu shared his story of racist behavior against him from his former coach Bill Peters and Peters resigned from the Calgary Flames in 2019 shortly after Aliu’s revelations, the NHL created a hotline through which players could report abusive behavior with their anonymity protected. In a letter the Blackhawks addressed to their fans this week, they indicated “The entire Blackhawks organization participates in mandatory annual anti-harassment and anti-discrimination trainings and, as part of that, we clearly communicated several mechanisms for reporting of concerns including internal and third-party options such as the NHL's anonymous hotline operated by Deloitte.”
Does an NHL hotline really constitute a third party, however? When the league running that hotline is the same league letting Quenneville coach Wednesday night, there still seems to be a conflict of interest at play.
There’s no undoing what happened to Kyle Beach. And it’s fair to question if we can rely on the NHL to meaningfully change how it supports sexual assault victims, or victims of any other abuse, going forward. The sport has failed us and needs to earn our trust back. That’s why, as Beach and Kennedy have implied, a truly independent third-party support system may be the best way to help future victims or deter crimes from happening.