One day after an investigation commissioned by the Chicago Blackhawks publicly disclosed that the team’s top officials had ignored a player’s accusation of sexual assault by a coach during the 2010 playoffs, that player was revealed to be Kyle Beach.
Beach was asked by Canadian television on Wednesday if he had anything to say to the 16-year old boy that Brad Aldrich was later convicted of sexually assaulting.
“I’m sorry,” Beach said. “I’m sorry I didn’t do more, when I could, to make sure it didn’t happen to him. To protect him.”
Beach was, as the investigative report showed, a victim of inappropriate behavior by Aldrich, and indifference by the National Hockey League. As a 20-year-old minor league player whose career was in the hands of Aldrich and other coaches and members of the Chicago organization, he had the least power, and yet he did the most to call attention to Aldrich’s behavior and is one of the few people to have said he is sorry.
The N.H.L. still has consequences. After a meeting with N.H.L., Joel Quenneville, Florida Panthers coach, resigned on Thursday. Gary Bettman, commissioner. Bettman decided Friday not to punish Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff. Cheveldayoff had been an assistant general manager for Blackhawks in 2010. The owner of the Blackhawks wrote a letter to the Hockey Hall of Fame asking that Aldrich’s name be removed from the Stanley Cup.
The whole of hockey’s culture, from children’s divisions through the N.H.L., is once again under a microscope. This is not a surprising position for a sport that has been plagued by lawsuits and accusations centered on racism, misogyny, hazing and abuse. But the cultural problems of hockey seem to have met a moment when they are impossible to ignore, and when consequences — however belatedly — are being meted out.
“I hope that this entire process can make a systematic change to make sure this never happens again,” Beach said.
Beach’s accusations were first leveled publicly in May in a lawsuit filed against the Blackhawks that is still ongoing, but the investigation commissioned by the team revealed that he had immediately told a coach that he had been assaulted in 2010.
Fourteen former players of an amateur Canadian league filed a lawsuit claiming they were physically and sexually assaulted as teens while being hazed. In a lawsuit, a former coach of a Pittsburgh Penguins minor league affiliate claimed that he was fired by the team after he reported that his boss had sexually assaulted him. An Instagram group chat between top players revealed that they made misogynistic comments regarding sexual conquests and the girlfriends or wives of other players. A former N.H.L. player who was born in Nigeria accused a coach of referring to him with a racial slur and described a former teammate who had knocked out his teeth as a “racist sociopath.”
These seemingly separate issues are all interrelated, according Sheldon Kennedy (an ex-N.H.L. player). A former N.H.L. player, Sheldon Kennedy, revealed in the 1990s that he was sexually abused while playing junior hockey. “All of this stuff is basically all under the same umbrella. It is around discrimination, it is around inclusion.”
The typical environment — dreams of hockey stardom, extreme power imbalances, pressure to signal toughness and a culture of sweeping things under the rug — is an incubator for toxic behavior.
Or, as Kennedy put it during a telephone interview while doing chores at his farm in Saskatchewan: “All someone has to do is put their hand up as a Timbit hockey coach, and they are God to the 8-and-unders.”
It is not just hockey that hides or ignores reports of sexual assault. But these problems can be heightened in hockey, or in other sports that Loretta Merritt, a Canadian lawyer who represents victims of sexual abuse, described as the “more macho boys club kind of sports.” Merritt wondered if hockey’s culture made Aldrich, who has said his sexual contact with Beach was consensual, “think there is sort of more of a tolerance or willingness to turn a blind eye. Possibly.”
The N.H.L. released the investigative report on Tuesday. fined the Chicago team $2 million for “inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response,” and more consequences have followed, like the resignations of two top Blackhawks officials and of Quenneville. But that’s not the hard part, said Kennedy, who believes that talking about difficult issues and reporting abuse must be embedded in a team’s ambitions, just as trying to win the Stanley Cup is.
“Those are easy responses,” he said. “We are going to fine you. You must resign. Those are the rules. That’s your lawyer advice. To me, this is about culture change.”
Ken Dryden, the Hall of Fame goaltender of the Montreal Canadiens, echoed his message. Dryden is also a former Canadian cabinet minister and has been a vocal critic of the league’s handling of concussions in recent years.
“Often on big questions like this, it ends up where the only voices heard are those of the commentators, and the decision makers get let off the hook,” Dryden wrote in an email, declining to be interviewed. He added, “To me, anybody else’s voice is just a distraction.”
Statements — from the N.H.L., from the Blackhawks, from the players’ union, from Quenneville and from Stan Bowman, the president of the Blackhawks who resigned Tuesday after the investigative report’s release — have been plentiful in recent days. There were fewer apologies or admissions of guilt.
“Today’s fine represents a direct and necessary response to the failure of the Club to follow-up and address the 2010 incident in a timely and appropriate manner,” Bettman said in a long statement focused on process and full of legalese.
Despite the constant stream of episodes that show the failure to eradicate abusive behaviour by those in power in hockey, there have been huge cultural changes around sexual abuse. Merritt brought dozens of cases against Toronto Maple Leafs, its owners and employees over the Maple Leaf Gardens sexual abuse scandal in the 1990s.
“What institutions were doing when I started practicing in this area in the ’90s, versus what institutions do today, is different,” she said. “Twenty or thirty years ago people wouldn’t even come forward because they wouldn’t be believed.”
Beach was believed, regardless of how badly the Blackhawks handled his accusations. A former Blackhawks associate coach was the one who raised the alarm. “I knew I wasn’t alone,” he said in the televised interview. “And I could never thank them enough for doing that, because it gave me the strength to continue forward with this.”
Merritt noted that widespread revelations about sex abuse in the Catholic Church and the Academy Award-winning movie “Spotlight” had helped change how such abuse is seen culturally. People like Kennedy and Theo Fleury have said they were abused by Kennedy’s hockey coach. Martin Kruze, who was the first person to report abuse at Maple Leaf Gardens and later died, helped create the conditions for Beach to report it in 2010 and for some consequences in 2021.
However, significant change often occurs only when it is required by law. “You don’t see radical changes in either the law or people’s behavior very often,” Merritt said. “Things tend to move incrementally. But when they are held to account publicly, when they are hit in their wallets with fines or other penalties, when they are sued for damages in courts, it does start to alter behavior.”
Beach, now 31, was dismissed in the unsentimental and often demeaning language used by the newspapers and websites that report on hockey. He was the 11th selection in the 2008 draft. However, he did not make it to the N.H.L. He spent the last few decades bouncing between European leagues. The Canadian wasn’t seen as tough enough, or skilled enough, or hard-working enough.
We now know that he was suffering from trauma. “The shame and guilt, the impact is real,” Kennedy said. “I wasn’t ready to answer those questions. You will never live up to your potential in life, not just in sports, when these events happen.”
Beach’s legacy, then, is undergoing a re-evaluation within hockey. But will that re-evaluation and questioning spread — and stick — to the rest of the sport?
Source: NY Times