The last few days in the world of a hockey fan have been incredibly tough. There’s so much that has been said, and so much still that hasn’t. Reading the Jenner & Block report regarding the sexual assault that happened in 2010 within the Chicago Blackhawks organization, and then watching Kyle Beach speak on video with TSN’s Rick Westhead, has filled me with every emotion in the book.
At the person who committed the assault, then-video coach Brad Aldrich, and at every person in management, coaching and human resources who was told about the assault and did either nothing or the bare minimum.
For Beach, for the pain he has lived with for the past 11 years.
For how deeply it has clearly affected him.
Disgusted, infuriated and horrified.
At how the Blackhawks handled the situation, then and now, and how the NHL and NHLPA have/are, too.
That this has finally come to light, and hope that Beach and Aldrich’s other victims can get the justice they deserve.
Because that seems unlikely. This should be a time of reckoning for the league, but sadly, I don’t have a lot of faith that it will be.
There’s so much I want to say, and so much I don’t know how to put into words. My overarching takeaway from this situation has been this: the NHL, the NHLPA and the Chicago Blackhawks, as well as nearly every person involved, have failed Kyle Beach time and time again. In doing so, they’ve also failed Aldrich’s other victims, and all victims of sexual assault.
Reading the report was incredibly difficult. Not everyone will read it, and not everyone should. There were so many times, more than I can count, that I stopped while reading it to shake my head and note yet another time when someone had the chance to do something right, and they didn’t. So many people had so many opportunities to support Beach, to say something, to handle the situation - and then didn’t.
Everyone in that organization at the time is complicit:
- The players who heard homophobic slurs being thrown out during practices and did nothing;
- The management who waited *three weeks* to take any action, until conveniently after the Hawks had won the Cup;
- The director of human resources who never actually met with Beach, allowed Aldrich to resign and awarded him a day with the Cup and a ring;
- Donald Fehr and the NHLPA, who failed to provide the support Beach needed at the time; and so many others.
When I watched Westhead’s video interview with Beach, my heart broke. Hearing him talk about how “Doc” Gary told him the assault was his fault made me want to scream. Sexual assault is NEVER the victim’s fault. Hearing him talk about how worthless it all made him feel was so deeply saddening, and listening to his voice break as he apologized to the 16-year-old who later became a victim of Aldrich, and began crying, I began crying, too.
And then, hours later, seeing the Florida Panthers and the NHL allow Joel Quenneville to step behind the bench for a game, allowing Kevin Cheveldayoff to remain on as GM of the Winnipeg Jets, and listening to the Blackhawks trot out Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane to mention how “great” of a person Stan Bowman is — over and over, the teams and the league failing Beach & all sexual assault victims.
(Quenneville has since resigned, while Cheveldayoff will face no repercussions from either the league or his team, and remains in position as the Executive Vice President & General Manager for the Jets. He issued no apology & showed no accountability.)
Graciously, there have been a few current and former NHL players who have said the right things. Brendan Gallagher, an alternate NHLPA rep for the Montreal Canadiens, said the players’ association failed Beach:
“The PA’s there to protect our players, and everything that was said - I think the PA came out and released a statement as well - the system failed him and let him down. That’s basically the job of the PA. I think they’re going to look into that and make sure that doesn’t happen again. But the NHLPA is there to protect the players and, in this situation, it obviously failed him.”
Alex DeBrincat, who currently plays for the Hawks and was literally a 12-year-old child when the assault on Beach occurred, spoke more eloquently than any of the so-called leaders on the team:
“Hearing the stories, pretty disturbing. Obviously never something you want to hear that goes on. But I think going through it yesterday, it’s tough to see people get treated like that. I think we got addressed today, the team addressed us and I think we cannot move on from it, but learn from it and really come together as a team and make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
“Our hearts go out to Kyle Beach. We were playing junior at a similar time. It’s just so unfortunate he had to go through that. I think everyone — we were talking about it last night - everyone feels terrible for him and hopes that he can get some solace at the end of this.
Every culture needs to keep getting better, and hockey’s no different. This is a game that’s a little bit of a, I guess what you’d call an old boys’ club. There’s definitely some secrecy and things that need to change, and hopefully they can.
You never want to think of an incident like this, positives coming from it, because it’s been so terrible. But there needs to be changes, and unfortunately people need to be held accountable.”
The league, meanwhile, sent a memo to its teams, reminding them about fostering a “safe and inclusive culture.”
#NHL's memo to teams yesterday from Gary Bettman in the wake of #Blackhawks scandal was essentially a reminder: If you see/hear something, you better say something. Also a refresher on reporting requirements and process. pic.twitter.com/xo4Jgmb8Xg— Frank Seravalli (@frank_seravalli) October 28, 2021
They can send all the memos they want, and have policies in place on how things should be handled, but without fostering an environment where people feel safe & comfortable coming forward, without people actually following the policies, and without people facing legitimate consequences for inaction or abuse, it doesn’t mean a whole lot. Granted, the assault of Beach happened in 2010, but we have no way of knowing if things are actually better today than they were then.
I wasn’t sure if I should write anything about this. I’m sure some who read this will say that I shouldn’t have. This is, after all, a Buffalo Sabres site. But what happened to Kyle Beach didn’t occur in a vacuum, and not a single one of us should throw rocks in a glass house when the same thing could happen in any organization. That’s why others across the league need to be asked about this.
As a Sabres fan, I was glad to hear head coach Don Granato asked about the situation & particularly its implications surrounding Quenneville, who he served as an assistant coach under in Chicago from 2017-2019. Instead of commenting on his personal relationship with the coach, he focused his attention on the victim:
“My only thoughts are for Kyle (Beach) and the whole situation, I really can’t think anything beyond that... I don’t have any thoughts other than for Kyle and anybody else that has gone through the hardship of that. I can’t think past that actually.”
I would also like to hear from NHLPA reps Kyle Okposo & Jeff Skinner.
Beach deserved, and deserves, better than the Blackhawks, NHLPA and NHL have given him, and everyone needs to do better by him and by all victims.
If you’re heartbroken or angered by the Blackhawks mishandling of Kyle Beach’s sexual assault and don’t know what to do to help, consider making a donation to RAINN, a US-based organization that has helped 3.7 million survivors of SA & their loved ones.