This one is a tough one to write. To be frank, it’s difficult because this is the first time I’ve ever written about the Chicago Blackhawks while not a fan of the franchise. But more importantly it’s difficult because it’s hard to know something like this happened to another human being who was forced to live with it in silence for over ten years. A lot of things are forgivable in sports. I said to someone yesterday that the Chicago Blackhawks could go 0-82 and I’d still be more likely to stick around as a fan compared to what became public yesterday. If you’ve never read anything I write before, and never read anything I write again, I hope this is the one you see.
If you’ve read my stuff before, you know I don’t tend to take things super seriously and like to splice in a joke or two. This is not going to be one of those times. Jokes aren’t going to save this one. Something happened in the hockey world yesterday that made hockey stop mattering for a minute. For a little while, we were focused on something that is so inexcusable, and so unbelievable that myself, and numerous other lifelong Blackhawks fans pulled the plug.
Yesterday, the ongoing sexual assault investigation that has been surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks organization came to it’s tipping point when information was finally released proving that Blackhawks executives, coaching staff and players were aware of former video coach and sexual predator Brad Aldrich’s misconduct and mistreatment of Kyle Beach. The gruesome details of the events are available but I’m not going to discuss them specifically in the interest of tact. It’s not my story to tell and I encourage anyone who has yet to listen to hear the story directly from Beach’s interview.
Stan Bowman, along with practically the entirety of the front office, are no longer with the organization, but in my opinion it’s too little too late. Bowman should not have ever been given the opportunity to have “stepped aside” as Hockey Twitter so cryptically allowed it to be stated. That man should have been looked in the eye and told to pack his things immediately. Even when the investigation got to the point where everyone involved was able to be held accountable for their actions in the betrayal of one of their own, the organization was fined $2 million, which is weirdly less than the Devils were fined over the Kovalchuk situation but that’s a discussion for later in the article.
There is a laundry list of people who knew about, and are therefore equally responsible for what happened to Kyle Beach. From coaching staff, to front office executives, to players on the 2009-2010 Blackhawks team, it’s very difficult to believe that you could have been in that building that year and not been able to figure out that something wasn’t right. I think a lot of that feigned ignorance has to do with what professional sports culture has been made to be. For some reason behaviours that absolutely do not fly in public are often considered commonplace in a sports locker room. Let me be perfectly clear, this is not isolated to the sport of hockey. It is pervasive in every level of every competitive sport, but that lends itself to my larger point. Kyle Beach was openly abused and harassed, and the organization not only kept quiet, but actively fought against Beach, calling his claims baseless, calling him a liar and fighting to have the allegations removed from court. The organization valued hockey success over the safety and well-being of one of their own.
The NHL has also absolutely and unequivocally failed Kyle Beach. Once upon a time, the New Jersey Devils circumvented the salary cap to sign Ilya Kovalchuk. They were caught, fined $3 million and forfeit draft picks. The Blackhawks were found to have been complicit in the sexual assault of a player on their roster and were fined $2 million and the coach who was employed at the time was allowed to stand behind an NHL bench for a different team, patiently awaiting his meeting with the league. Let me be perfectly clear. If you pull something like this, if you knew about something like this, if you had anything to do with something like this, you should not be involved with the sport of hockey. Period. Quenneville stood behind the bench, coaching an NHL game last night after being named as a person who knew about and covered up the abuse of another human being. The NHL has failed in this regard frequently, and recently, with the Logan Mailloux selection in Montreal happening this year alone.
The Blackhawks also failed the hockey community as a whole with their ignorance of the reports of sexual assault by Beach. Make no mistake about the verbiage here, Beach was assaulted by his coach. A sexual predator was privately given the option to resign behind closed doors, and was paid severance and allowed to seek other jobs. That in itself is disgraceful. However that’s not where this ends. Aldrich, after being allowed to sneak out the back door of the Blackhawks organization without being held accountable for his crimes, was allowed to take jobs elsewhere, with USA Hockey, in college, and also with high school teams. This man sexually assaulted Beach, was allowed to quietly leave his job, and was able to continue to work in hockey with minors. Aldrich later pled guilty to Criminal Sexual Conduct with a 16 year old which in my opinion lies at the feet of the Blackhawks organization. A coach sexually assaulted a player, and by allowing him to continue to exist in the hockey community without the weight of his actions preventing him from further employment, he was able to get jobs with a vulnerable population and commit similar crimes to a minor.
The Blackhawks released a statement last night commending Kyle Beach for his bravery and politely attempting to excuse the organization, desperate attempts at absolving the Blackhawks from this in any way they could. But Frank Seravalli absolutely nailed it when he said he was still waiting for the statement of apology from the Blackhawks for calling Beach’s claims meritless, publicly calling him a liar.
The last thing I want to address, and probably the most painful as a former fan, was the way Jonathan Toews has approached, and continues to approach this situation. Toews was asked about these allegations awhile back, and rather than express any semblance of concern for the, then anonymous, victim, Toews claimed he was annoyed that someone would say these things. Right off the start, that’s not how one of the most tenured and respected leaders in the NHL should be addressing these things. I’m sure we all are aware of this. Toews then doubled-down on his absolute fumbling of the situation when, after the entire front office disappeared in shame, piling praise on Bowman and MacIsaac despite what they covered up. Toews also explained that he was, at some point, aware of the abuse himself and said nothing. I’ve addressed it already in this article. You’re complicit. It’s not a question to me. You are guilty of what happened to a person, who has spent over ten years silenced and carrying the weight of what his teammates and employers did to him.
This entire situation has been mishandled at every level by the 2009-2010 staff, everyone who found out about it after the fact, the front office, the ownership, the coaching staff and the NHL as a whole. Kyle Beach deserved better then, and in my opinion still deserves better now.
I know this may sound preachy, and it may not matter to some people who come across it. I realize some of you may not think this is as serious and heartbreaking as I do. The sad thing is, I expect that, and that’s why this is here. This matters. This is not an isolated incident, this is not the last time we’ve heard about this specific situation, and it’s unfortunately not the last situation we’re going to have come to light. The larger point I want to make is that we need to treat people better. We need to speak up for people who are being mistreated, stand up for people we see/hear about going through anything we wouldn’t want to go through alone. This is bigger than hockey.
Kyle Beach is a hero. He did the most difficult thing a person in his position can do and he’s going to be a catalyst in hopefully a large and meaningful change in the culture of professional sports and I’m personally grateful for it.