With abuse allegations, Kyle Beach forces the NHL to face its mistakes

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The day after an investigation commissioned by the Chicago Blackhawks publicly announced that the team’s top officials ignored a player’s allegation of sexual assault by a coach during the 2010 playoffs, that player was exposed as Kyle Beach.

In an interview on national television in Canada on Wednesday, Beach was asked if he had a message for the 16-year-old boy that video coach Brad Aldrich was later convicted of sexual assault in Michigan in 2013.

“I’m sorry,” said Beach. “I’m sorry I didn’t do more when I could to make sure nothing happened to him. To protect him. “

Beach, as the investigation report made clear, was a victim of both Aldrich’s inappropriate behavior and the National Hockey League’s indifference. 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 draw attention to Aldrich’s behavior, and is one of the few people who said he was sorry.

Consequences are still reverberating through the NHL. Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, who led the 2010 Blackhawks, resigned Thursday after meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. On Friday, Bettman decided not to punish Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, who was deputy general manager of the Blackhawks in 2010, according to Cup.

The entire hockey culture, from the kids’ department to the NHL, is being re-examined. It is a well-known position for a sport that in recent years has been inundated with allegations and lawsuits centering on harassment, abuse, misogyny and racism. But the cultural problems of ice hockey seem to have reached a moment in which they can no longer be ignored and in which – albeit belatedly – consequences are being drawn.

“I hope this whole process can make a systematic change to make sure this never happens again,” said Beach.

Beach’s allegations were first made publicly in a pending lawsuit against the Blackhawks in May, but the team-commissioned investigation found that he immediately notified a coach that he had been attacked in 2010.

Fourteen former Canadian amateur league players recently filed a lawsuit claiming they were sexually and physically assaulted while being verbally abused as teenagers. A former coach of a Pittsburgh Penguins minor league subsidiary accused the team in a lawsuit of sacking him after reporting a boss sexually abused his wife. A leak in an Instagram group chat between a number of top players revealed that they had made misogynistic comments about sexual conquest and other players’ girlfriends and wives. A former NHL player, who was born in Nigeria, accused a coach of branding him a racist slur and called a former teammate who was knocked out a “racist sociopath”.

These seemingly different problems are all interrelated, said Sheldon Kennedy, a former NHL player who revealed in the 1990s that he was sexually abused by a coach while playing junior hockey. “All of this stuff is basically all under one roof. It’s about discrimination, it’s about inclusion. “

The typical environment – hockey star dreams, 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 phone interview on his Saskatchewan farm, “All a person has to do is raise their hands as the Timbit hockey coach and they are God to the 8-and-unders.”

Organizations that ignore or cover up reports of sexual assault are not just reserved for ice hockey. But these problems can be exacerbated in hockey or other sports that Loretta Merritt, a Canadian sexual abuse lawyer who represents victims of sexual abuse, described as “the more macho boy club sport.” Merritt wondered if the culture of hockey Aldrich, who said his sexual contact with Beach was consensual, “suggests that there is more tolerance or willingness to turn a blind eye. Possibly.”

Following the publication of the investigation report on Tuesday, the NHL fined the Chicago team $ 2 million for “inadequate internal procedures and inadequate and premature response,” with other consequences, including the resignation of two top Blackhawks officials from Quenneville. But that’s not the hard part, said Kennedy, who believes that talking about difficult topics and reporting abuse must be embedded in a team’s ambitions, just like trying to win the Stanley Cup.

“Those are simple answers,” he said. “We will punish you. You have to resign. That’s the rule. This is your counsel. For me, this is about a cultural change. “

His message was echoed by Ken Dryden, goalkeeper of the Montreal Canadiens Hall of Fame and a former Canadian Cabinet Secretary who has been a prominent critic of the League’s handling of concussions in recent years.

“When it comes to big questions like this, it often ends up with only the voices of the commentators being heard and the decision-makers off the hook,” Dryden wrote in an email, declining an interview. He added, “For me, other people’s voices are just a distraction.”

There have been numerous declarations over the past few days – from the NHL, the Blackhawks, the Players’ Union, Quenneville and Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks president, who resigned Tuesday after the investigation report was published. There were fewer apologies and confessions of guilt.

“Today’s fine is a direct and necessary response to the club’s failure to timely and appropriately follow up and deal with the 2010 incident,” Bettman said in a long process-focused and full of legal statement.

However, despite the constant drumming of episodes showing the failure of those in power in ice hockey to stamp out abusive behavior, there have been immense cultural changes surrounding sexual abuse and other problems that have reached ice hockey. Merritt has initiated dozens of cases against the Toronto Maple Leafs and their employees and owners over the Maple Leaf Gardens abuse scandal of the 1990s.

“What institutions were doing when I started practicing in this area in the 1990s is different from what institutions are doing today,” she said. “Twenty or thirty years ago people didn’t even get in touch because they weren’t believed.”

As poorly as his allegations were handled by the Blackhawks, Beach was believed. He talked about a figure skating coach who had sounded the alarm, about a former Blackhawks coach, some former teammates and his family. “I knew I wasn’t alone,” he said in the television interview. “And I could never thank them enough for that, because it gave me the strength to pursue this.”

Merritt noted that widespread revelations about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and the Oscar-winning film Spotlight helped change the cultural perception of sexual abuse. In hockey, people like Kennedy and Theo have Fleury, who said he was molested by the same coach as Kennedy, and Martin Kruze, who was the first to report abuse that turned into the Maple Leaf Gardens scandal and later killed himself , helped set the terms to make it easier for Beach to report its abuse in 2010, and so there may be some ramifications in 2021.

However, rapid change often only comes about when it is enforced by the law. “You don’t see radical changes in the law or in people’s behavior often,” Merritt said. “Things tend to move gradually. But when they are publicly held accountable, when they are slammed into their wallets with fines or other penalties, when they are sued for damages in court, behavior changes. “

In the unsentimental and often scathing language of the hockey newspapers and websites, Beach, now 31, was a broke. As the eleventh pick of the 2008 draft, he never made it into the NHL and has spent the past few years hopping around European leagues. The Canadian was not considered tough enough, skillful enough, or hardworking enough.

We now know that he was dealing with trauma. “The shame and guilt, the ramifications are real,” said Kennedy. “I wasn’t ready to answer these questions. You will never reach your full potential in life, not just in sports, when these events happen. “

So Beach’s legacy is undergoing a reassessment within ice hockey. But will this reassessment and questioning spread to the rest of the sport – and will it stick?

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