Advertisement
Share

Column: ‘It’s destroyed me from the inside out’: How the Blackhawks failed Kyle Beach

Chicago Blackhawks' Kyle Beach controls the puck during a game in 2008.
Former Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kyle Beach, shown in 2008, accused a team employee of sexual assault in 2010.
(Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

Driven by callous self-interest, unwilling to face an issue that arose at a time they considered inconvenient, Chicago Blackhawks executives ignored a player’s allegation that he had been sexually assaulted by the team’s video coach during the 2010 playoffs, and had been threatened with harm to his career unless he kept silent.

Their cowardice has cost Kyle Beach, then a 20-year-old prospect, more than a decade of anguish. He allowed his name to be revealed a few days ago, following the release of a report by a former federal prosecutor that said the Blackhawks’ senior leaders failed him by waiting three weeks to refer his allegation against video coach Brad Aldrich to the organization’s human resources department, and failed him again by neglecting to investigate Aldrich’s actions.

“I am a survivor and I know I’m not the only one, male or female,” Beach said in an interview this week with Rick Westhead of Canada’s TSN network. “I buried this for 10, 11 years and it’s destroyed me from the inside out.”

While the Blackhawks did nothing, Aldrich was free to make sexual advances to a team intern, who told some of his peers but didn’t report the incident to HR because he believed Aldrich could hurt his hockey ambitions if he came forward.

“There is no doubt that the system failed to support him in his time of need, and we are part of that system.”

NHLPA executive director Don Fehr

Advertisement

Five days after the Blackhawks won the 2010 Stanley Cup, an HR official was told about Beach’s allegations. Aldrich was interviewed and allowed to resign instead of facing an investigation. He received his salary through Aug. 31, 2010, severance pay, and a Stanley Cup ring. His name was engraved on the Cup and he enjoyed the traditional winner’s day with the trophy.

That brought Beach to tears. “It made me feel like he was in the right and I was wrong,” Beach told Westhead, whose tireless reporting ensured Beach wouldn’t be forgotten.

Meanwhile, Aldrich’s career continued, until in 2013, after working for USA Hockey and as a volunteer high school coach, Aldrich pleaded guilty to assaulting a minor in Houghton, Mich.

Let that be burned into the conscience of those in the Blackhawks organization who passed the buck and those in the NHL Players’ Assn. who didn’t follow up after Beach consulted an NHLPA-affiliated therapist. “There is no doubt that the system failed to support him in his time of need, and we are part of that system,” NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said in a statement. “I am truly sorry, and I am committed to making changes to ensure it does not happen again.”

Sorry doesn’t cut it.

“It made me feel like he was in the right and I was wrong.”

Kyle Beach, on Brad Aldrich being able to continue his hockey career

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman fined the Blackhawks $2 million for “the organization’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response in the handling of matters” related to Aldrich’s employment. The NHL and the Blackhawks agreed that $1 million would go to Chicago-area organizations that provide counseling, training and support to survivors of sexual abuse and other forms of abuse. For context: Bettman fined the New Jersey Devils $3 million in 2010 for attempting to circumvent the salary cap. The Blackhawks got off lightly. It’s sad how little the NHL values a human being’s life and career.

Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville raises the Stanley Cup in 2010.
(Matt Slocum / Associated Press)

Others are paying a steep price. Stan Bowman this week resigned as general manager of the Blackhawks and the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team, and Al MacIsaac resigned as the Blackhawks’ senior vice president of hockey operations. Both were with the team in 2010. Joel Quenneville, who was Chicago’s coach in 2010 and has been coach of the Florida Panthers since 2019, resigned after meeting with Bettman on Thursday. Quenneville had said he was unaware of Beach’s allegations until this summer, but the report compiled by the law firm of Jenner & Block placed Quenneville in the room for at least part of a meeting of club officials on May 23, 2010.

“I want to express my sorrow for the pain this young man, Kyle Beach, has suffered,” Quenneville said in a statement. “My former team the Blackhawks failed Kyle and I own my share of that.” Kevin Cheveldayoff, then the Blackhawks’ assistant GM and now general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, was absolved by Bettmann on Friday.

Don’t let them forget they did nothing to halt Aldrich’s reprehensible behavior and help Beach. Same for the players who taunted Beach with homophobic slurs he heard in the locker room and on the ice. Can they live with knowing they didn’t condemn a sexual predator? What if Aldrich had targeted their family? And why did no one in management order Aldrich to be isolated from the team until an investigation could take place?

The pivotal May 23, 2010, meeting was detailed in former federal prosecutor Reid Schar’s 107-page report, which included accounts from 139 witnesses ranging from interns to executive officers and past and present players. The investigation was commissioned by the Blackhawks but didn’t paint them in a favorable light.

As in many investigations, the memories of those interviewed differed on key events. Bowman said he recalled then-team president John McDonough (who was released by the Blackhawks in April 2020) saying the timing of Beach’s allegations was delicate because the Blackhawks might never have another long Cup run, and that McDonough and Quenneville spoke about the challenge of guiding a team through the playoffs amid distraction. Bowman recalled McDonough saying he would handle the situation. McDonough recalled little of the meeting and didn’t remember discussing who would address what had happened. The report determined that at a minimum, team executives knew about the harassment allegations and advances Aldrich had been accused of, but did nothing for three weeks.

Drew Doughty injured his right knee Friday in a game against Dallas. Sean Walker is out for the season after injuring his right knee Monday.

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, a member of the 2010 team, exemplified the old boys’ club thinking that lingers in the NHL by defending Bowman and MacIsaac. “They’re not directly complicit in the activities that happened .…They’re good people,” Toews said this week. Good people don’t ignore an accusation of sexual assault against a 20-year-old.

Bettman sent a memo to the 32 teams to remind them the NHL is committed to a culture that is “safe, inclusive and free from abuse, harassment and all forms of unethical behavior or misconduct.” There’s ample reason to believe the NHL talks a better game than it plays, though the Blackhawks on Friday asked the Hall of Fame to remove Aldrich’s name from the Cup.

Beach, who plays in Germany, filed two lawsuits against the Blackhawks in May. He said he has been touched by the support he has received, and by hearing from other survivors of sexual abuse. “The one thing that I want to make sure comes from this is change,” he said. For his sake, for the sake of every athlete who has been abused by a coach or person in a position of power, may change come as a light that illuminates and cleanses the darkness.


Advertisement