[CW: Discussions of sexual assault and abuse.]
In Episode 3, Sam and I covered the timeline of events of the Chicago Blackhawks lawsuits, the hockey culture behind it all, and what can potentially be done to protect players in the future.
If you missed listening to the full episode, you can listen here and read the full transcript below.
Sam: Before we jump into this episode, I want to take the time to say that there is a content warning: we will be covering the heartbreaking sexual assault allegations that came out of the Chicago Blackhawks organization in early May 2021. Please be cautious and careful when listening to the next segment. Conversations like these, though important, can be incredibly difficult and triggering. If you’re uncomfortable or unable to tap into this episode we completely understand. Please take care of yourself and your mental health.
Kat: This is a safe space, particularly in the comments section of these articles. Please maintain dignity, integrity and empathy for everyone, but particularly Kyle Beach and others who have experienced sexual abuse and assault, and those like Kyle who have courageously shared their story and their identity.
Sam: So before we talk about what type of effect this situation has had on hockey culture, we’re going to take a brief walk through the timeline of events, basically, to how we got here.
Sam: So in May 2021, news broke that a player from the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks championship team accused a coach of sexual assault. We learned that on May 7 in Cook County Circuit Court, an unnamed player from the 2010 Stanley Cup winning Chicago Blackhawks team was suing the club alleging that prior to their Cup victory, the unnamed player along with a teammate, were sexually assaulted by video Coach Brad Aldrich.
Sam: This October 2021, that unnamed player was brave enough to reveal himself and his name is Kyle Beach, and Beach alleged that Aldrich watched pornography and masturbated in front of him and his teammate in May of 2010. Unfortunately, the story gets worse.
Sam: Beach also states that he received inappropriate texts and that he was threatened, “physically, financially and emotionally” and if he did not engage in sexual acts with Aldrich. The assault took place prior to the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals. The team allowed Aldrich to remain a part of the organization where he celebrated the win with the team. Beach said their celebration had made him feel “like nothing. It made me feel like I didn’t exist. It made me feel like he was in the right and I was in the wrong.”
Kat: According to TSN, the two Blackhawks players had informed then skills coach Paul Vincent, and the following day Vincent met with then team president John McDonough and general manager Stan Bowman, hockey executive Al MacIsaac and mental skills coach James Gary.
Kat: Keep in mind, throughout this whole time, and still even now, there are people within the organization who are alleging that they had no idea anything had happened at all and they’re still denying their culpability in this narrative.
Kat: Vincent then alleges that he had asked the team to report the allegations to the Chicago Police and that his request was denied by the organization.
Sam: I’d also like to add gently that Paul Vincent is a former law enforcement officer in Massachusetts, which means when the organization failed to contact the Sex Crimes Division of the Chicago Police, he would have known that what was happening was unlawful.
Sam: That being said, Beach has advocated for the fact that Paul did everything in his power at the time, and has the utmost appreciation for all that Vincent has done for him. Joel Quenneville, the head coach of the Blackhawks at the time of their victory, has publicly claimed that he was unaware of the allegations. However, a report compiled by Jenner & Block, the law firm hired to conduct an independent investigation, concluded that Quenneville, Bowman and other members of the front office discussed it.
Kat: Susan Loggins, Beach’s lawyer, is also alleging that the incident was brought to the NHLPA but that they refused to get involved. She said, “they rebuked him, they did nothing about it.”
Kat: Kyle said himself, “I reported every single detail to an individual at the NHLPA who I was put in contact with after, I believe two different people talked to Don Fehrand for him to turn his back on the player ... I don’t know how that can be your leader.”
Kat: According to the Jenner & Block investigation, Aldrich also made sexual advances on a then-Blackhawks intern, who was 22 During the 2010 Stanley Cup victory. He was called in by Chicago’s HR department, and they offered him two options: undergo an investigation or resign.
Kat: Two options he never should have been given. The answer was always to undergo an investigation and be held liable to criminal law. He, of course, chose resignation but received a playoff bonus, continued to be paid a salary, had his name engraved in the Stanley Cup, received a championship ring, attended the Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony and even brought the cup to his hometown.
Kat: Attorney Susan Loggans later said about Aldrich “It’s not about Aldrich’s conduct ... It’s about the Blackhawks subjecting a young person to the influence of somebody in a control position, namely the video coach, and subjecting the players to a hostile and dangerous environment ... And they became aware of it and hushed it up so that it wouldn’t interfere their playoff chances and the Stanley Cup.”
Sam: I think we got a really good look at the culture’s true colors when Aldrich’s name was engraved on the side of the Cup. Because at that point, he undisputedly became a representative for what the organization and the league stand for.
Kat: This is a community that protects their own and I’ve said it before; the best part about hockey is also the worst part about it — and that’s the fact that it is a very tight-knit, very insular community.
Kat: On one hand, that means you have a really loyal group of people who are experiencing the same things that you are in a team environment that breeds trust and reliability. But when that trust is broken by a member of that community, it becomes very, very difficult to speak up and be heard.
Kat: And what’s really interesting about this whole discussion is the fact that Aldrich was a video coach, he was replaceable by a lot of other qualified individuals, and the fact that the team valued him and his position more than they did a player is absolutely mind boggling to me.
Sam: And not only valued him and his job, but also valued winning over keeping their players safe. And it’s a really interesting conversation. Because, everyone says, their whole life, everybody just wants to win a cup. But at what cost? Because we can see all the years later all the damage that this has done, not only to Kyle Beach, the Chicago Blackhawks organization and everyone involved, but those in the hockey community outside of that organization. That’s what makes the story especially sad.
Kat: And what does it say about the locker room culture in which something like this happens? We know from the investigation and the 139 witnesses who corroborated the story that the players and people [the Chicago Blackhawks team] knew about it, and knew about it at the time. What does that say to the locker room culture that that was so normalized and expected it wasn’t a problem for them?
Sam: And what does it say about the culture in general, that everyone was willing to risk their own safety to some extent, to win a cup. And this is one of those stories that just seems to get worse and worse and worse as it unfolds.
Sam: So following his optional resignation, Aldrich [allegedly] received a letter of recommendation from the Blackhawks.
Sam: So at this point, it is 2013. And Aldrich has obtained a position at a Houghton High School in Michigan where he ends up being arrested and pleading guilty to fourth degree criminal sexual conduct involving a minor.
Sam: The Chicago Blackhawks 100 percent enabled Aldrich, not only to commit sexual assault again, but this time sexual assault on a minor and they absolutely 100 percent had a hand in that.
Kat: This is indicative of a huge problem within hockey culture. It’s systemic; the Blackhawks initial inaction resulted in the sexual assault on a minor and there are further investigations into Aldrich and his conduct at Miami University and his other places of employment. The moment that the ‘Hawks decided not to pursue criminal action, which they are legally obligated to do, by the way. It didn’t stop within the organization. It became a web.
Kat: And the one thing that I just can’t shake is this, and I think about it all the time. So when the Blackhawks were contacted by law enforcement in 2013, regarding the criminal sexual conduct by Aldrich in Michigan, and the assault on a minor, the Chicago Blackhawks from the mouth of Marie Sutera, who was the Vice President of Human Resources, I believe she’s still within the organization — I’m not quite sure if she was part of the quote/unquote, like ownership changes or however it is that they’re framing that — but she was there at the time in 2010.
Kat: And she, and the rest of the Chicago Blackhawks, refused to offer information in order to aid the sexual assault investigation of a child. And that sticks out to me because you would hope that someone would see that [the sexual assault of a minor] and do their best to protect a child and to write these wrongs. And they didn’t.
Kat: And they have continued to try to dismiss these lawsuits to try to shirk responsibility. They keep trying to push the responsibility onto someone else. So they haven’t even taken ownership for the true reality of their actions.
Kat: And what has happened, not only in 2010, but in the decade after it, has affected so many more people, some of whom were minors, after Aldrich left the Chicago Blackhawks. There’s no real way for me to see that the Chicago Blackhawks can ever truly right their wrongs. But I think it starts with saying I’m sorry, and they haven’t even given an apology — and certainly not one that’s sincere.
Sam: Fast forward to October 2021. On October 26, the Chicago Blackhawks owner and Chairman Rocky Wirtz, CEO Danny Wirtz and lead investigator Reid Schar of Jenner & Block held a press conference where they disclosed the full details and findings of the investigation. After 139 witness interviews, Jenner & Block concluded that the Blackhawks violated their own sexual harassment policy that any and all reports of sexual harassment be reported and investigated fully and properly.
Sam: This week, Kyle Beach did something incredibly strong. He joined TSN and Rick Westhead, to talk more about his lawsuit against the Blackhawks and what life has been like for him in the last 10 years. One of the things that struck me immediately was the way he said he felt following the incident: scared, fearful, alone, dark, helpless. As a culture, we have the tools and resources to make sure that something like this never happens again. And we need to use them to keep players safe in the future.
Kat: I think that conversation of keeping players safe begins with really understanding who is involved, what happened, and why there really haven’t been any consequences. We need to understand the social context of how hockey culture works, and this culture of silence and these imbalanced power dynamics that lead to situations like these.
Kat: Stan Bowman, and other members of that 2010 management have been given the option of resigning instead of being fired, which they should have been [fired], but whatever. So they resigned. Joel Quenneville, Kevin Cheveldayoff and Marc Bergevin have yet to face consequences or the media.
Sam: I would just like to say, one hour after Kyle Beach came out and revealed himself, Joel Quenneville coached a game in Florida. He’s still very much in the cut, he has a lot of power and a lot of responsibilities.
Kat: The players have, I’m going to assume, been instructed by their media and PR teams to not answer any questions about it. The Winnipeg Jets released a PR statement; I saw that this morning as a press release basically saying, ‘Hey, we’re not going to answer any questions right now, regarding Kevin Cheveldayoff and his position in the 2010 management. He has a meeting with Gary Bettman, we’ll go from here.’
Kat: So they [the NHL] are trying their best to minimize the damage that they basically caused themselves 10 years ago. The team was also fined $2 million, which sounds like a lot until you realize that the CEO is valued at over 500 million, and there are active NHL players whose contracts far exceed $2 million. So it’s really a slap on the wrist. And even then that is pennies.
Kat: And Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane and other members of that 2010 team are still pretending they didn’t know at the time. Jonathan Toews said he found out that off-season, Patrick Kane said he found out much later. We know that is highly probable to be unlikely.
Kat: And so, that also speaks to the question of why are they continuing to spread a false narrative of their own position within this. It could be a problem within the locker room. I think it speaks to the locker room culture that this [the known sexual assault of a team member by staff] did not tear apart the team as you would expect.
Sam: This wasn’t in the press conference, but there have also been reports that members of the team did, in some ways, verbally haze Beach, implying that Aldrich was his boyfriend and things like that. And so when you hear those types of things, it’s incredibly disappointing, just in general, right. But it makes you kind of wonder why these allegations weren’t taken seriously and why in a way, they were laughed off.
Sam: I’m not suggesting that this is normal in the league, that sexual assault like this is happening everywhere. But it is very suspicious to me that this wasn’t more alarming for others, and that other players weren’t more concerned for their safety.
Sam: I think sexual assault in general, we have, a lot of people have the ‘Well, it’s not going to be me’ type of attitude. And it’s just so interesting to me that other players weren’t even concerned about themselves and their own safety. It’s the culture, it’s very toxic, in a way. And I think we’re kind of seeing that, from the players to the organization to the league.
Kat: Absolutely. And I think what is so important to understand here is that Kyle Beach did everything right. He reported it multiple times, to SafeSport included, he took it to management, he trusted the people in power, like the NHLPA who are contractually obligated to have his back. And even though he did that, he was still ignored and disparaged as a liar.
Sam: And really, the only job of the NHLPA is to keep the players safe and advocate for the players. And, unfortunately, they failed to do their only job here. And so I don’t think there’s any other option, except for that the NHLPA is going to have to redesign itself to actually keep the players safe, and not just be a façade, or a Band-Aid on the problem. They didn’t do their only job and that’s really, really unfortunate. And it’s going to have to change. Otherwise, why are they even here? They might as well just work for the league themselves.
Kat: And honestly, it seems like they do. And it kind of brings us to where we’re at now, which is a sort of turning point, I think, in hockey culture and in the industry, where we’re really having to question how we protect players and how we can improve our systems, because it’s very obvious that in 2010, whatever systems were in place, didn’t work.
Kat: And I don’t think in the decade or so it’s been since then, the systems in place have really improved. So what can we do?
Kat: I think it starts with the league. They have to talk to their players about what resources and support they need, because you can’t accurately anticipate the needs of a community if you don’t work with them directly. There needs to be a dialogue between them, and then I think there needs to be some sort of third party government body to hold the league and franchises accountable, because the NHL policing the NHL has proven to be ineffective and problematic, and that’s why we’re seeing such a stark lack of real consequences and repercussions for their actions.
Sam: Especially considering that what they did was criminal! I mean, obviously, ethically wrong, morally wrong, but criminal as well. And I’m very interested to see if there will be a criminal case. But only time really will tell how far that will extend, but criminal to say the least.
Kat: And there needs to be a third party reporting group right for actual players so they can feel safe to report instances of sexual assault and abuse within their organizations and access support and resources. Kyle Beach reported it to the NHLPA and SafeSport and nothing happened. And because of imbalanced power dynamics in a culture of silence, players are understandably uncomfortable reporting directly to a group within their organization. Especially because those groups have proven to not do anything at all to help them.
Sam: I will also say there’s nothing fun about having to admit that you’ve been sexually assaulted or harassed. Especially not when you need to go to someone you look up to, someone you are close to, someone who controls your salary, controls your ice time, controls your life. There’s nothing easy about that. And I think the idea of having that third party makes it easier to be transparent, because there isn’t that power dynamic of ‘you having control over me, and my job and my livelihood.’ I think that’s really important.
Kat: I mean, just in the last episode, we talked about Jack Eichel, and how he can’t even get the surgery that he wants. So we really have to remember that this is such a unique position with a really specific set of pressures and stresses within this community. And that makes it extremely difficult for players to advocate for themselves and access help, especially in circumstances such as these, when the perpetrator of the crime is directly within that organization in that community.
Kat: It is so, so difficult. And so we really need to streamline the reporting process and make it clearer and more accessible for players. Because the way that it’s set up right now, not only doesn’t work, but it’s also, I think, probably really emotionally traumatic.
Sam: And I think it’s very obvious just after this alone, that there is no trust there. I can’t imagine a lot of players right now in the NHL, really feeling comfortable with their players association, after this, with the way this was handled for 10 years. I mean, 10 years is a really, really long time. And I feel like there’s going to be a lot of stress between the PA and the players.
Sam: Because, like I said, I know I’m repeating myself a bit here; they didn’t do the only thing that they’re there to do. And they’re going to have to change, they have no option to because, you know, Beach even said this himself, he wasn’t the first and he’s not going to be the last. And so players need to know that they have a safe space, God forbid something like this happens to them in the future.
Kat: Exactly. And as we’re wrapping up this episode, this obviously isn’t a conversation that stops here.
Sam: It was incredibly empowering to see the unwavering support that Kyle Beach has had, not only from the hockey community, but from athletes all over the world. And so I think if we keep supporting one another, and we keep listening to one another, and hearing the stories and actively trying to change for the better, this culture can be something beautiful and amazing and exciting, and enjoyable. But that’s not going to happen until we start having these conversations and we listen with empathy.
Kat: Exactly. We can’t change hockey culture, unless we advocate for change. And so now the next step for all of us, is to recognize that we’re all feeling the same way. We’re all upset, and frustrated, we’re angry, we’re betrayed. And now it’s about channeling that emotion into actionable change.
Kat: So this is where I want to leave you all today, where I think we’re left ourselves. And that’s asking: how do we break the cycle of systemic sexual abuse and assault in the NHL? And, perhaps more importantly, how do we protect our players?