Some moments open things up, and this was one. On Wednesday night, Kyle Beach was on TV trying not to cry, trying to tell the truth, trying to apologize for something that wasn’t his fault. As a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks player, he was allegedly sexually assaulted by a video coach, and in a devastating interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead, he came forward. Before he did, before the team-commissioned report that exposed some of the flaws, the alleged assault on Beach and another player had been buried for 11 years.
“There is a culture of silence in hockey. This is how the system has created its individuals to respond, ”said Sheldon Kennedy. He spent the day on his Alberta farm, on a tractor, between phone interviews. People call him when something like this happens, because it happened to him. He defended himself for 23 years.
“Everything is familiar,” Kennedy said.
It is, because it is hockey and more than hockey. Beach was allegedly assaulted during the 2010 playoffs. She reported it to the team. According to the report commissioned and released by the Blackhawks, Chicago’s leadership met after the team advanced to the Stanley Cup final: team president John McDonough, director of hockey administration Al MacIsaac, general manager Stan Bowman, Vice President Jay Blunk, Assistant General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and Coach Joel Quenneville. They are some of the revered men in the game. They claim they were only nonspecifically informed of the allegations, but declined to find out more. They decided that this was not the time to address it.
The team did not file a police report. It was reported to the NHLPA. Three weeks after Chicago won the Cup, Bradley Aldrich was allowed to resign; Quenneville wrote a positive performance review. Aldrich went on to assault a 16-year-old in Houghton, Michigan, while serving as a hockey coach there. Before leaving the Blackhawks, Aldrich was allowed to be a part of the championship parade and have his day with the Stanley Cup and his day in the championship parade.
So Beach talked about how his teammates started using homophobic slurs, how he devoured everything for years, how his mom cried because she didn’t protect him, how she failed because she didn’t protect the 16-year-old. And in the span of an hour, you could see his beardless face trying not to fall apart on TSN, and then see Quenneville as a gloomy coach for his 969th career win in front of a slew of fans in Sunrise, Florida. Because Commissioner Gary Bettman promised to speak to him tomorrow. It was so utterly and predictably embarrassing. It was hockey.
Kennedy knew everything by heart. When Graham James took advantage of him, Theo Fleury, and others throughout all those years, the culture of silence and reverence for the game is part of what made it possible. It is the same dynamic that you see in USA Gymnastics or in the Catholic Church. When the institution is more important than the people in it, leadership is needed to preserve them.
So look at the leadership in hockey, everything. Beach reported the incident to the team. Nothing happened. NHLPA president Don Fehr knew it, according to Beach. Nothing happened. The NHL declined to investigate last summer, according to Beach; USA Hockey, where Bowman was the general manager of the USA team Until the report was released, he also declined an investigation. Directors buried this deep underground for a decade, and 37 people refused to cooperate with the Chicago investigation, as did Notre Dame, where Aldrich was a coach. Meanwhile, Cheveldayoff is the general manager of a Winnipeg Jets franchise that claims to be a mainstay of the community, and Quenneville was able to coach.
The Blackhawks buried this story for a fucking video coach, and the head coach wrote him a good review of his performance, and no one said anything. Hockey has a lot of problems and a lot of silence. This should shake some of the rotten pillars of this game, and hard.
“I’ve seen so many of them that I don’t have much hope that everything will be done perfectly,” Kennedy says. “These issues have to do with leadership, and for culture change, it’s about leadership. There is a systemic nature of silence in hockey, and that is what has to change. It is not just the victims who are afraid to speak up. Look at everyone around that whole situation who didn’t say anything, who didn’t speak. How do we create trust and a clear path for those people to say something and know that they will be heard and independent?
“This is too familiar. And what’s familiar here is that the answer has been archaic, and I mean, this is the way they would have tried to answer in 1998 when I introduced myself. Do not say anything. This is how they approached these issues: Say nothing. That’s the family part, and that’s what they tried to do. “
There were a few exceptions: former players Brent Sopel and Nick Boynton, and scout Paul Vincent. Hockey speaks a lot about brotherhood, courage and character. They exemplified it.
Beach too. You should look at the interview. And take a moment to Westhead, who worked at this newspaper for a long time before TSN. Her 14-year-old son Carter has battled lymphoma this year; They were in and out of SickKids this week. This was not an easy job, in the sense of the word.
In a way, it’s everyone’s fault. Winning is the most important thing: that is what generates the most glory, what attracts more eyes, what generates more money. Collateral damage is more or less assumed and often ignored in sports, although less and less. The NFL is withholding 650,000 emails as part of a report on sexual harassment and a toxic culture within the Washington soccer team, and a small portion of those emails saw the Oakland Raiders coach fired. USA Gymnastics had faced an incomplete reckoning over the sexual assault of its athletes by Larry Nassar. Women’s football is finally facing a dynamic of abuse.
And hockey dragged a mangled man under his big rug, but he was braver than they were, and now the questions of who knew what and when must be asked and answered, including the leaders of the game. Some things open a world. It happened again in hockey.
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