Colour Commentary: The NHL mismanagement of the Kyle Beach case

Though admitting their fault for not doing a proper investigation when the event occurred during the 2010 playoffs, the NHL should still be held accountable for their actions

It’s no surprise to anyone that a sports league’s best interest to stay viable and out of the negative spotlight is to have the most squeaky-clean record as possible. From contractual dispute allegations to concussion protocol, the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) is supposed to represent the players when a serious problem occurs. The sole purpose of creating the NHLPA was to have the player’s best interests in mind.

However, the NHL, NHLPA, and the Chicago Blackhawks’ handling of the Kyle Beach sexual assault allegations is nothing short of disappointing for not only the league, but professional sports altogether.

The sexual assault investigation that unfolded graphically depicting the events that took place in 2010 from May 23 to June 14 created a conundrum of he-said-she-said between some permanent and former Blackhawks staff.

The fact of the matter is that both the NHL and NHLPA want this issue to not attain more spotlight than it has already garnered. Ten years ago, this problem came to the attention of not only the Blackhawks front office but the NHLPA as well. Both the team and players’ association did nothing to resolve the situation at the time, failing to acknowledge the potential consequences this would have on the future of the league. Originally listed as John Doe, Beach bravely exposed his identity to place a face to the sexual abuse survivor.

No investigation was established, no aforementioned enquiries made, and no final verdict ever shared. Brad Aldrich was given the freedom to resign and pack his bags to another city, confidently handing out letters of recommendation written by seniors in the Blackhawks organization hence getting a position in the USA hockey program five months after resigning.

Upon interviewing all active parties in the 107-page report, a meeting within the organization was held to discuss the handling of the sexual allegations. Due to the Blackhawks’ chances of winning the Stanley Cup that year, the issue was tossed under the rug in the hopes that the truth would never re-emerge to the surface.

The precariousness for a 21-year-old player is baffling, especially at this level of sport. How does someone succumbing to a horrible experience committed by a member in a position of power get trumped due to the sole fact of winning a Stanley Cup?

An excerpt from the report reads: “it was decided that the group would not alert Human Resources or do anything about the incident during the playoffs so as not to disturb team chemistry.”

That year, the Blackhawks won the Cup, though Aldrich resigned after the playoffs — knowing well what he did, the Blackhawks allowed Aldrich to parade around the city of Chicago hoisting the cup like nothing ever happened.

The question that should be seriously highlighted is why this allegation got tossed under the rug by the league? The proven negligence from the NHL resulted in Aldrich finding a new job and led him to sexually assaulting a minor hockey player. Luckily, that incident did not go unnoticed, resulting in Aldrich receiving a nine-month prison sentence, and five years’ probation.

According to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, the league takes sexual misconduct very seriously. Though they may be telling the truth, their mishandling of the situation proves otherwise as it seems that they’re trying to silence the narrative and keep things quiet in order to protect the well-being of the league.

For example, in a press conference held online by Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly, Rick Westhead, the investigative journalist who broke the scandal, only got a chance to ask questions after other reporters highlighted that issue, despite the fact that many reporters had a chance to ask follow-ups 40 minutes into the webcam press conference.

Though the NHL is adamant that this issue should never happen and that they would provide all the necessary resources possible for future players, why would they try and silence the person who would know about the situation the most? How good are the resources they’re providing?

When Beach brought the situation to the attention of former Blackhawks mental skills coach Jim Gary, Beach alleged that in the meeting Gary partially placed blame on him for the incident that had transpired. When a confidant to Beach brought it to the attention of NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr, other than assigning a therapist, the NHLPA did not act on the matter.

An internal investigation is set to take place regarding the NHLPA’s mishandling of the Beach case. This newly sanctioned internal investigation provides no solace for Beach or the underage victim. It’s a way for the league to save face, promoting to the public as a responsible association acknowledging what they haven’t done. If the NHLPA or the league for that matter really cared, Beach‘s experience with a former video coach would have been properly received and been attended to upon acknowledgement.

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