On June 20th, 2008, my son and I went to what was then called Scotiabank Place, to watch the first round of the NHL draft.
Of course, the highlight of that night, as a member of Sens Nation, was the 15th overall selection. The Senators traded up from 18 to 15 with Nashville to make the pick and Daniel Alfredsson came to the podium to announce the selection of Erik Karlsson of Frolunda Sweden. It was a magical moment in Sens Nation history.
Four picks earlier, the Chicago Blackhawks selected Kyle Beach, a left winger from the Everett Silvertips. Most serious Sens Nation hockey fans could tell you, without looking, that Steven Stamkos went #1 and Drew Doughty went #2. Some may even know Zach Bogosian went #3 and Alex Pietrangelo went #4.
After that, you’re in Pierre McGuire territory until #15.
Before that day, I had never heard of Kyle Beach and I never thought about him again after he left the stage.
Now here we are 13+ years later, Kyle Beach is one of the most recognizable names in hockey circles and it’s for all the wrong reasons. I suppose you could say it’s for all the right reasons as well.
However, instead of celebrating a career in the NHL that he was within sight of achieving, we are cringing at the content of the report commissioned by the Law Firm of Jenner & Block that senior partner, Reid Schar, read to the public. It was a report that outlined how a 20 year old aspiring hockey player, with the world by the tail, was sexually assaulted by then video coach, Brad Aldrich, while he was skating as a Black Ace in the spring of 2010.
The report tells of how he sought remedy from his employer whose brain trust ultimately chose to protect the mothership and their Stanley Cup aspirations rather than giving his complaint the time and urgency it deserved.
It’s worth nothing the Blackhawks playoff run ultimately culminated with a Stanley Cup championship, a ring on Brad Aldrich’s finger, Aldrich’s name on the Cup and this predator being given the privilege of taking the Cup to his hometown and display it at a high school. Kyle Beach received none of those honours. In fact, in addition to not getting his complaint taken seriously, we have heard that he continued to skate with the team and be around a toxic environment where he was subjected to homophobic taunting from players on the Blackhawks roster.
The Philadelphia Flyers most likely enjoyed the Stanley Cup Finals more than Beach did and they lost.
Beach never ended up playing a single NHL game with Chicago or anywhere else. After this incident, he toiled for the three full seasons with Chicago’s AHL affiliate in Rockford before becoming a journeyman player throughout Europe where he still plays today. A kid who was thought highly enough of to be a Black Ace during the 2010 Cup run got not one call up from the parent team in three seasons.
As if that weren’t enough, Beach did the most gut-wrenching live interview on Sports Centre with correspondent, Rick Westhead. The memory of that interview will be seared into our brains for the foreseeable future as we watch the fallout from this tragic story unfold. For those who haven’t seen it, here it is.
There have already been casualties inside and outside the Blackhawks organization. No one from senior leadership at the time of the incident was going to remain with the team. This includes, most notably, Stan Bowman, who was in his first season as General Manager at the time of the incident. Bowman was set to lead the USA hockey team in the Beijing Olympics in 2022. That won’t happen either. Of course, 11 years have passed since the incident and most have moved on from the team to other roles. Joel Quenneville has resigned from his position as head coach of the Florida Panthers while Assistant General Manager, Kevin Chevaldayoff is staying on as the Winnipeg Jets GM despite having a meeting with Commissioner Gary Bettman.
Remaining players from that Cup run such as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith (now in Edmonton) have hidden behind the “Plausible Deniability” rhetoric. Time will tell if that will be enough to protect them.
The purpose of this article isn’t to tell you what you already know but rather to take a 35,000 foot view of this incident and what it says about society. Hopefully, this story will shine a light on the larger issue facing the sports world and world at large. If it only serves to fix the Chicago Blackhawks organization, that would be a shame. Of course, the one person who needs to be made whole, and most likely never will be, is Kyle Beach. What he has endured is not a stain on his psyche but rather an irremovable tattoo. Whatever financial remuneration or endless support he gets from this will never undo what was done to him.
This story shows how the following expressions have become culture in professional sports and society:
See No Evil, Hear No Evil, Speak No Evil.
What happens in the dressing room, stays in the dressing room.
Don’t be the tip on someone else’s spear.
The Chicago Blackhawks organization was so embroiled in what they were after, they honestly believed that handling this situation would threaten their chances of winning the Stanley Cup by causing a distraction. Quenneville was worried about the chemistry of the team. Do any of you believe that? Beach wasn’t even on the team. Are we to believe that putting the video coach on leave while the team continued its run – to put distance between Aldrich and Kyle Beach for the duration of the playoffs – would have jeopardized anything? Aldrich was that instrumental? There was no one else in the organization who could have handled the video responsibilities? The press probably wouldn’t have even noticed that Aldrich wasn’t around unless they were told. For some reason, some very successful coaches and executives decided to protect a video coach at the risk of jeopardizing their own careers and legacies. It makes me wonder if there is something we still don’t know despite this extensive probe into the organization.
I won’t dabble in conjecture. In the end, it’s irrelevant who the predator or prey were. I am just pointing out the absurdity of the logic that was in play at the time. It points to a bigger societal issue.
The expressions above are not exclusive to professional sports either. In society today, the focus has become so much on getting the job done and achieving the next milestone in our own careers, that we have become blind to other people and things around us. I would agree the stakes are much higher in professional sports than in most organizations given the money involved and the profile. However, it’s not hard to see how people, in every walk of life, would rely on those expressions as a reason to not do what’s right.
I can’t be the only person in Sens Nation who has seen, firsthand, how organizations and people within them make their decisions to do what’s right based on the potential impacts to their own self-interests or those of their loved ones.
Memories tend to get foggy when telling the truth when someone who may be instrumental to our own careers is in a pickle of his or her own making. People tend to take a reactive approach to telling the truth, doing so only when forced to. Most human resource policies obligate reporting of behaviour that violates their guidelines. However, no one likes to be a snitch if they don’t have to be and proving what someone knew or didn’t know without corroboration usually provides someone with those two keys words: PLAUSIBLE DENIABILITY.
Taking it out of the working world, this type of behaviour is not uncommon in the minor sports world where people are routinely sold on the dream and the pyramid of narcissistic politics is allowed to form. I, myself, tried to address an issue by going to the sources and was promptly gaslighted about recollection of events and who was telling the truth. The whole thing was futile and to protect my own kid, I took the less confrontational route in the future only to end up in the same place. None of this uncommon.
What is uncommon is vindication for the victim. I would wager most transgressions go unpunished.
This incident may be uncharted waters for the NHL. However, it is not for professional sports and the world at large.
The Me Too Movement illustrated – and continues to illustrate – how people in higher circles (Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein, R Kelly, Bill Cosby and Michael Jackson) either avoided accountability altogether or had it delayed well beyond its due date. They did so through not only access to better resources, but also the indifference of others who were too absorbed in their own dreams to risk helping someone else in need.
In the Alpha-Male world of the National Football League, Richie Incognito, an offensive lineman with the Miami Dolphins from 2010 to 2013, was involved in a bullying/harassment controversy. Incognito was the primary offender in a case of bullying a fellow teammate of his, Jonathan Martin. He had accomplices. However, Incognito was the leader of the pack and the incident caused Martin to walk away from the team and a full inquiry into the incident was done by an independent law firm. Martin walked away from the team and never played for them again. As a result of the report, Incognito was suspended by the Dolphins and ultimately never played for them again.
Sound like justice?
It might if Incognito weren’t still an active player in the NFL today and Martin had not retired in 2015 having never fully recovered mentally from the incident. Despite being fully aware of what Incognito had done to a fellow employee, three other teams since 2014 have seen fit to employ him.
Of course, the Dolphins didn’t sweep the incident away once Martin left the team. They launched a full investigation and the report showed Martin was taunted in front of his teammates in the locker room and on the field. No one was trying to hide what was happening. There were witnesses everywhere and nothing was done until Martin couldn’t take it anymore. Maybe, if Kyle Beach had walked away from the Blackhawks in the spring of 2010, something might have been done then. I am not criticizing his choice of actions. He was 20 years old and could taste his dream coming true. The point is this: a person shouldn’t have to take those kinds of drastic actions to be taken seriously.
The report that was commissioned would have seemed far more heroic if it were ordered by the Dolphins before Martin walked away from the team because someone did the right thing at the right time.
Instead, people saw no evil, heard no evil and spoke no evil. What was happening in the dressing room stayed in the dressing room. No one was willing to be the tip on Jonathan Martin’s spear.
We could go on all day about predators like Larry Nassar and Jerry Sandusky who benefitted from the indifference or cover up from the likes of Lou Anna K. Simon and Joe Paterno. What is hopefully learned from these incidents is that, eventually, these things come to a boil. The question becomes do you want to bring it to a boil or forget the pot is on the stove until it starts to squeal?
If you choose to See No Evil, Hear No Evil and Speak No Evil; if you choose to leave it in the locker room; if you are not willing to be the tip on someone else’s spear in their time of need because they are too afraid or unable to do so for themselves, you will eventually answer for it when those you don’t speak out about come crashing down.
There is no statute of limitations in the court of public opinion. If the last thing people remember about you is what you did or, more importantly, didn’t do in the aftermath of someone's despicable act, it will be the first thing they think of when your name comes up. Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville were synonymous with winning and excellence in the world of hockey. Those won’t be the synonyms that get used any time soon.
It’s also worth remembering it is the right thing to do. I will leave you with this quote which I have not always lived up to in my life. It is, however, worth aspiring to. It applies specifically to this case and others we may hear of in the not-too-distant future.
“Never be afraid to do what’s right. Society’s punishments are small compared to the scars that we leave on our own souls when we look the other way.” – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
By Pat Maguire | Sens Nation Hockey