It is no secret that the social climate of 2021 has become much more open and inviting for people sharing stories of past abuses they have endured. In my opinion, this is a positive trend, but that is obviously a topic for another time.
I bring this up because as a lifelong fan of the National Hockey League, I have become increasingly disgusted in the lack of care I have seen for players in the league. As a kid, I always grew up watching games and consuming the league’s content, completely unaware that there were multiple scandals being swept under the rug by the league’s owners, executives and even coaches, who have allowed abuses to go unchecked.
If you do not follow the NHL or do not keep up on news in professional sports, I can break down what I am alluding to fairly simply: in 2010, the year that the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, an anonymous sexual assault scandal was brought to the team, with the abused party being referred to as “John Doe”. In the last week of October 2021, former Blackhawks player Kyle Beach revealed himself as the anonymous character in this case, stating that he was raped in the days before the championship parade by the team’s video coach Brad Aldrich.
Yes, 11 years later. You read that correctly.
It gets worse. The allegations against Aldrich, at the time, were shaken off, and he was allowed to continue his work with the team. Only days after the incident, he was free to hoist the Stanley Cup during the parade and celebrate with the whole city of Chicago.
Recently, the allegations have been piling up, with both a high school player as well as another anonymous NHL player suing the Blackhawks for Aldrich’s actions, which, according to an article by the New York Times, included threats of violence as well as damaging or ruining the players’ careers.
Beach went through more than anyone could imagine. In an interview with TSN only a few days after revealing his involvement in the case, Beach was told that he was at fault because he put himself in the situation, and even added that everyone in the locker room knew that the assault had happened. He stated that the case worked its way up to the front office, who shook off the rumors and deemed them meritless. Former general manager Stan Bowman resigned last week, likely because he felt as though he would’ve lost his job either way with his lack of attention to the case.
Teammates like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, the latter who has been captain of the Blackhawks since the 2008-09 season, never addressed the problem until now. In the same interview, Toews calls Bowman a good person but also addresses the fact that he wished he did more as captain at the time.
You might know me as the disgruntled New York Rangers fan who argued that Tom Wilson should’ve faced stricter punishment for an extremely aggressive hit and that the Rangers should not have gotten a much larger fine for simply calling the league to fix the problem last season. Basically, I argued that the league’s commissioner, Gary Bettman, handled the situation incorrectly; yet again, months later, I find him using his power in the wrong way.
How is he misusing his power this time? By fining the Blackhawks organization a measly two million dollars for the “inadequate” and “untimely” response to the situation back in 2010. I mean, I send my respect to the league for recognizing that there exists a problem, but only $2 million to an established professional sports franchise is pocket change; rookies in the NHL can make more than that off of their first contract alone.
The fact that he mismanaged both an extreme player safety violation (by basically siding with the wrongdoer), and now is currently working through a much more serious (and might I add, ignored) sexual assault case feels like good enough evidence to me that it might be time for a culture change.
According to an article posted by NBC Chicago, the Blackhawks organization released a public statement apologizing for their previous inaction. They stated:
“First, we would like to acknowledge and commend Kyle Beach’s courage in coming forward. As an organization, the Chicago Blackhawks reiterate our deepest apologies to him for what he has gone through, and for the organization’s failure to promptly respond when he bravely brought this matter to light in 2010. It was inexcusable for the then-executives of the Blackhawks organization to delay taking action regarding the reported sexual misconduct. No playoff game or championship is more important than protecting our players and staff from predatory behavior.”
Thankfully, some change was recognized by the NHL, who, according to an article by NBC Sports, recently X’ed out Aldrich’s name on the Stanley Cup under where the winners of the 2009-10 season are located.
What the Blackhawks did in 2010 was inexcusable and wrong, and it has served as a wake-up call to the entire league that sexual assault cases like this will no longer be tolerated by the NHL’s executives. But, in my eyes, the current delayed action of the league is beginning to worry me, as I feel like if other players are going through a similar situation, they may be hesitant to act until the league comes to a decision on the Aldrich investigation, and time is of the essence. Time was a massive factor in the way Beach’s assault case played out, and with 11 years of silence, there is no doubt that this took a serious mental toll on him.
We cannot wait any longer; it’s time for action. I think that the National Hockey League is in desperate need of a change of culture, however that may be done. I am not necessarily calling for the resignation of anyone, but I feel as though there should be younger and more rationally minded people in the league’s positions of power, whatever level of power that might be.
This would not only allow the league to be more mindful of players’ mental health, but it would support a much more open stream of dialogue between the upper-level managers of the league and the players themselves who may have problems that need to be addressed. If Beach was surrounded by a group of individuals who are more in touch with our modern-day ways of thinking, it seems as though his case would have been swiftly addressed, given the social climate of today’s generation.
Another way of handling a culture change would be serious fines or restrictions placed on certain teams. Making a franchise have to pay heaping sums of money for their inaction to keep their players safe would likely teach them a lesson (hopefully more than $2 million). Suspending or dropping coaches, managers and organization executives that allow for a culture of assault to take place, to begin with, would likely help set the NHL on a better path as well; a path towards safety and solace in the locker room.
There are multiple ways to go about a culture change in the league, but I feel like the best place to start would be on the ground level with the players themselves. Team captains creating a comfortable locker room culture is no different than a CEO creating a comfortable company culture; they are vested with the power to delegate and make the important decisions on behalf of everyone else.
Once the problem is worked out on that level, then players would likely feel more comfortable sticking up for their teammates and advocating for their safety with the team executives. If more players feel comfortable rallying for the safety of themselves and their teammates, then owners, presidents and everyone in the front office will have the opportunity to act and create change. The sad reality is that this did not happen with the Blackhawks in 2010, but hopefully going forward the culture is changed from the ground up with all teams so that they can have a safe and positive NHL experience.
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