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The Blackhawks’ Past and Present Actions Show That Hockey Always Matters Most

The team brass’s handling of Kyle Beach’s report in 2010 showed that they valued winning above all else. And even today, after 11 years and a lengthy investigation, that attitude seems to persist. 

Watch the interview, if you can.

The black-and-white text of interview transcripts, investigative documents, and media reports lends an air of clarity and certitude to the situation between the Blackhawks and John Doe—now known to be former Chicago player Kyle Beach, who came forward Wednesday night. But a dispassionate, clinical recounting of events doesn’t always tell the whole story.

Here are the facts: This May 7, Beach filed a lawsuit against the team, which said that in 2010 then-video coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted him and a teammate during Chicago’s Stanley Cup run, and that the team ignored Beach’s account. In response, the Blackhawks commissioned law firm Jenner & Block to investigate the charges, and the firm put partner Reid Schar, a former federal prosecutor, on the case.

Schar released his findings Tuesday in a 69-page-plus-appendices report, which is available to the public. The report states that on May 8 or 9, 2010, Aldrich and Beach, who was 20 years old at the time and just out of junior hockey, had a sexual encounter. Aldrich said that it was consensual. Beach said that it was not. Beach told investigators that Aldrich did more than just threaten physical violence against him unless he engaged in the act. According to the report, he said Aldrich told him he “needed to act like he enjoyed the sexual encounter or [he] would never play in the NHL ‘or walk’ again.”

Two weeks after the incident, Blackhawks senior director of hockey administration Al MacIsaac ordered team counselor and mental skills coach Jim Gary to find out from Beach what exactly had happened. Gary spoke to Beach and came away convinced that Aldrich at the very least had used his professional position to pressure Beach to have sex with him. Later that day, May 23, MacIsaac, Gary, and five other senior members of the organization met to discuss the situation. Those five men included team president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff (now the GM of the Winnipeg Jets), and head coach Joel Quenneville (who went on to coach the Florida Panthers).

During that meeting, according to Schar’s interviews, “McDonough and Quenneville made comments about the challenge of getting to the Stanley Cup finals and a desire to focus on the team and the playoffs” rather than reckon with what had happened to Beach. The exact nature of that meeting’s conclusion is unknown, but according to Bowman, McDonough said that he’d handle things moving forward as the highest-ranking person in the room. Between that meeting on May 23 and the Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup win on June 9, the team did nothing. On June 10, after a team celebration party, Aldrich reportedly made a sexual advance on a 22-year-old team intern, “physically touching” the intern without consent.

It wasn’t until June 14 that McDonough finally informed the team’s human resources director about the allegations against Aldrich, and he excused the three-week delay by saying the group didn’t want to “disturb team chemistry.” Two days later, the HR director gave Aldrich a choice: submit to an investigation or resign. Aldrich chose the latter. He still got his name engraved on the Stanley Cup, received the traditional host day with the Cup in his hometown, and received a salary from the Blackhawks for several months afterward, along with severance and a playoff bonus.

Aldrich went on to continue his coaching career for three more seasons at the collegiate and high school levels, as well as a stint with USA Hockey. He left a position at Miami of Ohio in 2012; a separate investigation this September found that he sexually assaulted two men during his tenure there. In 2013, Aldrich was arrested and charged with two counts of criminal sexual conduct while working as a volunteer coach at Houghton High School in Michigan. Aldrich pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a minor and served nine months in jail. There is no record that the Blackhawks mentioned Aldrich’s conduct, or his reason for leaving the team, to his future employers.

After Aldrich left the Blackhawks in 2010, his actions with Beach and the still-unnamed teammate—who says he received explicit text messages from Aldrich but did not have a sexual encounter with him—became an open secret within the team. According to Schar’s report, both players found themselves on the receiving end of cruel homophobic jokes on the ice and in the dressing room. It wasn’t until Beach filed a lawsuit 11 years later that any of this came to light.

That’s the historical record, in black and white. It is horrifying. It is damning. Now go and watch the interview.

On Wednesday evening, Beach appeared on TSN’s SportsCentre for a 25-minute sit-down with reporter Rick Westhead. At 6-foot-3, with shoulders so broad they barely fit into the TV frame, Beach has the stature of a quintessential hockey player. He was drafted 11th by the Blackhawks in 2008, and it’s easy to see why. That season in the rough-and-tumble Western Hockey League, Beach scored 60 points in 60 games while also registering 222 penalty minutes. He impressed again in the 2009-10 season, scoring another 52 goals in 68 WHL games. Hockey teams spend years combing the earth for players with his combination of skill and toughness—and the professional ceiling for that kind of prospect is somewhere between 10-year NHL regular and cult hero.

Remember the facts on the record, then, as you watch Beach and Westhead talk. As this professional ass-kicker only barely avoids breaking down sobbing while explaining how his encounter with Aldrich, and the team’s lack of action afterward, shaped the next decade of his life—a decade in which he would suffer from depression and substance abuse, and play in zero regular-season NHL games. As Westhead practically whispers question after question, almost as if his own voice could shatter the delicate bond of trust that helped Beach to come forward and put his name to the story.

Beach says he was violated by someone in a position of power over him. He says he asked for help from people he thought he could trust. And he says he found that he was more alone than he could ever have imagined.

“When they won, to see [Aldrich] paraded around lifting the Cup, at the team pictures, at celebrations, it made me feel like nothing. It made me feel like I didn’t exist,” Beach told Westhead. “It made me feel that I wasn’t important, and it made me feel like he was in the right and I was wrong. That’s also what Doc Gary told me, that it was my fault because I put myself in that situation.”

Beach not only had to endure the persistent trauma of the event itself, but also the immense betrayal and abandonment of those who could have helped him. Gary didn’t step in; Quenneville didn’t; Bowman didn’t; McDonough didn’t. Nor did his teammates, or NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr, who Beach says did not act after he reported the assault to the union. (After Beach criticized Fehr in his interview, the union boss issued an apology, calling the union’s inaction “a serious failure.”)

Midway through Wednesday’s interview, Westhead asked Beach about two members of the 2010 Blackhawks—Nick Boynton and Brent Sopel—who corroborated his story and said everyone in the locker room knew about the assault at the time, even though nobody came forward.

“I haven’t spoken to either of them since the last time I would’ve run into them at a training camp. … But for those individuals who came forward early on with absolutely nothing to gain, they’re heroes to me,” Beach said. “They really are. Because when I was alone, I was afraid and I was scared, I didn’t think I could turn to anyone.”

Boynton and Sopel’s corroboration is in contrast to several other members of the 2010 Blackhawks core, most notably the team’s two remaining stars from the period: Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Toews has maintained he didn’t find out about the incident between Beach and Aldrich until the following training camp, by which time Aldrich was already gone. Kane, who in a postgame interview on Wednesday said he and Beach had been friends at the time, said he only found out Beach was John Doe when he showed up on TSN.

The morning after Beach’s interview, Shawn Lalonde—who, like Beach, was a Blackhawks reserve squad member during the 2010 postseason—told Finnish media that he thinks the whole team knew. An unnamed 2010 Blackhawks player also told The Athletic in June, “Every guy on the team knew about it. Every single guy on the team knew.”

For 11 years, they knew—to say nothing of Quenneville, Bowman, McDonough, and the rest of management. And for 11 years, they sat on that knowledge and allowed Beach to suffer in silence.

Why? Why inflict such an indignity on one of their own, changing the course of his life and career irrevocably? Why let a predator go on to commit multiple further assaults, including one against a minor? Why, when dealing with the situation immediately would have cost the team nothing? If McDonough had alerted HR the next day, and Aldrich had been placed on leave pending an investigation, would a single person outside the team have noticed? Was there nobody else the organization could bring in to cut video? Could Quenneville, one of the most successful hockey coaches who ever lived, not have been able to prevent the locker room from descending into anarchy?

Nobody considered these questions; if they had, at least one person among the dozens who knew would have acted. The intense focus on hockey—and specifically winning the Stanley Cup—prevented the leaders in the organization from taking action. And the tragedies of this story only compound as the downstream effects become profoundly clear.

Leaders in sports are faced with complicated ethical decisions every day. This was not one of them. Those involved will never face a situation in which the right thing to do is more obvious or easier to accomplish; seldom, if ever, will they face a situation in which doing the wrong thing has the potential to cause more harm. And still they chose to cover it up. They betrayed one of their own in a time of dire need.

Today, the intense focus on hockey—specifically building and protecting the team brand—prevents a new generation of Blackhawks leaders from showing a shred of humanity. Concurrently with the release of Schar’s report on Tuesday, Bowman and MacIsaac stepped down, and the NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million. Punishment meted out, the organization wants to move on with a clean slate.

From boardroom to locker room, the Blackhawks have shed crocodile tears for Beach’s plight, and tried as hard as they could to pin the blame on people who have left the organization. When Blackhawks announcer Pat Foley delivered his pregame introduction before Wednesday’s contest against Toronto, mere minutes after Beach’s interview ended, he said, “It was a tough day for the Hawks. Not nearly as tough as what Kyle Beach has had to deal with since 2010.” Foley took pains to stress that, with Bowman and MacIsaac out the door, the team has a new management structure, implying that the team has eliminated its bad actors and is now morally clean as the driven snow.

The team’s official response to Beach’s interview included praise for Beach’s bravery and an apology for the organization’s failure to act. And it ended by driving home that same point: That the team’s current leaders aren’t the same men who orchestrated the cover-up.

Toews, Kane, and head coach Jeremy Colliton all expressed sympathy for Beach on Wednesday night. They also praised the men who’d refused to protect him.

“I have a lot of respect for them as people. They’re good people,” Toews said of MacIsaac and Bowman. Colliton called Bowman “a great mentor,” and said, “I feel bad for him, obviously.” Kane called Bowman “a great man.” As if the tragedy was something Bowman suffered, and not something he had a part in creating.

And it’s not only the Blackhawks. On Thursday night, Quenneville resigned as coach of the Panthers after a meeting with commissioner Gary Bettman earlier that afternoon. But this only came after Quenneville was allowed to coach on Wednesday. Bettman also declined to take further disciplinary action against Quenneville, merely stating that if the three-time Cup-winning coach wants to work in the NHL again, he’ll have to get the commissioner’s blessing first.

Nothing about these men’s conduct or rhetoric in the past few days, or since the lawsuit was filed this spring, indicates that those involved feel remorse for the pain their inaction inflicted on Beach or Aldrich’s later victims. Even after decades of sexual abuse cases in junior hockey and far too many sexual misconduct cases by players against victims outside the sport, the depravity of that mindset still hasn’t sunk in.

The cost of that depravity might not show up on a balance sheet, but it’s all too real. Just watch the interview.