Kyle Beach's sexual assault case against the Blackhawks is a reckoning for the sports world
We must give men room to talk about abuse — and believe them when they do.
This story contains descriptions and true accounts of sexual assault.
Professional hockey player Kyle Beach has come forward as the John Doe in a lawsuit brought against the Chicago Blackhawks this past May. Until this week’s press conference and last night’s interview with TSN, it was unknown who the plaintiff was in a suit that alleged that higher ups at the NHL team had ignored complaints of sexual assault against video coach Brad Aldrich in 2010. After a lengthy investigation, Beach’s accusations have been corroborated and Blackhawks management has released an apology that states in part, “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.” Apologies or not, the whole situation reveals just how insidious the sports world can be, and how equally difficult and real cases of male sexual assault are in a society that rarely gives them space to come to light.
In what Beach calls “a day of many emotions,” he talks of feeling finally vindicated and relieved after a press conference in which the Blackhawks’ lawyer, Reid Schar of the firm Jenner and Block, revealed their findings of the investigation in a graphic 107-page report. “It was no longer my word against everybody else’s,” Beach recounts, his voice quivering a bit. The roughly 25-minute interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead was a moving display of both strength and vulnerability, revealing just how hard this 11-year process has been on Beach to get not only justice, but also peace. The whole incident though points to the competitive obsessiveness in the sports industry, where trophies, wins, and the perception of toughness take precedent over the personal and perverse.
As Beach tears up recounting the events of 2010, he recalls “feeling alone and dark...like there was nothing I could do and nobody I could turn to for help.” And from the investigation’s findings, those gut-wrenching feelings were entirely valid. Not only was then 20-year-old Beach horrifically assaulted in a pre-meditated attack, in which his career was used as leverage and his physical safety threatened by Aldrich in order to hold him captive to the attack; Beach’s attempt to report it was dismissed because winning the Stanley Cup was the priority. Much like the way young women are often told their trauma of having been sexual assaulted shouldn’t ruin the future of a young man, Beach was told that his sexual assault shouldn’t disrupt a team on the precipice of a coveted victory.
According to the current report’s findings, team counselor Jim Gary at the time shared Beach's allegations with Blackhawks leadership including President John McDonough, Executive Vice President Jay Blunk, Assistant General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, and head coach Joel Quenneville in a meeting on May 23, within an hour after the Blackhawks had won the game. that secured their place in the Stanley Cup Finals. Conversely, in outright lies, Quennville said in a statement in July, “The allegations in this lawsuit are clearly serious. I first learned of these allegations through the media earlier this summer.” Chevaldayoff said, “I had no knowledge of any allegations involving Mr. Aldrich until asked if I was aware of anything just prior to the conclusion of his employment with the Chicago Blackhawks.” In reality though, according to the report, Quennville actually said in 2010 that the allegations wouldn’t be reported because the team “could not handle this right now” with their championship games ahead. Additionally, McDonough had concluded they would not pursue the matter as to not "disturb team chemistry."
Since the salacious report has been stoically revealed, Stan Bowman resigned from his role as General Manager and President of Hockey Operations, and Al MacIsaac has resigned as Vice President of Hockey Operations. Additionally, the NHL is fining the Blackhawks $2 million for "inadequate procedures and mishandling." While these serious repercussions are imperative for a pillar of the sports industry to make a serious statement about this kind of behavior, the ramifications of how long it has taken for any form of justice to be served are hard to ignore. According to NPR, in 2010, “Aldrich resigned but received a severance and a playoff bonus and continued to be paid a salary for several months. He was allowed to bring the Stanley Cup for a day in his hometown, his name was engraved on the trophy, he received a championship ring, and he attended a Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony.” Not only was this parade of accolades for his abuser detrimental to Beach’s mental health, this celebration by a team of a known abuser allowed him to abuse again. Aldrich went on to work with USA Hockey, the University of Notre Dame, Miami University in Ohio — and most unfortunately — Houghton High School in Houghton, Mich., where he was arrested and pleaded guilty in 2013 to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a minor.
Beach said that Aldrich’s arrest gave him the courage to begin the process of coming forward more publicly. After the homophobic hazing Beach experienced at the expense of other players on the team after rumors circulated, it’s a wonder he was able to come forward at all. Even as Beach has made his accusations public now, and they’ve been corroborated, nasty online mobs continue to spew hate, suggesting that because of his size Beach could never be assaulted — a sinister and dangerous misconception about male sexual assault.
It’s a double-fold issue that Beach’s bravery is helping to improve. By coming forward he not only helps to alleviate some of the stigmas against male-on-male sexual abuse, especially within the tight-lipped sports industry; his case also points to so many parallels women face when trying to come forward. Sexual assault should not be a gendered issue — it is a horrific crime that affects people of all genders. Coming forward to report it should not be as impossible as it has become, with doing so often coming at the price of intense scrutiny and shaming. The more we shine a light on cases of sexual assault, the easier it will be for our justice system and other industries, like the sports world, to contend with these dark deeds in a way that is more honest, respectful and responsible. Kyle Beach did a massive service to many parties by telling his story.
While most are wishing Beach solace in his victory over his abuser and those who selfishly protected him, it should be noted that Quenneville and Chevaldayoff still hold senior positions with NHL teams. Quenneville is currently coach of the Florida Panthers, and Cheveldayoff is GM of the Winnipeg Jets. Many are calling for their comeuppance, and we’ll be watching closely to see how that plays out. Justice is clearly a dish served slowly and in portions, in this now infamous case — but Kyle Beach is most certainly a hero helping to carve out space for men to come forward.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, you can call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit hotline.rainn.org.