It was a long time ago that Sheldon Kennedy spoke out about being sexually assaulted by former Junior hockey coach Graham James. It took years later for Theo Fleury to come clean with what James had done to both him and Kennedy. His book, “Playing With Fire”, exposed James for the pedophile he was. It’s a book I got and had personally signed from the courageous Fleury at a book signing before a Rangers game. I still have the picture saved from that night.
Having since read Fleury’s book a couple of times, I still can’t fathom what he went through during that rough period. Nobody should ever be forced to experience that. Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world where sexual predators exist. Many high up on the food chain who get away with it. I don’t have to cite names. These are untouchable people who are part of a despicable underworld where rules don’t apply to them. It’s sickening.
For over a decade, Kyle Beach lived that nightmare. A former Chicago Blackhawks first round pick in 2008, he never played one NHL game. Now we know why. It was back in 2010 during the Blackhawks’ run to the first of three Stanley Cups that Beach was called up to the Black Aces and traveled with the team that drafted him. What we didn’t know was what a terrible ordeal he went through. It wasn’t until recently that a John Doe had accused former video coach Brad Aldrich of sexual assault in May 2010. Eleven years after the alleged encounter, that victim filed a lawsuit against the Blackhawks on May 7, 2021.
An independent investigation from Jenner & Block LLP into the alleged assault found that Blackhawks higher ups that included former GM Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville were aware of what happened. Instead of taking action against Aldrich, they didn’t respond to the serious allegations made by Beach. Instead, they prioritized winning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup since 1961 over the well being of their own player. An unthinkable way to handle something of such serious nature.
Regrettably, we see it all the time. USA Gymnastics comes to mind. The courage former Olympic champions Aly Raisman, McKayla Maroney, Simone Biles and Maggie Nichols showed while testifying on September 15 against Doctor Larry Nassar, is amazing. They stood up for themselves and for former teammates who were sexually assaulted by Nassar while USA Gymnastics stood by and did nothing. Neither did the FBI. Maroney was a vocal critic of their investigation.
With his name withheld from the public as John Doe, Kyle Beach didn’t have to come forward. However, he wanted to have his voice heard in front of the camera on TSN’s SportsCentre. It was on Wednesday night at 6 PM that the courageous Beach appeared on TSN and spoke with Rick Westhead for approximately 25 minutes about his horrible experience. He talked at length about how Chicago Blackhawks management did nothing until after they won the Cup. Eventually, Aldrich was forced to resign. Somehow, they still allowed him to participate in Blackhawks’ Stanley Cup celebrations even being included at the parade where Beach was close by. He even got to have his day with the Cup.
The rest reads like a who’s who of how to not handle such a serious accusation. Aldrich landed another job at the University of Miami (Ohio) where he sexually assaulted two men in Fall 2012. He got letter of recommendations from the Blackhawks for that job and one at Houghton High School in Michigan where he assaulted a 16-year old boy on the hockey team. How could any organization promote this kind of crap? Aldrich is a sexual predator. Astonishingly, he only received a prison sentence of less than a year for these heinous crimes. Worse, he likely can’t be charged due to the statute of limitations. It honestly feels like a sad episode of Law And Order SVU where there is no justice. It’s agonizing.
What makes it worse was seeing the emotions Beach went through during his revealing exclusive interview. He fought back tears while he answered every question Westhead asked him. It was powerful stuff. He credited his girlfriend for being behind him throughout this whole ordeal. They’ve shared moments of tears, happiness and laugher with Beach finally feeling plenty of relief and vindication.
So many lies were told by the Blackhawks including Quenneville, who pretended he first learned about the gruesome details this past June. He was at the upper management meeting they held on May 23, 2010 with Bowman present along with former assistant GM and current Winnipeg Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, former Blackhawks vice president of hockey operations, Al MacIsaac, former Team President John McDonough and Executive Vice President Jay Blunk. Once the news broke, Bowman and MacIsaac left their posts. Blackhawks CEO Rocky Wirtz informed the media that they would no longer be part of the organization moving forward. Beach called it a great step in the right direction.
One disturbing aspect after all of this finally came out was how the NHL responded to it. In typical fashion, they gave the Blackhawks a $2 million fine. A slap on the wrist. It was a decade ago that the Devils were fined $3 million and forfeited a third round pick in 2011 along with a first round pick for signing Ilya Kovalchuk to a long-term deal that they determined as cap circumvention. You’re telling us that a contract they thought violated the rules of the CBA is worse than a coverup by an organization that protected its own interests at the expense of a young player, who was sexually assaulted. The scary part is Beach said word spread around the locker room quickly. Everyone knew. He was teased about it by players. Thankfully, former defensemen Brent Sopel and Nick Boynton supported Beach. Boynton basically said the top stars knew including Patrick Kane and Patrick Sharp. He really didn’t hold back.
The league also didn’t suspend Quenneville from coaching the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night against the Bruins. Instead, he was behind the bench for what should be his final NHL win. He resigned Thursday night. Although NHL insider Kevin Weekes hinted that John Tortorella could be the replacement, it looks like former NHL player Andrew Brunette will take over as Interim Coach for the time being. He was a top assistant on a coaching staff that includes Derek MacKenzie, Ulf Samuelsson and Tuomo Ruutu. The Panthers have started the season a perfect 7-0. They should be okay. There’s a plethora of talent and experience on a deep roster that should contend. Tortorella didn’t mince words while on The Point when asked by ESPN host John Buccigross how he felt about the sexual assault Beach was brave enough to reveal. He was a 20-year old kid. Now, he’s 31 and playing in Germany. Somehow, he’s held it together to have a solid pro career. He’s a survivor.
It’s hard to believe in this day and age that such despicable behavior still is allowed to go on behind closed doors. Harvey Weinstein is serving a 23-year prison sentence for sexual abuse allegations dating back to the 1970’s. Over 80 women came forward in October 2017. He was found guilty of two felonies in February 2020. He is currently serving time in Los Angeles at Wende Correctional Facility. Another disgusting person who was convicted of sex trafficking minors in Florida and New York was Jeffrey Epstein. After being arrested on July 6, 2019, he was found dead in his jail cell on August 10, 2019. Considering some of the prominent list of wealthy names that appeared under him, it remains very strange how he died. I don’t believe he killed himself. That’s my only comment on it.
If we are to change as a society for the better, such despicable behavior cannot be tolerated. It is unacceptable. It’s sad that Beach had to experience the similar pain and emotional heartache that both Sheldon Kennedy and Theo Fleury did. The latter of who turned to alcohol and drugs at a young age as a coping mechanism. Fleury remains one of my favorite players. He was a fiery player who played much bigger than his slight frame. If not for the off ice issues, Fleury is a Hall Of Famer. He finished over a point-per-game for his career with 1,088 points in 1,084 games. He took a lot of verbal abuse from opponents who got below the belt about his substance abuse issues. That probably explained his crazy behavior. He battled so many demons.
There are many former players who have been taken advantage of. Daniel Carcillo said he also was a victim of sexual assault. He’s been pretty outspoken about the league’s mishandling of the concussion lawsuit. A separate issue that of course commissioner Gary Bettman won’t touch. Let’s just say there’s a lot of bad history when it comes to the NHL’s past. It’s incredibly disappointing that they didn’t take stronger action against the Blackhawks organization. They should lose first round picks and pay a heavier fine.
Even Jonathan Toews’ commentary on the Beach situation missed the mark completely. Nobody cares what he thinks about Bowman personally. The whole thing stinks. The Hawks were a great team that won three Cups last decade. Now, that is forever tarnished. It’s poetic that the struggling Maple Leafs rallied back to beat them in overtime 3-2 in Chicago. The Blackhawks remained winless. Only the abysmal Coyotes have a worse record. This isn’t about some of the younger players on their roster like Alex DeBrincat, Kirby Dach or the much respected future Hall Of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury. It’s about mainstays Toews and Kane still being there and not doing anything to help Beach. Unbelievable.
When a story like Kyle Beach’s breaks, it’s much bigger than the sport. You feel nothing but sadness and emptiness for him. I’m glad he had enough heart and strength to go public. He didn’t have to. Instead, he wanted to to tell his story. He told the truth and exposed the Chicago Blackhawks for gutless frauds. Cowards. That goes for NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr. Nobody did anything. It’s completely unacceptable.
The time has come for the good old boys’ club to die. I hope the courageous story of Kyle Beach is the beginning of a major overhaul in sports.