Who had the power, and how that power was used and misused is central to everything pertaining to the alleged sexual assault of former Chicago Blackhawks prospect Kyle Beach, and to the cover-up, excuse-making and generally shameful behavior that has followed.
And how NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, through his meeting with media Monday, continues to show that power doesn’t care about those who don’t have it.
Like the power then-Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich had in 2010 when he allegedly sexually assaulted Beach, reportedly coercing him in a manner familiar to so many abusers: Do as I say or I will hurt you.
In Aldrich’s case, it was allegedly threatening Beach’s career. Do this, or I’ll make sure you never make it to the highest level of professional hockey. Lie and say that you enjoyed it and I can help make your lifelong dream come true.
Beach was not some unknown kid fighting to be recognized. The Blackhawks drafted him 11th overall in 2008, and he debuted with the team’s AHL affiliate later that year. An aggressive 6-foot-3 wing, he totaled 61 points in 65 games in his first full season in the WHL, a major junior hockey league in Canada, before Chicago drafted him.
He was allegedly assaulted by Aldrich in the run-up to Chicago’s 2010 Stanley Cup title, and according to an investigation by the law firm Jenner & Block, Beach did what he was supposed to do: He reported the violation to team officials and to the NHL Players Association.
Blackhawks’ brass knew of the incident report within a couple of weeks, met and decided to do nothing. General manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville, who had the power to confront Aldrich and stand by their player, chose winning hockey games over basic human decency and following through on the things we hear so many coaches say. “The locker room is a family.” “We look out for each other.” You know the drill. It appears Quenneville thought confronting one of his assistants would disrupt “team chemistry.”
Because letting a young man suffer in silence and letting his alleged attacker go about his day-to-day life is surely the best way to go. Someone will have to dig up the chemistry book where that equation is spelled out.
Making an already infuriating situation worse, the Blackhawks’ approach — to let Aldrich walk instead of opening an investigation, making sure he got severance pay, a playoff bonus, a day with the Stanley Cup and his name engraved on the trophy to boot — led to at least one other young man, a teenager in Michigan, being allegedly assaulted by Aldrich.
The men who ran the franchise in Chicago had the power to do something, anything, that could have changed the lives of at least two men who we know of, and instead washed their hands. Being an Original Six team in one of the biggest cities in America apparently carries no actual necessity to be a good corporate citizen.
Give us your money, fans. Throw us a parade, city officials. Don’t look as we whisk an alleged sexual predator out the back door and give him a positive job referral among his parting gifts.
Chicago’s players, led by team captain Jonathan Toews, found out about what had happened to Beach. They too had power, to close ranks around him and force the team to do something about Aldrich. Instead, according to Beach, some of them began calling him homophobic slurs, mocking an assault victim. And even now, with a 107-page report detailing everything, Toews has sided with Quenneville and Bowman, calling them good men who were good to him.
Donald Fehr, the head of the NHL Players Association, was told about Beach. Fehr works for the players. His entire job is supposed to be doing what is in their best interests. He had the power to protect Beach, to push for Chicago and the NHL to act, and did nothing.
And then there’s Bettman. No one in the NHL has more power. In a time when three of American professional sports’ commissioners have been in the spotlight for various controversies and scandals and failed miserably, Bettman might be the most offensive of all, at least to those of us who value people over profits.
Like his NFL counterpart Roger Goodell, Bettman has overseen substantial financial growth in 20-plus years as commissioner, which makes NHL team owners happy. As long as they are seeing more riches, they do not care about anything else.
On Monday, Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly met with media virtually, and each answer was seemingly worse than the one before. Other than publicly apologizing to Beach, it was an embarrassment. To say it was tone deaf is an understatement.
He was defensive. He deflected. He was ambiguous. He lied. He was callous.
Bettman explained away giving the New Jersey Devils a far more substantial punishment for circumventing the salary cap than the Blackhawks received for covering up alleged sexual abuse. He reasoned that Quenneville had coached 867 games since Beach was allegedly assaulted, so letting him coach one more after the Jenner & Block report confirmed that he knew what had happened and did nothing was the fairest way.
He encouraged everyone around the NHL to report instances of sexual misconduct in the workplace but waved off the allegation that Kevin Cheveldayoff, currently the Winnipeg Jets general manager and Chicago’s assistant GM at the time of Beach’s alleged assault, didn’t have enough seniority to do anything. Bettman did not offer an immediate “yes” when asked if the league will provide counseling to Aldrich’s other known alleged victim. He only acceded to answer a question from TSN’s Rick Westhead, who broke this story months ago and has been at the forefront of it since, after another media member pushed for Bettman to acknowledge him.
All along the way in this scandal, there were men who had power. Power to believe Kyle Beach. Power to punish and even seek prosecution of Brad Aldrich. Power to make sure a predator was not set free, able to get jobs with even younger players to prey upon. Power to put a human being over wins and profits.
At every opportunity, they were selfish, impotent and cruel. They remain that way today.