Blackhawks scandal shows how failed hockey culture at Kyle Beach

Theo Fleury knows what Kyle Beach experiences on a daily basis as a survivor of an alleged sexual assault.

“It’s like a living murder,” said Fleury, who was assaulted by a coach as a youth and exposed that trauma after his 15-year NHL career ended, battling addiction along the way. .

Fleury wrote about her experiences in an autobiography published in 2009. Beach’s alleged sexual assault by Chicago Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich occurred in 2010, but was not revealed until last month. . And they’re not the only junior or pro hockey players with similar stories.

In each of these incidents, the conversation tends to turn to hockey culture. Could sport that emphasizes the team rather than the individual, stifles worries and delays embracing change, contribute to these incidents?

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“(Hockey) needs therapy or intervention,” said Evan F. Moore, co-author of “Game Misconduct: Hockey’s Toxic Culture and How To Fix It”. “It’s super insular and it’s kind of like the fifth wheel of popularity and scrutiny in sports in North America.

In Beach’s case, the trauma of the alleged assault was compounded by the reaction of his team. Beach, 31 and now playing in Germany, came out last week after an investigation by law firm Jenner & Block found that Blackhawks management and coaches were aware of the allegations but were not aware of the allegations. failed to alert authorities while keeping Aldrich employed until the team won the Stanley Cup.

Beach suffered not only abuse but a cover-up that cost him his NHL career, Fleury told USA TODAY Sports.

“We spend the rest of our lives trying to get rid of this horrible event that is unfolding like a movie in our heads, 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Fleury said. “And we spend the rest of our lives trying to make sense or trying to get some kind of forgiveness.

Everyone except Beach should apologize, said Brent Sopel, a 2010 Blackhawks member who then defended Beach and said the responsibility for what Beach has endured lies with the players and management of the Blackhawks, the NHL. and the NHLPA, Beach representatives and the hockey community in general. . The NHLPA said Thursday its board of directors voted to approve an independent investigation into the union’s handling of the allegations.

“It’s bigger than hockey,” Sopel told USA TODAY Sports. “It’s more important than the four major sports.”

NHL “sends very clear signals”

At the heart of the investigative report is the revelation that then-president John McDonough and then-coach Joel Quenneville wanted to continue to focus on advancing the playoffs as the team was aiming for its first Stanley Cup in five decades.

This focus on winning over the physical and mental well-being of athletes is typical in American sports, said Cheryl Cooky, a sociology professor at Purdue University who specializes in sports in American culture.

Athletes – hockey players are often described as the standard for toughness – are urged to dissociate from the body, shed injuries, and play through pain. The interest of the organization or institution is often misaligned with that of the athlete.

“Any attention to anything that is not a winner, it can be easily dismissed no matter who is involved,” said Cooky, associate editor of Sociology of Sport.

Aldrich is the son of a longtime NHL equipment manager who was recommended to the Blackhawks, according to the Jenner & Block report. It probably helped his exit more smoothly, Cooky said, with Aldrich signing a separation agreement after parading with the Stanley Cup instead of facing an investigation. (His name was removed from the trophy on November 4.)

“Sadly, a lot of these people who are in these institutions grew up in a time when it was really easy to blame the victims, it was really easy to downplay what had happened,” Cooky said.

There are characteristics in professional men’s sport like the NHL that amplify, exaggerate and normalize things that are happening in the culture at large.

“We see that in other high profile sports, football for example – the kind of historical development of the sport so that masculinity is intrinsically linked to violence, to physical domination, to aggression – that these elements sports kind of creates a context for understanding why these things happen, ”Cooky said.

At a press conference Monday, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said that “hockey culture does not encourage – in fact, forbid – this type of activity.” But the league that fined the Blackhawks $ 2 million compared to the Devils’ $ 3 million fine for bypassing the salary cap in 2010 is sending a different message.

Kyle Beach said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman (left) and NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr (right) let him down.

“They are sending very clear signals,” Cooky said. “It’s’ Ah, we know. It wasn’t really that bad.

“If they make concessions for the video guy,” Moore asked himself, “what are they doing for the players? ”

“They can do whatever they want”

In a city with two professional baseball teams, an NBA team and an NFL team, the Blackhawks ruled the city in the first half of the 2010s and built a reputation for themselves, Moore said.

“They can do whatever they want,” he said.

Moore pointed out that a Blackhawks star Patrick Kane rape investigation blocked in 2015 due to lack of evidence, months before Chicago has suspended former prospect Garret Ross in an abandoned pornographic revenge case; the Blackhawks quickly reinstated him. Bill Peters resigned as Calgary Flames coach in 2019, when it was revealed he was using a racial insult to black player Akim Aliu with the Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks’ affiliate in the American Hockey League, in 2009.

“From a player’s point of view, I don’t think it’s easier to express yourself,” said Josh Healey, an AHL player with the Milwaukee Admirals in the Nashville Predators organization.

Healey started a business two years ago called The Sports Aux which allows organized hockey players to leave comments in a mobile app for coaches they’ve played with over the years. Almost 80% are positive, he said, and the remaining 20% ​​is largely constructive criticism from the 2,500 verified users who play bantam ranks in the NHL.

“You have a lot of trust in the coaches who are with you every day,” Healey told USA TODAY Sports. “If they’re them where you can’t go or they’re the ones who do, it’s pretty difficult, especially as a young player.

“If you search just for ‘sexual assault’, ‘physical assault’, ‘mental assault’ and ‘hockey’ it floods the Google page.”

Sopel, whose Brent Sopel Foundation provides financial and educational assistance to those struggling with dyslexia and substance abuse, said he spoke with Beach for the first time in 11 years on Monday. (He himself has been sober for five years.) Sopel wants Hockey Canada and USA Hockey to start teaching compassion at a younger age. He also wants hockey organizations to focus more on education; he was playing with broken bones because he feared life after hockey as a dyslexic person.

Unlike other workplaces and fields, where other opportunities and options exist, this is limited for professional athletes. There is no equivalent to the NHL.

“We are talking about athletes having all this power when in reality they are constrained in different ways than other workers and laborers,” Cooky said.

Vegas Golden Knights Goalie Robin Lehner said on Tuesday he wanted more people to “step up and fight.” Toronto Maple Leafs forward Wayne Simmonds took note and echo these thoughts in an emotional meeting with reporters on Wednesday.

“It’s something systemic,” Simmonds said. “I find that in the NHL when something goes wrong, guys are afraid to speak up because of the repercussions. And this is something that definitely needs to change. This is unacceptable.

Simmonds said fresh blood is entering the league – Blackhawks forward Alex DeBrincat, 23, said Bowman’s departure was “probably a change that had to happen” – helps to repel this fear.

“Some things are more important than winning,” Lehner said.

Follow Chris Bumbaca on Twitter @BOOMbaca.



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