NHL still has a long way to go to repair its toxic culture

Content Disclaimer: This story contains a discussion of sexual assault.

Sexual assault is something that will stay with you forever. There is no way to describe how it makes you feel, or how it sticks to you like a threatening and unwanted shadow but always present, even one that glows in the dark. Language does not allow us the right words to share the impact, to share the emptiness, the despair, the black hole that you are becoming.

But you have to understand that before you understand how much hockey, Blackhawks, NHLPA and NHL have let down Brad Aldrich survivors. And not just how they failed the survivors a decade ago, but how they still fail them – even after everything we know now.

In May, TSN’s Rick Westhead reported that a former Chicago player was suing the team for covering up sexual abuse by then-video coach Brad Alrdich. Apparently each week revealed more heinous details about the abuse and what the Blackhawks – including GM Stan Bowman – knew. And every week, members of the mainstream media ignored the story.

Jenner & Block’s investigation into the alleged Chicago sexual abuse cover-up revealed some very sinister and shocking things. The report says senior management – including Stan Bowman, Kevin Cheveldayoff and Joel Quenneville – discussed the allegations. This contradicts the previous statements of the parties involved that they had no prior knowledge.

This overwhelmingly suggests that the Blackhawks came together to ultimately decide they were interested in things other than protecting Aldrich’s current and future survivors.

Kyle Beach was revealed to be the survivor on Wednesday and was interviewed by Westhead. In the interview, Beach explained that it made him sick.

“The only way I could describe it was that I felt sick, I had a stomach ache. I reported this and was informed that ‘Doc’ (James) Gary had climbed the chain of command and nothing had happened. It was as if her life was the same as the day before. Same every day. And then when they won, seeing him walk by lifting the Cup, at the parade, at the team photos, at the celebrations, it made me feel like nothing. It made me feel like I didn’t exist. It made me feel like I wasn’t important and… it made me feel like he was right and I was wrong.

And that’s also what “Doc” Gary told me, that it was my fault because I got into this situation. And the combination of those and him being walked around, then letting him take the Stanley Cup to a high school with kids after they found out what happened.

But the team’s cover-up also allowed Aldrich to continue hunting. This resulted in more sexual abuse, including a minor in Michigan.

To be clear: it was not a mistake. It was a calculated decision made to protect a winning team.

It took a decade for it to reach the ears of the public. And even now, a decade later, justice has not been served.

Once the findings were shared, Stan Bowman was allowed to resign rather than professionally reprimanded by being fired. He was also allowed to resign from USA Hockey, where he had been appointed general manager of the Olympic team. Cheveldayoff and Quenneville, who left Chicago to work for the Jets and Panthers respectively, were allowed to continue in their roles. Quenneville even coached against the Bruins, although the Panthers declined his post-game media availability before also allowing him the luxury of stepping down rather than firing him for his actions.

Bettman said he would reserve judgment on the two until he spoke to them.

So after all of this barely the bare minimum was served. There is no reason for Bettman to wait to talk to anyone since the results already explained what had happened. Quenneville knew. Bowman knew. Chevrolet knew. They covered up on sexual assault so they could win, period.

Because they sat there and ignored a survivor and allowed a predator to break free and hurt other people. It is something that can never be atoned for. The only appropriate punishment is a lifetime ban from hockey and leadership positions, and in particular from any position in organizations serving youth.

(Photo by Claus Andersen / Getty Images)

It’s not just management. They are also the players.

Westhead reported that a source said the players knew. In cases like these, someone probably knows or suspects. Yet no one did anything. They were all accomplices.

They are not the only ones who have to leave. Look at Bettman, who chose to do nothing. Or Blackhawks captain and crew chief Jonathan Toews, who called Bowman – after it was proven he covered up a sexual assault – a good person.

Then there are the journalists who did not report on it and did not share when it was reported. Some of these reporters are now calling on the NHL to act, but they haven’t done their job when it counts.

Beach also said he contacted the NHLPA and Donald Fehr, but his agent tell TSN that “after this conversation, the NHLPA let me go. I never heard from them again.

As horrible as it all can be, it’s not surprising. It’s not a bug in the system – it’s the system.

Hockey is a factory. Players are the entry and winning is the exit. When a person is considered a disposable product, the well-being of that person as a person disappears.

There are many more cases of sexual abuse and more that we don’t hear about and may never hear about. Read carefully SafeSport Database and see how many coaches have been banned for sexual abuse.

People have asked what message this sends to survivors. It really echoes what we already know – don’t tell anyone. All that happens is you will be traumatized again and justice will not be served.

Perhaps to make matters worse, the NHL – as with Bettman’s comments – arrogantly met his reaction to being forced to look inside at just how toxic and ugly his system is. Look no further than the Blackhawks who called Beach’s sexual assault a “sexual encounter” in a letter officially calling for Aldrich’s name to be removed from the Stanley Cup.

It further proves how sick the system is and how hard the battle is to remove toxicity from hockey culture.

It’s been a decade and clearly no one has learned anything. The system has to be dismantled and rebuilt because it’s not just a few people. It’s everyone from journalists and players to coaches, media and public relations. And that’s Gary Bettman. Removing one or two people will not fix the way those people think or act.

[The Blackhawks] covered up a sexual assault so they could win, period.

All of these people should leave because not only were these people accomplices then, but they still are today. I think that’s the problem, isn’t it? That people clearly haven’t learned anything. Oh, and Westhead reported that the Blackhawks have filed legal motions to dismiss both lawsuits.

It’s just the part of the NHL. USA Hockey allowed Bowman, named general manager of the Olympic team, to resign after they did nothing. And the man who replaced him? None other than Bill Guerin, who was also under investigation for allegedly covering up a sexual assault. The Hockey News reported that Safesport had cleared Geurin, but Westhead reported that Erin Skalde, who asked Safesport to open an investigation, has yet to be interviewed by Safesport. (Guerin is not listed in Safesport’s centralized public database).

None of these people deserve a second chance. No one should ever be allowed to take up leadership positions again. We cannot allow them to be in a position where, if it happens again, they are the ones making the decisions.

But getting rid of them won’t solve the problem.

There has to be a complete culture change, which can only happen if the leadership is ready to change. The league must have policies in place on how to deal with allegations of sexual assault and the penalties that should be imposed. Education is a must, both for junior hockey players and for current players. But it must be more robust than a simple seminar. Organizations that teach athletes to be active spectators, such as the Jordan DeKort Gamechangers or the Institute of Sport and Society, are resources that hockey must partner with at all levels. This hotline promised by Gary Bettman? This must also happen.

People’s lives are too precious to be trusted with anything less.

Jashvina Shah is the co-author of ‘Game Misconduct’, which can be purchased here.

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