Stepping Up: Kyle Beach’s bravery amidst a sea of wrongdoing
Why the former Blackhawks prospect’s story can change hockey
The first draft of this article was very different from the one you are about to read. It was still about the Chicago Blackhawks scandal but focused on the wrongdoings of the team and National Hockey League (NHL). I tried to stay level-headed, but it did veer into a bit of angry venting about their failure to protect players and hold people accountable. I still do believe the things I wrote but have since deleted. However, considering the story’s John Doe recently identified himself, it felt silly to vent about the Blackhawks and the NHL when I had just watched one of the most courageous acts in hockey history. Instead, I wrote about that man and how important his courage can be to the game of hockey.
The Blackhawks Scandal
First, I want to give a brief background on the Blackhawks scandal itself. On October 26th, the law firm Jenner & Block released a report on their investigation into the alleged 2010 sexual assault of a former player (referred to as John Doe in the report) by former Chicago Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich, and the Blackhawks’ lackluster response to the alleged incident. A few key takeaways from the report are the following: Aldrich leveraged his position of power against Doe in the alleged assault; the organization’s executive team chose to withhold the allegation from human resources until after the playoffs to avoid disrupting team chemistry; in the time between the executive learning of the allegation and reporting it, Aldrich made an unwanted sexual advance on a team intern; following the assault, John Doe was harassed and called homophobic slurs by teammates; the organization allowed Aldrich to resign without investigating the allegation or reporting it to the police. Aldrich went on to coach at the university and high school level until he was arrested and pled guilty to criminal sexual conduct involving a minor in 2013. These takeaways only cover a portion of the report’s content. The full 107-page report is available on Jenner & Block’s website. I want to alert readers that it describes sexual violence and can be upsetting to read.
John Doe becomes Kyle Beach
On October 27th, Kyle Beach appeared on TSN’s SportsCentre and told a national television audience that he was the report’s John Doe and that he had been assaulted by Aldrich. Over the course of 26 minutes, Beach discussed his experience with the team after the assault, the actions he'd like to see from the league. No summation can do justice to his words, so I encourage you to watch it in full. It is available on TSN.ca.
To say Beach’s statement is courageous is to undersell it. It is undeniable that there is stigma around a man admitting to being sexually assaulted. Despite at least 1 in 6 men being victims of sexual abuse or assault, harmful rhetoric about male victims persists. Myths about men being unable to be sexually assaulted, that it’s less harmful for men, or that male victims are “less of a man” still linger.
Having grown up playing and loving hockey, I know that the hockey world is not an easy place to be vulnerable. Perceived weakness is open to mocking on and off the ice from opponents, teammates, and parents. Homophobia, racism, and sexism are all tools I’ve heard used to get into another player’s head. I can’t imagine players become more polite at higher levels of hockey, where thousands of dollars and the pursuit of a dream are on the line. Fans can be even crueler, as to some, buying a ticket is carte blanche to say whatever you choose. For example, a fan recently taunted Columbus Blue Jacket goaltender Elvis Merzlikins about the July death of his friend and Blue Jackets teammate Matiss Kivlenieks.
Despite so many reasons to remain anonymous, Beach showed up. In doing so, he becomes an example for men and the sport of hockey to follow. The idea that men can't be victims or are “less of a man” if victimized seems even more asinine when you see the 6'3 forward who plays a physical game that meets any standard of toughness, sharing his story.
His experience also exposes how the power dynamic in a coach-athlete relationship is ripe for exploitation and abuse. Despite being cynical about the NHL doing the right thing, I do have hope this spotlight will help fix the broken system exposed by the Jenner & Block report. The massive spotlight on this dynamic should cause hockey organizations of all levels to investigate and improve the existing tools for protecting players and reporting malfeasance.
This also serves as a reminder that hockey players, and all pro athletes and public figures, are still people like you and me. When talking about players and their performance, it’s easy to forget that a human being is on the receiving end of this commentary. Knowing his story, the frequent labelling of Beach, the 11th selection in the 2008 draft, as a “draft bust” feels especially cruel.
The Chicago Blackhawks scandal now has a face in Kyle Beach. The NHL and the Blackhawks are accountable to a human being that we can see and hear instead of an anonymous name in a report. By speaking out against his abuser and those who enable the abuse, Beach is also providing inspiration and courage for others to do the same, which will help weed out the abusers in this game loved by so many. Kyle Beach will go down in hockey history as a man, who through his bravery to speak despite all the reasons to stay quiet, made hockey a safer and better place for everyone.