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This article was published 27/10/2021 (251 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Kyle Beach was so articulate, so clear and so raw.
And in a moment of courage few of us could ever summon, during an interview more powerful than any witnessed as part of a Stanley Cup celebration, Beach burst into tears and started apologizing.
Here was the victim overcome by remorse.
This interview will leave a lasting impact on an entire sport and league, and instead of Beach taking the heart-wrenching question from TSN investigative reporter Rick Westhead it was impossible not to think about how others might answer it instead.
Gary Bettman, what would you tell the 16-year-old high school hockey player who was sexually assaulted by Brad Aldrich three years after Aldrich committed a similar heinous act against Beach while with the Chicago Blackhawks?
Donald Fehr, what message would you have for other victims after Beach’s cries for help fell on deaf ears?
John McDonough? Stan Bowman? Al MacIsaac? Jay Blunk? Kevin Cheveldayoff? Joel Quenneville? James Gary?
The Blackhawks lifted the Stanley Cup 17 days after that group of men gathered to discuss Beach’s allegations against Aldrich and no action was taken until the champagne had long since dried on the celebration.
Even then Aldrich was given the option to resign from the Blackhawks and later received a letter of endorsement from Quenneville, according to an independent report by Jenner and Block released this week — allowing him to go on to jobs with USA Hockey, University of Miami (Ohio) and the high school in Houghton, Mich., where he sexually assaulted the teenager in 2013.
It was only after learning of that story while playing pro hockey in Europe that Beach decided to speak his truth. He filed a lawsuit earlier this year and hid his identity until Wednesday’s interview with Westhead, whom he credited with pushing the story along to the point where he could see justice.
That arrived with Tuesday’s 107-page Jenner and Block report that left him feeling “vindicated.” Bowman and MacIsaac immediately cut ties with the Blackhawks and the NHL levied a $2-million fine against the organization. The fallout won’t end there with Bettman set to interview Quenneville and Cheveldayoff in the coming days and even Fehr’s job now potentially up for discussion.
It is impossible to peg how deeply the ramifications will be felt, but in hearing Beach tell his story over a harrowing 26 minutes it’s clear the rot started in the Blackhawks front office but existed in every hallway of power across the sport.
How else to explain why a video coach wasn’t immediately confronted and dealt with after Beach disclosed an unwanted sexual encounter with him? He was just 20 years old at the time, an 11th overall pick and one of the organization’s top prospects along for the ride as a Black Ace during the playoffs, and he was made to “feel like I didn’t exist.”
The decision to value a championship push over a young man’s humanity unquestionably created the conditions where Aldrich could commit further crimes. That’s why Beach broke down in tears during Wednesday’s interview because what happened next was avoidable.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry I didn’t do more when I could to make sure it didn’t happen to him, to protect him,” said Beach. “But I also want to say thank you to him because ... what happened, it gave me the power and the sense of urgency to take action to make sure it wouldn’t happen to anybody else.
“So I’m sorry and I thank you.”
Beach will be remembered as a hero.
In coming forward and speaking from the heart, he allowed us to see that only a systemic failure of epic proportions could leave him so unprotected. It was an act of unimaginable bravery.
The Blackhawks. The NHL. The NHLPA.
All have culpability here, as do wide swaths of the media beyond Westhead and the Athletic’s Katie Strang, who pursued the story with proper vigour.
There remains even after this explosive series of revelations a dissonance in the response. Quenneville was somehow permitted to stand behind the Florida Panthers bench for Wednesday’s game against Boston despite being subject to an ongoing investigation by the league.
That happened no more than 30 minutes after Beach refuted Quenneville’s claims that he had no knowledge of what went on with Aldrich at the time: “I witnessed meetings right after I reported it to James Gary that were held in Joel Quenneville’s office. There’s absolutely no way he can deny knowing it,” Beach said.
He also believes the entire 2010 Blackhawks locker room was aware of the incident, which flies in the face of what some of them had individually claimed. In fact, Duncan Keith repeated as much to reporters in Edmonton on Wednesday morning.
He claimed the NHL refused to conduct an investigation into the matter earlier this year, the Blackhawks initially responded to his lawsuit by calling it “meritless” and pointed out that the NHLPA took no action despite multiple players speaking directly with Fehr about it.
“For him to turn his back on the players when his one job is to protect the players at all costs, I don’t know how that can be your leader,” Beach said of Fehr.
A failure on every level.
And a chance for more truths to surface because of his courage.
Chris Johnston is a Toronto-based journalist with a new gaming company. His work will be seen on the website and app for the new gaming company, and also in the Toronto Star. Follow him on Twitter: @reporterchris