Gary Bettman defends NHL’s response to sexual abuse accusation
By Victor Mather
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman earlier this week defended the league’s response to a sexual assault accusation against a former coach.
Kyle Beach, a career minor leaguer now playing in Germany, has said that he was sexually assaulted in 2010 by Brad Aldrich, then a Chicago Blackhawks video coach. An independent investigation commissioned this year by the team found that officials had not reported the accusation against Aldrich to the league or to law enforcement because they did not want a distraction during the team’s playoff run.
Aldrich resigned from the team following that season, but only after Chicago won the Stanley Cup and after he had made a sexual advance toward an intern at the celebration, the investigative report, which was released Oct. 26, said. Aldrich received a playoff bonus, and his name was engraved on the Cup.
He later held several other jobs in hockey and pleaded guilty to sexual contact with a minor while he was a high school coach in Michigan, where he is a registered sex offender.
“It is clear that what happened was inappropriate and wrong on every level and was not handled correctly by the Blackhawks organization,” Bettman said Monday in a conference call with reporters. “This certainly has been a disturbing week for all of us.”
Of Beach, who met with the commissioner Saturday, Bettman said, “I am sorry for what he has been through, and thought he has been courageous, especially the past week.”
The league has been criticized as being slow to respond to Beach’s accusation. “Until last Monday, we had not seen the report in any form,” Bettman said. Joel Quenneville, who was the head coach of the Blackhawks in 2010, resigned as the Florida Panthers’ coach Thursday, but was permitted to lead the team in a game last Wednesday, the day after details of the accusation emerged.
Defending that decision, Bettman said: “He had already coached 800 games since 2010, and I wanted to make sure that no one could say I prejudged him. People can disagree.” As a matter of due process, Bettman said, “I needed to meet him in person.”
Kevin Cheveldayoff, who was an assistant general manager for the Blackhawks in 2010 and has said he attended a meeting about the accusation then, is now the Winnipeg Jets’ general manager. He was not punished by the league.
Cheveldayoff “was such a minor player in this,” Bettman said. “Because of his limited authority and circumstance, he left the meeting” in 2010 thinking the matter would be investigated by higher-ups.
“He believed the matter had been appropriately taken care of” because of Aldrich’s eventual departure from the club, Bettman said.
After the release of the investigation report last week, the NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million for what it called their “insufficient and untimely response.” Some fans and journalists have pointed out that the penalty was $1 million less than the league initially fined the New Jersey Devils in 2010 for circumventing the salary cap. Bettman contended that the fine against Chicago was “substantial.”
Stan Bowman, the Blackhawks’ president of hockey operations, and Al MacIsaac, the senior director of hockey administration, resigned last week in the aftermath of the report. Bowman also resigned as the general manager of the 2022 United States Olympic men’s ice hockey team.
Bettman said Monday that he would have to review any request to return to the league from any of the people who left in connection with the matter.
Beach’s accusation, although not his identity, was first made public in May in a lawsuit filed against the Blackhawks. That lawsuit has yet to be resolved. Aldrich claimed that any sexual encounter had been consensual, but Beach said Aldrich had threatened violence, as well as damage to his hockey career, if he didn’t comply.
Beach, Chicago’s first-round draft pick in 2008, was with the team in 2010 as what is known as a “black ace,” a minor leaguer who travels with the team during the playoffs in case he is needed because of an injury or a suspension.
The NHL Players’ Association has also received scrutiny, including from Beach, for its handling of the accusation. During a call Monday with player representatives who make up the union’s executive board, Donald Fehr, the executive director of the players’ union, “recommended that an independent investigation be commenced by outside legal counsel” to review the union’s response, Jonathan Weatherdon, an NHLPA spokesperson, said in a statement.
The executive board will vote on commissioning an investigation, the statement said. Fehr, a former chief of the Major League Baseball players’ union, began his role with the NHL’s union in December 2010.
The investigative report, commissioned by the Blackhawks, was released at a time when the league and the sport in general have been under the microscope because of other incidents of abuse, misogyny and racism. Players in a Canadian amateur league have filed a lawsuit saying they were sexually and physically assaulted as a part of hazing. A former minor league coach said he had been fired by the Pittsburgh Penguins after he reported that his wife had been sexually assaulted by one of his bosses. Misogynistic online messages by top NHL players and an accusation of a racial slur used by a coach have also come to light.
“The NHL has made considerable progress from where it was a decade ago,” Bettman said. “If you listen to what NHL personnel, especially the players, have been saying this week, you know things have been changing.
“I believe most of our personnel are good people who do the right thing.”