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NHL

There Will Be More John Does

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09: The Chicago Blackhawks pose for a team photo after defeating the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 in overtime and win the Stanley Cup in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

On Wednesday night, Kyle Beach put his face and his name to his own story. Before then, he had been John Doe, a young hockey player with the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs who said he was sexually assaulted by then–video coach Brad Aldrich after being called up to Chicago’s NHL team during its 2010 playoff run. The interview came one day after investigators released a damning report outlining how team leadership delayed acting because they didn’t want to jeopardize their Stanley Cup run; after team general manager and president Stan Bowman resigned; and after the NHL announced a $2 million fine for the team, which was $1 million less than the initial fine levied on the New Jersey Devils for a salary cap violation.

Beach spoke with TSN’s Rick Westhead, the reporter largely responsible for the NHL taking what happened seriously as he doggedly pursued the story for months. In that interview, Beach spoke under his own name. He appeared on video not from a fancy studio but from what looked like a home, with a large heart decoration behind him. A few times he had to pause to compose himself, other times he started to cry. And he used his name. It was right there, on the chyron, in bold red and white, all capital letters: KYLE BEACH.

The interview spanned more than 20 minutes and Beach answered every question. There were no dodges, no declining comment, no requests for privacy, even though any of those would have been reasonable requests given the topic and everything he had been through. It was more transparency and honesty than the NHL ever gave him.

Beach began by talking about 2010, when got called up for Chicago’s chase and capture of hockey’s biggest prize.

“It was an extremely special moment for me and for my family and kind of the next step in pursuing my NHL dream that I had dreamed about and worked for my entire life,” Beach said. “So, unfortunately, a couple weeks after, those memories were tainted. And my life was changed forever.”

The independent investigative report, authored by the law firm Jenner and Block, said afterward players started talking about something sexual happening between Aldrich and at least one other player. Skating coach Paul Vincent noticed something was wrong with Beach and started asking him questions. After Beach confirmed to him what happened, Vincent took it seriously, told others about it, and even talked to a security person at the team’s hockey rink about it, according to the investigative report. All these years later, Beach gushed to Westhead about Vincent, saying, “It is men like him that make hockey great.”

But it is not men like him who run hockey. “What is clear is that, after being informed of Aldrich’s alleged sexual harassment and misconduct with a player,” the report said, “no action was taken for three weeks.”

(Aldrich would later tell investigators that his encounter with Beach was consensual.)

“To be honest, I was scared, mostly. I was fearful. I had had my career threatened. I felt alone and dark,” Beach told Westhead, then taking a pause to collect himself.

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s tough to recall these moments.

“I think most, I felt like I was alone and there was nothing I could do and nobody I could turn to for help. And I didn’t know what to do as a 20-year-old. I would never dream, or you could never imagine being put in this situation by somebody that’s supposed to be there to help you and to make you a better hockey player and a better person and continue to build your career. Just scared and alone with no idea what to do.”

The investigative report went into great detail about why the team did nothing for three weeks. It keyed in a meeting of the team’s top executives that consisted of then-president John McDonough, executive Al MacIsaac, general manager Stan Bowman, then–vice president Jay Blunk, then–assistant general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, then–head coach Joel Quenneville, and team counselor Jim Gary. The report said that “McDonough and Quenneville made comments about the challenge of getting to the Stanley Cup Finals and a desire to focus on the team and the playoffs.”

Those comments won out. The team did nothing until after they won the Stanley Cup, after Aldrich celebrated with the team, and after the investigative report said Aldrich made an unwanted sexual advance on an intern.

“It made me feel like I didn’t exist,” Beach said of watching Aldrich celebrate with the Cup. “It made me feel that I wasn’t important and,” he paused to take one deep breath, “it made me feel like he was in the right and I was wrong. And that’s also what Doc Gary told me, was that it was my fault because I put myself in that situation.”

Shortly afterward, in the summer, Beach told his parents what happened. His mom cried for days. She felt responsible, he said. Afterward, he said his family didn’t talk about it again because he didn’t want to. He couldn’t. He still wanted to play professional hockey. He felt he had no other choice.

“I did what I thought I had to do to survive, to continue chasing my dream and that was to not think about it, to not talk about it, to ignore it and that’s all I could do. Because I was threatened and my career was on the line,” he said on Wednesday. “And if I had that in my head, then there was no way I was gonna perform at the top of my capabilities.”

Except it wasn’t that simple. He heard comments about it in the locker room. He heard comments about it on the ice. Two former Chicago players, Nick Boynton and Brent Sopel, have both said publicly that it was common knowledge in the locker room. Beach told Westhead: “I do believe that everybody in that locker room knew about it.”

Beach kept chasing his hockey dream, playing for the AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack and the Austrian club Graz99ers. Aldrich stayed in hockey too, bouncing around from USA Hockey to Notre Dame to Miami University of Ohio, and finally becoming an assistant high school hockey coach in his hometown of Houghton, Michigan. It was there his career ended after he pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct involving a 16-year-old high school player. On Wednesday, Beach said he was sorry to that hockey player, sorry that he had failed to stop Aldrich. It was when talking about that hockey player, not himself, that Beach cried. It was seeing the news of that conviction on a Google search that prompted Beach to try and do something, to stop Aldrich one and for all, to speak up.

“Because of what happened to him, it gave me the power and the sense of urgency to take action, to make sure it wouldn’t happen to anybody else,” he said. “So, I’m sorry and I thank you.”

In May, Beach sued the team for what happened to him. The team said nothing. Two former players didn’t stay silent. Both Boynton and Sopel spoke out in the press and said everyone in the locker room knew. Boynton, per TSN, went so far as to say: “I said everybody fucking knew about it. I said you can talk to the coaches. … I said, talk to Torch [former assistant coach John Torchetti]. I called out Brian Campbell, and said talk to Patrick Sharp and talk to Kaner [Patrick Kane]. …The training staff knew. I’m sick of this wall of silence.”

Beach had tougher words for other people connected to the NHL apparatus. He called out the president of the NHL Players’ Association, Donald Fehr, saying, “his one job is to protect the players at all costs.” When asked about Quenneville, who is currently the head coach of the Florida Panthers, Beach brought up the investigative reports finding that, per Bowman’s recollection, Quenneville’s reaction to learning what happened to Beach was to shake his head and remark that “it was hard for the team to get to where they were, and they could not deal with this issue now.” (According to the description of Quenneville’s interview with investigators, “Quenneville also said … that he did not recall anyone saying it was hard for the team to get where they were in the playoffs, but recalled that his focus was on winning and this meeting was unexpected.”)

“As a human being, I cannot believe that, and I cannot accept that,” Beach said. “I’ve witnessed meetings, right after I reported it to James Gary, that were held in Joel Quenneville’s office. There’s absolutely no way that he can deny knowing it, and there’s absolutely no way that Stan Bowman would make up a quote like that to somebody that served his organization and his team so well.”

Near the end of the TSN interview, Beach, who’s currently playing hockey in Erfurt, Germany, talked about change. He, like so many survivors, wants the cycle of violence to end with him, even if he knows it will happen again. He wants a system to be in place to handle reports by people who don’t “have skin in the game of winning a Stanley Cup.” He wants other survivors of assault and abuse in sports to feel like they too can speak out. They will be supported, he said, by all the other survivors. It was hard to ignore the ease with which Beach rattled off the top of his head the bleak roll call of sexual abuse victims in sports, including former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy.

There will be more John Does. That’s just a fact, as simple as the math from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that says more than 43 percent of women and almost 25 percent of men in the United States will experience a form of sexual violence in their lifetimes. For as much as has been reported on sexual assault in sports, there’s more. What’s known, from Larry Nassar to Richard Strauss to Robert Anderson to Jerry Sandusky to George Gibney, always shows the same pattern: A person in authority figures out they can abuse their power over those with less of it because, if management finds out, they won’t really do anything. Law enforcement probably won’t either. The sport changes, the goal changes—the Stanley Cup or an Olympic gold medal or a college football championship—the basic dynamic does not. It’s as Beach said of the NHL: “They continue to try and protect their name over the health and the well-being of the people that put their lives on the line every day to make the NHL what it is.”

There is no one thing, one policy, one change, that will mean no more John Does. But it starts with acknowledging the breadth of the problem, which surely the NHL, like all sports organizations, is loath to do, and continues by deciding that people are more important than banners. It’s no coincidence that it was a sports coach, supposedly UCLA football’s Red Sanders, who first said a version of, “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” Future Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi took it, tweaked it, and turned the phrase into part of his legacy.

“Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing,” Lombardi said. “In our business, there is no second place. Either you’re first or you’re last.”

Decades later, in the movie Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the father of the main character would say nearly the same line—if you ain’t first, you’re last—as a joke. It’s funny, but it also reflects something deeply embedded our culture: that many people really do feel this way. It makes for a good slogan on a t-shirt, a great bit of fodder for sports talk, even a decent motivational self-pep talk in the mirror. Yet how many people’s lives are between first and last place?

If you or someone you know needs help or just needs to talk, the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network hotline can be reached at 1-800-656-4673 or by clicking here.