Win and Lose Trying: The Chicago Blackhawks Story
This blog post is part of our Sexual Violence in Sport series where we examine high-profile stories and share what can be learned from them to better understand the nature of sexual violence and how to support survivors.
This summer, an unnamed Chicago Blackhawks player who was a member of the 2010 Stanley Cup-winning team filed a lawsuit accusing the Blackhawks of ignoring allegations that he and an unidentified teammate were sexually assaulted by the then-Blackhawks video coach, Brad Aldrich. The survivor, first named as ‘John Doe’ to protect his identity, has since spoken out and identified himself as Kyle Beach.
Beach’s lawsuit pried open a culture of dismissal and denial within the Chicago Blackhawks organization, primarily within their executive and management team. The investigation following the lawsuit found that players had come forward and disclosed the sexual assault to mental skills coach James Gary and then again to skills coach Paul Vincent. In response, the investigation found that Gary convinced one of the other players that the sexual assault was his fault while Vincent called a meeting the following day with Blackhawk executives to discuss filing a report to the Chicago police regarding the disclosures.
However, the meeting took place on the same day that the Blackhawks secured their spot in the Stanley Cup finals, and the executive team decided that inquiring into the sexual assault allegations would only distract them from what they deemed as most important – winning. The Blackhawks would go on to win the 2010 Stanley Cup, with Brad Aldrich participating in the celebrations, and then quietly leaving his position without any repercussions for the sexual violence he committed. Instead, Aldrich left the hockey organization with a severance package and a positive reference letter.
Three years after Brad Aldrich left the Blackhawks, he was charged and convicted with criminal sexual conduct for sexually assaulting a 17-year-old athlete that he coached at Miami University in Ohio.
To date, many of the Blackhawk executives deny having heard of any allegations against Aldrich. However, the full investigation report outlines the reality of the assault while uncovering how many leaders within the organization ignored and dismissed the sexual violence committed by Aldrich.
This story shines a light on many cultural and societal aspects, particularly from a large institution such as professional sport, that contribute to the perpetration of sexualized violence. The very core of sexual violence is rooted in widespread attitudes and beliefs about how our assigned sex, be it male or female, determines how we should live and be in the world.
In relation to the Chicago Blackhawks case, we see how the stereotype of the ‘male athlete’ is deeply embedded within sport culture. This stereotype puts an extreme amount of pressure on athletes to be tough, aggressive and focused solely on the pursuit of talent. If an athlete is to step outside the confines of the stereotype by expressing emotion or behaving in a way that goes against the status quo, they are often shamed and ridiculed. For example, when Kyle Beach was assaulted, his teammates made homophobic remarks towards him both on and off the ice.
These kind of derogatory remarks not only reflect the hypermasculinity that exists in sport, but also reveals how survivors of sexual violence are blamed for their own assaults, and often made to believe that they ‘wanted’ or ‘willingly participated’ because they didn’t stop it from happening.
What needs to be understood about the nature of sexual violence is that it’s a crime of power and control. Often, the person who commits the violence is someone who has gained a certain level of trust and respect with their victim. In sport, coaches can have a lot of power and influence on an athlete. Because of this, athletes may fear doing or saying something that threatens their relationship and potentially their career.
As Brenley Shapiro, a Toronto-based mental performance consultant said, “A player doesn’t know how much a video coach might talk to the head coach and how much input a video coach has on the team. Athletes are taught from a young age to respect and listen to their coaches and in the sports setting, a predator will choose his prey carefully, often targeting someone who is more vulnerable, someone who doesn’t have an established position with the team, someone who is struggling to make it, someone who has come to trust them.”
The Chicago Blackhawks story is not the first and will not be the last when it comes to sexual violence in sport, specifically in the context of coach-athlete relationships. Knowing this, it is important for us to lead with courage, in the same way Kyle is, to take a stand against sexual violence and to demand accountability and change in institutions that hold a great deal of power within society such as sport.
The information shared in this article was compiled from the following sources:
TSN (2021). Former Blackhawks player alleges he was sexually assaulted by coach, Blackhawks refused to report alleged sex abuse of players to police: source, Kyle Beach: John Doe
Schar, R. J. (2021, October). Report to the Chicago Blackhawks Hockey Team Regarding the Organization’s Response to Allegations of Sexual Misconduct by a Former Coach. Retrieved October 29, 2021, from Report to the Chicago Blackhawks Hockey Team Regarding the Organization’s Response to Allegations of Sexual Misconduct by a Former coach