Blackhawks Scandal Leaves Hockey Fans Reeling

It has been a rough week to be a Chicago Blackhawks fan. The ire of the fanbase was up because of a winless start to the season that didn’t see the team lead during its first six games, but that all changed Tuesday afternoon. Once the findings of the independent investigation by Jenner & Block were released, the struggles on the ice didn’t matter anymore. While many felt the awful start was rock bottom, we quickly learned that this franchise could fall much further.

Related – Bowman Resigns From Blackhawks After Damning Report

A couple of hours after the report was released, which led to the resignations of president Stan Bowman and senior vice president Al MacIsaac, news broke that John Doe would reveal his identity. TSN’s Rick Westhead, who was prominent in the initial reporting of the accusations, took to the air with Kyle Beach. In a gut-wrenching interview, Beach emotionally revealed details about the hell he went through as a member of the Blackhawks. I know I am not alone when I say I was disgusted and heartbroken by what he told us. I found myself gutted and feeling lost about what to do next. Something many hockey fans were feeling.

The Game Let Down Kyle Beach

Beach was drafted by the Blackhawks 11th overall at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft. His nightmare began shortly after turning pro and being part of the “Black Aces” for the 2010 run to the Stanley Cup. I will spare you from the details of the assault he suffered at the hands of former video coordinator Brad Aldrich. He spent the next three seasons playing for the Rockford IceHogs in the American Hockey League (AHL), living with what had happened to him by the same organization that signed his paychecks.

The Blackhawks traded Beach to the New York Rangers during the 2013-14 season and he has never played in the NHL. Like many others in the media, when he was moved, I called him a “bust” while others labeled him a “head case.” Of course, hindsight is always 20/20, but as we know now, those labels are grossly unfair, and I regret ever using them.

Beach was assaulted and went to his superiors, who just kept kicking it up the chain of command until ultimately nothing was done. Aldrich resigned, but he was allowed to get more jobs within the game and continue to assault more victims. Meanwhile, Beach had to live with the pain and shame, which nobody should have to go through. His coaches failed him. His teammates failed him. The entire hockey world failed him. All we can do now is to make sure this never happens again.

Where Do Blackhawks Fans Go from Here?

This is a strange time. Blackhawks fans feel anger, disgust, and heartbreak for what happened to Beach and the lack of action that followed. Add to it that this happened in the same season former IceHogs head coach Bill Peters used racial slurs towards prospect Akim Aliu and that 2010 championship is forever tainted. We all celebrated that win, the first Stanley Cup in 49 years, with no clue about what was happening behind closed doors. It is hard to enjoy those moments now.

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I have seen each end of the spectrum of emotions and everything in between. I am right there with you. What do you do as a Blackhawks fan? There is no right or wrong answer to that question. Everyone is allowed to be a fan the way they choose to be. You can be angry at all of those involved and still support this season’s team. Or, you can be done with the Blackhawks completely. Both are rational and fair responses to this.

Only two players on the current roster were here when Beach was assaulted and reportedly harassed by teammates after; Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Neither player did themselves any favors in their comments to the media on Wednesday night. They weren’t the only ones who made Bowman seem like the victim, but you’d want a little more from your leadership group.

Patrick Kane Jonathan Toews Blackhawks
Kane and Toews are the only two players remaining from the 2009-10 season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Then there is team owner Rocky Wirtz. Some have said they won’t be fans as long as he still owns the team. He denies that he had previous knowledge of this until the lawsuit was filed. Whether you believe him or not, this still happened on his watch. It is very easy to be angry that he has not taken more ownership of these events.

The bottom line is, there is no correct way to react to this. We all have had different life experiences that lead us to how we feel about these sorts of things. It is your choice if you decide that you are done with the Blackhawks and the NHL, or you will continue to cheer them.

The Next Step is Up to All of Us

Regardless of what you think of the Blackhawks right now, we can all agree that something like this must never happen again. Hockey is a beautiful sport that has a toxic culture. Much like with Wirtz, this happened on commissioner Gary Bettman’s watch, but it is not just up to him to make the league a safer place. It is up to all: the players, coaches, front office staff, reporters, and fans. We must all hold each other accountable from this day forward.

The Blackhawks put winning ahead of the safety of one of their own. This is not a practice exclusive to this team, this league, or even to the world of sports. It happens all the time, and it needs to stop. Examples must be made to prevent this from happening again. Bowman and MacIsaac are no longer with the organization. Joel Quenneville resigned as Florida Panthers head coach on Thursday night. The league will not punish Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, and Montreal Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin appears to be in the clear. Cheveldayoff was an assistant general manager, and Bergevin was the director of player personnel for the Blackhawks in 2010.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman
It is not solely up to Bettman to change hockey culture. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Everyone who was in a position to do something and failed should be held accountable. They should lose their jobs and not have the privilege of being in the game again. In my years of being “behind the curtain,” covering games and scouting, I have befriended many great people in the sport. Hockey is full of wonderful people who, right now, are being overshadowed by this scar on the game. I will use my voice and this outlet to tell those stories. I will also take on the responsibility of bettering myself and learning from my mistakes to serve the hockey community better.

The only way to properly conclude this is to send well wishes and support to Beach and all of the victims who have fallen prey to Aldrich. Predators like him operate within a code of silence, and breaking that took a lot of courage. I hope they all have some peace of mind today and will get the justice they deserve. The change we seek is up to all of us, and this is the moment to start it.