This article discusses sexual assault and may be triggering for some readers. The Kingston Sexual Assault Centre’s 24-hour crisis and support phone line can be reached at 613-544-6424 / 1-800-544-6424. The Centre’s online chat feature can be reached here.
In October 2020, Kyle Beach, a former Chicago Blackhawks player, accused Brad Aldrich, the team’s video coach, of sexually assaulting him during the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup run. Beach—only 20 at the time—said everyone in the organization and the locker room knew about the assault, but no one did anything about it.
An investigation revealed Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and other higher-ups in the organization held a meeting on the situation, deciding against dealing with the issue because it would ruin locker room chemistry.
This isn’t an isolated incident. For too long, the NHL and other leagues have tried to ignore and cover up the toxic culture existing within hockey. At the heart of this cultural problem is an attitude and an expectation of playing through pain.
Hockey is by nature a fast and physical sport, but when players get hurt or suffer from mental health problems, they should be given the proper time to recover. However, many hockey players are expected or pressured to keep playing no matter what. This pressure can lead to serious long-term health issues, potentially causing players to abuse drugs and alcohol.
At the root of this cultural problem are two factors.
The first is toxic masculinity, which is a problem reaching far beyond the scope of hockey. It shapes a narrow and unhealthy image of masculinity through which men feel like they can’t show any weakness and pain or can’t open up about their emotions.
Men are often taught being abused is a sign of weakness and shame. Especially as a professional athlete and hockey player, one is expected to be hyper-masculine—and any abuse is taken less seriously. Kyle Beach opened up about how even his own teammates joked about the assault, brushing it off as not a serious issue.
The second is the ‘boys club’—a hockey term referring to a group of high-ranking executives who put winning and profit above the health and safety of their players.
Unless they’re a bona fide star, most players are seen as expendable. If they can’t play through an injury, they’ll simply be replaced by someone else or be labelled as a disturbance to locker room chemistry and be blackballed from the league—effectively ruining their career. These higher-ups would rather protect their abusive and toxic buddies than tend to their players who put their bodies on the line every week.
The Chicago Blackhawks sexual assault cover-up is a wake-up call the hockey world can’t ignore. It’s time for fans, players and—most importantly—the NHL to hold those responsible accountable and to create a healthier culture for the game.
Nathan is a third-year Film student and The Journal’s Senior Video Editor.
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