(Reuters) – Fans should be “horrified” by the sex abuse scandal engulfing the Chicago Blackhawks, said National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday while defending his handling of the case.
Bettman was grilled by the media during a nearly one hour press conference that focused on the findings of independent investigation conducted by the Blackhawks into allegations that former video coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted player Kyle Beach after he was called up from the minors during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Bettman began by offering a public apology to Beach for this “horrible situation,” but he was quickly left to defend the league’s handling of the matter, warning there will be consequences for any team putting results above player safety.
“This has to serve as a wake up call to all clubs that you need to make sure you understand what your organisation is doing because you are going to be held responsible,” he added.
An explosive 107-page independent report released on Tuesday detailed a lack of action by Blackhawks senior management, who were made aware of the Beach allegations but did not deal with the matter while playing in the Stanley Cup finals.
In a statement issued after Beach’s comments, the Blackhawks praised the former first-round draft pick for his courage and apologised for the organization’s failure to respond. “No playoff game or championship is more important than protecting our players and staff from predatory behaviour,” the team said.
In the report, Aldrich stated that the encounter was entirely consensual.
After winning the Stanley Cup, the Blackhawks offered Aldrich the choice of facing an investigation or resign which he did.
Beach, a first round draft pick who would never play a game for Chicago, filed a lawsuit against the Blackhawks in May, 2021 and only revealed himself as the victim of alleged assault last Wednesday during an emotional interview with Canadian sport network TSN.
The revelations have resulted in shock and finger-pointing at the NHL, the NHL Players Association and Blackhawks management and players over their inaction.
“I think that people are going to feel dispirited, disappointed, horrified as to what happened,” said Bettman. “But understand that we tried to be as transparent as possible, that actions that have been taken to address the things that were done wrong.”
The NHL fined the Blackhawks for “the organisation’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response.”
Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and Florida Panthers coach Joel Quenneville, who had been coach of the Blackhawks at the time, both reigned their positions last week.
Still, Bettman was on the defensive throughout much of the video conference, challenged about his decision to exonerate Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, the former-Blackhawks assistant.
Cheveldayoff, who is expected to hold a media briefing on Tuesday, was cleared of any culpability with Bettman saying he at the time had no authority in the matter.
“Kevin’s principal duties at the time dealt with the salary cap and scouting,” explained Bettman. Cheveldayoff believed his boss and his boss’s boss were investigating and taking care of it, Bettman said.
“He didn’t know or have access to the information.
“What he did know led him to belief that it was being deal with appropriately,” Bettman said.
(Reporting by Steve Keating in Toronto. Editing by Edward Tobin)