(Reuters) – Former NHL player Sheldon Kennedy, who is now an advocate against abuse in sport, said on Thursday the Chicago Blackhawks’ mishandling of sexual assault allegations against a former video coach was inexcusable but hopes lessons can be learnt.
Kennedy was speaking a day after Canadian hockey player Kyle Beach came forward as the “John Doe” who filed a lawsuit against the Blackhawks over the NHL team’s handling of allegations he made in 2010 against then-video coach Bradley Aldrich.
“There needs to be a culture shift because it’s not just the fear of the individual, who we now know as Kyle Beach, that was scared to come forward,” Kennedy told Reuters.
“Look at the bystanders in this situation … (who) probably didn’t have the confidence or knowledge or they were too scared to come forward to talk.”
An investigation released this week by American law firm Jenner & Block that was commissioned by the Blackhawks concluded Chicago team executives ignored for weeks the allegations made during the 2010 playoffs.
The report determined the executives met to discuss Beach’s allegations but took no action until after Chicago won their first Stanley Cup since 1961.
The Blackhawks, in a statement on Wednesday, acknowledged their “failure to promptly respond” when Beach, who now plays professional hockey in Germany, brought the allegations against Aldrich to light.
Kennedy, a co-founder of Respect Group which is aimed at preventing bullying, abuse, harassment and discrimination, said one upside of the scandal is that it shows players do have the confidence to come forward.
“The biggest thing that is with me in this case, which is a positive, is I believe the Blackhawks and the NHL thought if they could just be quiet on this that it was going to go away,” said Kennedy.
“But the shift that we have seen in society, and not just hockey but in society, is that society demands more around these issues today than we ever have.”
Stan Bowman resigned this week as the Blackhawks’ president of hockey operations while the NHL fined the team $2 million for what it called “inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response” in the matter.
Kennedy, who publicly disclosed in 1996 his story of sexual abuse at the hands of a minor hockey coach, feels everyone in the 32-league NHL should be trained on all a variety of issues ranging from harassment, diversity and bullying.
“We know that social change takes time but that’s going to be a good start. Get everybody on the same page so that we know what to do,” said Kennedy.
“People turn their backs on these issues and they don’t want to deal with them because these issues carry a tone of fear with them and people don’t know how to handle it so they just don’t handle it and that is more devastating.”
Aldrich resigned from his position in the 2010 offseason but went on to hold a number of other jobs in ice hockey, including at both the college and high school levels.
Jonathan Toews, who has been the Blackhawks captain since 2008, said after his team’s game on Wednesday that he first heard of the allegations against Aldrich ahead of training camp for the 2010-11 season.
“We wish we could have done something differently, myself included. My heart goes out to Kyle for what he dealt with. Wish I could have done something,” said Toews.
“It’s not an excuse looking back, but the truth is a lot of us were focused on just playing hockey.”
(Reporting by Frank Pingue in Toronto, editing by Pritha Sarkar)