Perhaps the saddest aspect of the sexual assault scandal that has cast a pall over the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks in recent weeks is the familiarity of it all, coming after predators such as Larry Nassar, Jerry Sandusky and Richard Strauss were similarly allowed to make young athletes their victims under a culture of impunity.
The Hockey Hall of Fame this week covered former Blackhawks assistant coach Brad Aldrich’s name on the Stanley Cup with Xs, leaving a scar that the storied Original Six franchise will forever have to explain, a more fitting damnation than removing his name altogether. Aldrich sexually assaulted rookie forward Kyle Beach during the 2010 season, an incident the franchise swept under the rug in pursuit of its first championship since 1961. Then-coach Joel Quenneville was fired by his new team this week for his role, along with general manager Stan Bowman.
Beach testified that when he attempted to resist Aldrich, the assistant coach wielded a baseball bat and warned Beach that by pulling strings, he could permanently destroy Beach’s pro career. The team kept Aldrich on staff until after winning the Stanley Cup, then quietly parted ways with him without warning anyone else. Miami (Ohio) University later hired Aldrich without a warning from the Blackhawks; he allegedly found more victims on campus.
When Aldrich gloated over the sort of unquestioned power he claimed over Beach’s life, he likely wasn’t kidding. Sports culture, from the professionals down to high school, has long valued unquestioning, militant obedience toward coaches and others who don’t need such absolute authority. It’s part of a win-at-all-costs mentality that assumes if a coach has to explain himself, his all-important ability to coax victory out of the team will somehow be undermined.
Consider ex-Baylor football coach Art Briles, who brought a once-moribund program to national prominence, but was fired after his players were accused of 53 rapes between 2011 and 2014. Rather than being scorned as an enabler of monstrous behavior, students and alumni rallied around Briles as a purported victim of political correctness, urging Baylor’s administration to retain him. Ex-Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight received a similar outpouring of support after being ousted for hotheaded behavior that wouldn’t be tolerated from a man in any other occupation.
It isn’t clear why anyone would want to invest former Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden with this sort of power, given his mediocre 117-112 career win-loss record. But star-struck Raiders owner Mark Davis gave Gruden a 10-year, $100 million contract in 2018 nonetheless.
Gruden was ousted last month after leaked emails revealed his neanderthal-like attitudes toward women and people of other races. Among the more disturbing revelations was that Gruden, who had control over the Raiders’ personnel decisions, thought San Francisco 49ers safety Eric Reid should be “fired” for his support of the Black Lives Matter movement. Turns out Reid was onto something when he reached a settlement with the league in 2019 over claims that he and ex-teammate Colin Kaepernick were being blacklisted for their political views.
The power-mad archetype coach was once considered necessary for winning, but ex-NFL players who won Super Bowls under mild-mannered coaches Dick Vermeil, Pete Carroll and Doug Pederson have insisted that a more modest coach can achieve success too. Perhaps a change is in order.
Change is clearly needed in the NHL. Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews seemed more annoyed than sympathetic toward Beach, defending those involved in the coverup and claiming “hindsight is 20/20.” Boston Bruins forward Taylor Hall, the league’s 2018 MVP, gave a more sensible view that resonates beyond the hockey world.
“Every culture needs to keep getting better, and hockey is no different,” Hall said of the Blackhawks scandal. “There need to be changes and, unfortunately, people need to be held accountable.”
— Oneonta Daily Star