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An Ongoing Legacy of Abuse in Hockey Leagues

Content Warning: This article discusses sexual abuse, and includes links to reports containing graphic descriptions of assault that some readers may find distressing.  

“I am a survivor. And I know I’m not alone. I know I’m not the only one… I buried this for ten years, eleven years. And it’s destroyed me from the inside out.” 

These sobering words from former Chicago Blackhawks prospect player, Canadian Kyle Beach, illustrate the damaging effects of sexual abuse. Beach has recently come forward as the anonymous plaintiff in a lawsuit filed last May alleging that the Blackhawks’ former video coach, Brad Aldrich, assaulted him in 2010.  

Beach’s description of the assault is deeply upsetting. An older authority figure used their position of power within the framework of a major NHL team to coerce a young prospect player into engaging in non-consensual sexual activity. Beach, who was 20 years old at the time, alleges that Aldrich threatened both his physical safety and his professional hockey career if he refused to engage in unwanted sexual activity.  

The assault was traumatizing in and of itself. But the Blackhawks’ delayed organizational response to the shocking allegations only made matters worse. Following an independent investigation, the NHL has fined the Chicago hockey team $2 million as punishment for their “inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response.” Indeed, the independent report illustrates that senior team officials not only shared rumours about Beach’s assault, but that the forced sex act was the subject of jokes within the organization. Hoping to avoid negative press during playoff season, the Blackhawks’ senior management postponed their investigation into the assault until after their season had ended. By this time, Aldrich had already allegedly used his position of power to make unwanted sexual advances towards another young member of the organization, a 22-year-old team intern.  

Aldrich was given the option to resign from the Blackhawks. He was granted severance payment and a playoff bonus, awarded a championship ring, and his name was engraved on the Stanley Cup. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to organizational responses to allegations of sexual abuse and assault, the Blackhawks’ insufficient investigation is not especially surprising. This situation is, sadly, emblematic of many survivors’ experiences. Those who bravely speak up about abuses that have been perpetrated against them by authority figures within larger organizations or institutions are often met with inadequate responses. Survivors’ fears of disbelief and organizational inaction are among the numerous reasons why sexual abuse victims often choose to remain silent about the crimes that have been committed against them. 

However, in the world of hockey, both depraved sexual violence and extreme secrecy about it are deeply ingrained in many players’ experiences from early on in their professional training. Players learn to accept physical, emotional, and sexual abuse as an inherent aspect of the game’s culture. They also learn that talking about it can have professional, punitive consequences.  

Hazing and a Culture of Silence  

According to the allegations of 16 former Canadian Hockey League players, a deviant culture of hyper-sexualized, humiliating, physically abusive hazing has been allowed to exist within the framework of this nationwide institution for decades. The allegations—which have not yet been proven in court—date back to the 1980s and are truly disturbing. The graphic details about the alleged abuses are difficult to read and may be upsetting to certain readers.   

One can hardly imagine being the victim of such depravity. But it is truly distressing to think that minors were subjected to abuse that was seemingly condoned—or, at least, unpunished—by the league’s management. Jay Johnson, a University of Manitoba professor whose expert report on hazing in the CHL is included in the victims’ court filings, alleges that the same sadistic rituals have been carried out in hockey leagues across the country for decades, and that violent, homoerotic hazing persists throughout the CHL to this day “with the management fully aware of its presence.”  

After encountering abusive hazing rituals or sexual exploitation in their junior-major league, rookie players with hopes of one day making it to the NHL are faced with an impossible situation. By coming forward to call out the inappropriate actions of their teammates—or of an abusive coach—these players risk forfeiting their positions in the league, sacrificing their hard work and lifelong dreams of playing professional hockey. But by staying silent, they may find themselves enduring unthinkable abuse. 

Players who have encountered systemic abuse within their hockey league are, therefore, incentivized by staying silent. They are led to believe that their reticence to discuss the depravity they have witnessed or endured themselves could be beneficial to their overall hockey careers. This engenders a culture of silence that, clearly, continues to perpetuate itself in the sport’s most professional levels.  

Remaining silent about this toxic, systemic culture of abuse leaves future generations of professional hockey hopefuls vulnerable to disgusting hazing rituals, sexual exploitation, and violence. Furthermore, victims of sexual abuse who remain silent about the trauma they have been forced to endure frequently develop emotional and psychological challenges that could continue to haunt them for the rest of their lives. 

The Long-Lasting Impacts of Sexual Abuse 

Kyle Beach has revealed that, in the decade that followed his sexual assault, he relied on unhealthy coping mechanisms in order to deal with the resulting emotional and psychological trauma, including the use of alcohol and drugs. Sadly, Beach’s response to the trauma he endured as a result of being assaulted is not uncommon for victims of sexual abuse. 

Survivors of sexual abuse often develop severe mental health conditions as a result of their exploitation. Many victims of sexual abuse struggle to afford the much-needed costs associated with their recovery, including psychological counselling and other forms of necessary treatment. As such, they often turn to more self-destructive coping mechanisms to try overcoming the trauma from their past. Often, sexual abuse survivors find themselves turning to alcohol or drugs to try and reducing the overwhelming psychological impact of the crime committed against them. The far-reaching effects of sexual abuse often include: 

  • Anxiety 
  • Depression 
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) 
  • Shame 
  • Low self-esteem 
  • Lack of self-worth 
  • Self-harm 
  • Attempted or completed suicide 
  • And possibly more 

If you are in distress, contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 833-456-4566. 

In addition to the emotional and psychological repercussions of being victimized, sexual abuse survivors often incur substantial monetary losses as a result of the trauma they endured. Abused hockey players may abandon their training or sacrifice professional opportunities as a result of their experiences, leading to lost wages or a reduced future earning capability. Additionally, the victims of sexual abuse could find themselves struggling to afford the high costs of necessary mental health support. Victims and their families may be forced to go to great expense to try reckoning with the traumatizing experiences they were forced to endure.  

Resources for Parents  

For the parents of young children who play hockey in recreational or major-junior leagues, the reports of systemic sexual abuse and aggressively sexual hazing rituals are, undoubtedly, distressing. Hockey is our national pastime, a sport enjoyed by countless Canadians. How can parents be sure their kids are safe participating in this beloved activity when such damning allegations about abuse continue to surface? 

Transparent and open communication between parents and children can be crucial for the protection of their physical and emotional safety. Normalizing healthy, open conversations with children about their experience in hockey practice may help young players feel safe talking to trusted family members about difficult subject matter.  

Parents can encourage their children to talk about their feelings and ask questions about events they may not fully understand. By doing so, parents might normalize discussions about physical, emotional, and mental boundaries, helping their kids understand what kind of conduct on the ice or in the locker room is appropriate, and what is not.  

Parents should feel empowered to trust their instincts when they believe something is wrong. They can tell their children explicitly that it is never acceptable for an adult to ask them to keep secrets and emphasize that their child will not be in trouble for telling their parents about something they find troubling. 

If you suspect your child was the victim of sexual abuse in their hockey league, contact the police.   

Contact Preszler Injury Lawyers 

Being the victim of sexual abuse can have long-lasting, destructive impacts on a person’s overall quality of life. If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, you may be entitled to financial compensation. By working with our Ontario sexual abuse lawyers,  you may be able to file a civil claim against your abuser and, depending on the details of your case, against the organization that allowed their criminal actions to take place. Our sexual abuse lawyers serving Ontario may be able to help you recover damages you have incurred as a result of the abuse you endured. These may include: 

  • Pain and Suffering 
  • Psychological counselling 
  • Psychiatric treatment 
  • Prescription medications 
  • Failure to reach potential 
  • Reduced earning capabilities  
  • Lost wages  
  • And more 

To learn more about options that may be available to you, contact Preszler Injury Lawyers and schedule a free initial consultation with our Ontario sexual abuse lawyers.

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