Last night on Hockey Night in Canada, Ron MacLean had a very lengthy conversation with The Athletic’s Katie Strang, former Wing Sheldon Kennedy and SafeSport’s Allison Forsyth to discuss the Kyle Beach incident.
It’s an incredibly difficult clip to watch, but the proliferation of sexual assault in sports and life–and, as Strang says, the systemic failures of the NHL, NHLPA and the Chicago Blackhawks to protect a player from a sexual predator–are inexcusable.
Last night, Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman also reported that the NHLPA’s Executive Board is going to meet on Monday via phone, and there is some speculation that Donald Fehr’s job as the PA’s executive director is at stake.
Early this morning, Paul Kukla of Kukla’s Korner posted a very good article from the New York Post’s Larry Brooks, a long-time supporter of the NHLPA, who suggests that it’s the players’ job now to address the failures that led to Beach’s abuse at the hands of Brad Aldrich. Brooks rightly suggests that the NHLPA has become a union that focuses on trying to make sure its players don’t get suspended for violent hits, instead of working to protect the physical and mental health of its constituent members, and that’s got to change:
Long before this report was issued, Fehr and the PA have been criticized repeatedly on social media by Daniel Carcillo and Robin Lehner for the union’s failure to protect the physical and mental health of NHL players. The union reflexively defends perpetrators of on-ice violence at the expense of its victims. So it is not clear at all that the PA perceives its singular priority as protecting the players at all costs.
Each generation of NHL players has become less and less engaged with the Players’ Association since the upheaval generated by the 2004-05 canceled season and introduction of the hard cap. Players, of their own choosing, know little of management-labor issues. The constitution has been rewritten under Fehr’s direction to deconstruct player power-centers within the union. The Executive Board consists of the 32 team player-reps and Fehr, a non-voting member.
A conference call meeting of the Executive Board has been called for Monday. If the subject is Fehr’s conduct, the board can go into executive session that would exclude him from the meeting. Fehr, conducting his annual fall tour, met with the Oilers on Friday.
The Blackhawks failed Beach. Bowman failed Beach. Quenneville failed Beach. His teammates failed Beach. The NHLPA failed Beach.
Now though, the players have the power. The rank and file have the chance to make their voices heard after Beach used his own so eloquently while mixed with tears.
The players now have the opportunity to chart their course and transform their union into one whose priority is to preserve and protect the membership’s mental and physical well-being. We are all watching.
Just as we live in a world where it’s no longer a player’s fault if he gets lit up by a dangerous, head-hunting hit by an opponent, it’s no longer a world where it’s a player’s fault if his physical or mental health is placed in peril by an off-ice issue, and I agree with Brooks that the NHLPA has to transform itself going forward.
We keep on learning about more and more players who, like the general public, feel all too alone battling mental and physical health issues, battling addiction issues, financial problems, and all the other issues that normal human beings deal with, and the PA has done a shitty job of supporting its members through tough life issues.
In a better world, a union helps you when the shit hits the fan, and in a better world, a union at the very least ensures that predators like Brad Aldrich never get past a mandatory background check.
What happened to Kyle Beach is horrific, and the fact that the NHL failed its players is inexcusable–as is the fact that the players’ union let down one of their own.
There is no reason that players who are entitled to a 50-50 split of revenues in a multi-billion-dollar business should have a union that does anything less than protect them from sexual abuse, at the very, very, very least.