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The bravery of Kyle Beach and the truth about sexual assault in men’s sports

The former Blackhawks player’s revelations show how anti-gay slurs can be weaponized against male survivors of sexual assault.

NHL Rookie Tournament - Day Three
Kyle Beach says all of his teammates knew about his sexual assault.
Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images

When former Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Kyle Beach was allegedly sexually assaulted by the team’s video coach in 2010, he says his teammates called him anti-gay slurs. Instead of offering compassion, they belittled his manhood.

Beach’s revelations uncover the dark side of the locker room. We often write about casual homophobia as it pertains to LGBTQ athletes, but in this case, it was weaponized to humiliate Beach, who’s straight, for being sexually assaulted.

Anti-gay slurs aren’t just words. They can truly hurt people and careers.

On Wednesday, Beach came forward and identified himself as the “John Doe” who filed a sexual assault complaint against Brad Aldrich in 2010. The Blackhawks covered up the allegation, keeping Aldrich on staff through the playoffs and allowing him to participate in celebratory events. He even got his own day with the Stanley Cup.

The alleged assault occurred in May 2010, during Chicago’s Western Conference final series against the San Jose Sharks. While Aldrich told investigators the episode was consensual, Beach said it was “entirely non-consensual.” Before the assault began, Aldrich reportedly warned Beach he would never play in the NHL or walk again if he didn’t “act like he enjoyed the sexual encounter.”

An investigation by the law firm Jenner & Brock, which was released Tuesday, concluded the Blackhawks’ senior leaders did “nothing” when Beach told them about Aldrich’s assault and harassment. One day following Chicago’s Stanley Cup win, Aldrich made sexual advances toward a male intern and “physically grabbed him,” the report says.

Aldrich left the Blackhawks that summer, after the team’s human resources department had told him he could either resign or take part in an investigation. With no stain on his record, Aldrich was free to assault again. Two years later, he was accused of assaulting two men while working as Miami (Ohio) University’s director of hockey operations. The alleged incidents resulted in his resignation.

In 2014, Aldrich was sentenced to nine months in a county jail for his sexual assault on a Michigan high school hockey player. He was also required to register as a sex offender.

The NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million for their disgraceful inaction, and general manager Stan Bowman resigned. On Thursday, former head coach Joel Quenneville, who the report says knew about the assault shortly after it had occurred, stepped down from his position with the Florida Panthers.

Eleven years later, finally some justice is being served. Beach filed a lawsuit against the Blackhawks earlier this year.

“I’ve suppressed this memory and buried this memory to chase my dreams and pursue the career that I loved and the game that I love of hockey,” Beach told TSN. “The healing process is just beginning and yesterday was a huge step in that process. But until very recently, I did not talk about it, I did not discuss it, I didn’t think about it.”

Beach, who was 20 when the Blackhawks called him up to serve as their “Black Ace” (a prospect who travels with the team and fills in for injured players) for their Stanley Cup run, wound up playing five years in the AHL. The first-round pick never made it into an NHL game. He now plays professionally in Germany.

It’s hard to fathom the mental anguish that Beach experienced. First he was assaulted, and then he was insulted.

“I do believe that everyone in that locker room knew about it,” Beach said. “Because the comments were made in the locker room, they were made on the ice, they were made around the arena with all different people of all different backgrounds — players, staff, media in the presence.”

Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews says he wishes the team “could’ve done something differently” with Beach. Maybe not pelting him with anti-gay disses would’ve been a good place to start? Beach told investigators his teammates asked if he “missed his boyfriend Brad” at training camp the following year.

According to Beach’s lawsuit, he was “subjected to humiliating trash talking by his teammates during scrimmages where coaches were present” and was “repeatedly” called gay slurs.

Unfortunately, those kinds of derogatory quips are commonplace in locker rooms. In an Outsports-sponsored survey of LGBTQ athletes who came out in high school or college, 69.3% said they heard at least 1 in 10 teammates use homophobic language on a weekly basis.

Last week, Outsports co-founder Jim Buzinski wrote a piece about Dodgers slugger Cody Bellinger saying the opposing pitcher “shoved it up” their butts in a losing effort. While that line was nothing more than a slapstick joke, it spoke to the toxic notion that getting fucked is some kind of weakness.

Beach’s teammates were implicitly telling him the assault was a commentary on his masculinity. “Real men” don’t get taken advantage of.

Sure enough, Beach says the Blackhawks’ mental skills coach told him it was his fault, because he “put himself in that situation.”

Language reflects culture. It’s apparent the 2010 Blackhawks locker room was not a supportive or inclusive space. That kind of environment almost certainly isn’t an anomaly.

Beach is coming out now as “John Doe” so other men in his position don’t feel alone. As LGBTQ people, we know the power of visibility. Beach is taking a brave step.