At some point during the next few months, the Chicago Blackhawks will be due to hold their annual Pride Night promotion. They will attempt to commemorate a spirit of inclusion by trotting out Pride tape, wearing rainbow warm-up sweaters, and even partnering with a couple of local LGBTQ charities.
But this year, the Hawks’ attempt at outreach should be met with a simple but forceful response:
The horrific allegations about the unspeakable way the organization covered up video coordinator Brad Aldrich’s alleged sexual assault of defenseman Kyle Beach during its 2010 Stanley Cup run should have already been enough by themselves to make any fan question their emotional attachment to the team.
But after then hearing about how players on the championship roster responded by pelting Beach with anti-gay slurs and asking him if he “missed his boyfriend Brad,” one thing is clear: TThe Hawks need to sit out Pride Night until they address both the horrors of this assault and the culture of homophobia that allowed an attack on Beach to happen and then turned into a joke in the locker room.
LGBTQ hockey fans should not allow ourselves to be used for any kind of redemption narrative for an organization that has revealed that it is willing to sacrifice principles of basic human decency in pursuit of a trophy. Especially if two of those principles are inclusion and acceptance.
In a news release announcing last season’s promotion, the Blackhawks proclaimed “Pride Night brings the entire Blackhawks community together to stand against hate and for inclusion of LGBTQ+ individuals in society and in the sport of hockey.”
Apparently unless someone on the team is an alleged assault victim.
While almost the entire roster has turned over since 2010 (when the alleged assault occurred), the current Blackhawks still center around the two most prominent players from that season: Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.
According to the Chicago Sun-Times’ Ben Pope, “Toews and Kane said they didn’t witness any homophobic slurs directed at Beach during his stints in the NHL.”
Even if true, this is not exonerating. As the team’s captain, Toews was the leader of the locker room and the person to go to if teammates were experiencing any problems. Even if his words are true, what this implies is that Toews still oversaw an environment where Beach didn’t feel comfortable enough to let him know that teammates were using slurs.
Kane, meanwhile, was the team’s superstar and someone whom Beach socialized with during training camps. While he has never had the kind of locker room respect Toews enjoyed, his elite status still afforded him some influence on the roster. Despite that importance and his friendship with Beach, Kane also pleaded ignorance of both the nature of the assault and the homophobic aftermath.
After their initial comments regarding the assault created another firestorm, both players showed more sympathy for Beach and his plight in their subsequent discussions with the media. Kane noted that, “It takes incredible courage and pride for him to come forward. We’re all thinking about him.”
Toews showed a more contemplative side, admitting that, “I can’t change the past, can’t undo what happened. I’d just like to know more and more what Kyle feels and what he wants and what he envisions for the future for maybe someone like me in my position, what we can do to make a difference.”
The answer for that, of course, is to be there for him when he needed it most. And to be someone that he could confide in when fellow teammates ridiculed his trauma and added to it with anti-gay bigotry. While both Kane and Toews are at least showing more empathy for Beach, neither has addressed their team’s homophobic response to his assault other than to deny hearing about it. And neither one has discussed how to prevent that from happening again.
Since Kane and Toews are the most famous members of the 2021 roster, their inability to meaningfully address their teammates’ homophobic and callous response to sexual assault renders any celebratory aspect of Blackhawks Pride Night hollow and meaningless. And without a celebration of LGBTQ inclusion, Pride Night itself becomes nothing but an empty marketing gesture.
As a community, we need to send a message to the Hawks: We will not be part of your attempts to market yourself back into Chicago’s good graces until you meaningfully address your team’s role in sexual assault and homophobia.
Furthermore, the Hawks must make massive organizational changes to demonstrate to us that they will never let any of this happen again. The resignations of GM Stan Bowman and other front office employees are a start.
But changes have to be made throughout the entire organization — and Kane and Toews need to say a lot more to both acknowledge the horror of what took place under their watch and be proactive about making sure it never reoccurs in the future.
Until then, events like Blackhawks Pride Night will ring just as hollow as their 2010 Stanley Cup title does now.