This week saw many revelations about the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks’ 2010 inaction after a player (Kyle Beach, who revealed in a TSN interview that he was “John Doe”) reported sexual abuse from video coach Brad Aldrich. Aldrich was allowed to remain with the team that summer, got his name on the Stanley Cup, and got a day with the Cup. Aldrich went on to further notable hockey work, including with the University of Notre Dame and USA Hockey, and he went on to commit sexual assaults against two people at Miami (Ohio) University in 2012 and a sexual assault against a high school player in 2013 (with that last one leading to a jail term for him).
The outside law firm report there, released to the public in full, led to Stan Bowman leaving his roles with both the Blackhawks and USA Hockey. It also led to Joel Quenneville (the Blackhawks’ head coach in 2010) resigning as head coach of the Florida Panthers, and it’s led to pressure (if not actual discipline yet) for current Winnipeg Jets’ GM Kevin Cheveldayoff (a Blackhawks’ assistant GM in 2010). And almost everyone else specifically mentioned in that report has already left the league. But one key figure who’s still involved with the NHL is NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr. The report mentioned this being brought to Fehr (who’s seen above in September speaking at Marvin Miller’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame), and Beach brought that up in his TSN interview Wednesday, but Fehr responded with an extremely vague statement suggesting this only reached a NHLPA doctor:
NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr issued a statement after Kyle Beach's comments about him on TSN. Beach claimed Fehr and the NHLPA turned their backs to his allegations after he brought them to the PA. pic.twitter.com/qnBk9YlH4C
— Greg Wyshynski (@wyshynski) October 28, 2021
Since that, though, there’s been a lot more pressure on Fehr. In particular, TSN’s Rick Westhead (a leading figure in reporting this story) ran a piece Friday with agent Ross Gurney (Beach’s agent) saying he specifically directly informed Fehr about Aldrich in a 2011 conversation around Aldrich’s involvement with the 2011 IIHF Women’s Under-18 World Championship:
During the 2011 Women’s Under-18 World Championship in Stockholm, player agent Ross Gurney says he phoned NHL Players’ Association executive director Don Fehr with a stark warning. He shared that his client, Kyle Beach, had allegedly been sexually abused by former Chicago Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich, who was working with Team USA at the tournament.
Gurney said in an interview with TSN on Wednesday that Fehr promised to forward the warning on to USA Hockey.
“My purpose in calling the PA was to get a warning to USA Hockey,” Gurney said. “That is what I was directed to do by Kyle.”
Beach was subsequently referred to Dr. Brian Shaw, a psychologist and program administrator with the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program.
“Dr. Shaw told me [during a phone call] he would handle it and make sure that Team USA was aware that Brad Aldrich is a sexual predator,” Beach told TSN on Wednesday. “After that one conversation, the NHLPA cut me loose. I never heard from them again.”
When contacted on Thursday, Dr. Shaw declined to discuss the subject of Beach requesting that the therapist go to USA Hockey and said, “I want to be clear about memory bias and I have feelings of wanting to be fair and supportive of Kyle. I’m not going to say anything else.”
Dr. Shaw told Jenner & Block reporter investigators that he did not have any records related to John Doe (Kyle Beach) or any recollection of meeting with him.
Neither Fehr nor Dr. Shaw contacted USA Hockey about Aldrich, said a person familiar with the matter.
And Frank Seravalli of Daily Faceoff added more on the Fehr front:
Approximately four months after first being contacted by Beach’s “confidant,” another “professional acquaintance” reached out to Fehr via email on April 18, 2011.
Daily Faceoff has confirmed that both the “confidant” of Beach and the “professional acquaintance” of another player referenced in the Jenner & Block report are actually NHLPA Certified Agents. Player agents are among the lifeblood of the union and one of Fehr’s most important constituencies.
According to documents obtained in the investigation, the “professional acquaintance” agent wrote to Fehr in an email on April 18, 2011:
“I know you have spoken with [Beach’s confidant] regarding an incident with [Beach] and a staff member during the Stanley Cup playoffs last year. [Another player] was involved as well and I got him in touch with [a therapist affiliated with the NHLPA] approximately 2 weeks ago; however, I did want to have a follow up with yourself.”
That further buttresses what Beach said about Fehr in his interview with Westhead Wednesday:
RW: I suppose it should also be pointed out that according to the report, that on multiple occasions, Don Fehr – the executive director of the NHL Players’ Association – was also made aware of concerns about Brad Aldrich’s misconduct and promised people to investigate and didn’t. So, would you hold him to the same standard?
KB: Absolutely, I would. He represents the players. I don’t know where I fall under the NHLPA – I never played games other than pre-season, but I was on an NHL roster when this happened, albeit as a Black Ace. I know I reported every single detail to an individual at the NHLPA, who I was put in contact with after. I believe two different people talked to Don Fehr. And for him to turn his back on the players when his one job is to protect the players at all costs, I don’t know how that can be your leader. I don’t know how he can be in charge. If that’s what he’s going to do when a player comes to you and tells you something, whether it be abuse, whether it be drugs, whether it be anything, you’re supposed to have the players’ backs and they definitely didn’t have mine.
Of course, Fehr is in a different position here than most of the figures in the Blackhawks’ organization. He’s the executive director of the NHLPA, so he isn’t really subject to NHL discipline. And there’s also a difference in what Fehr was able to do and expected to do here; with the Blackhawks, this was about a literal employee of theirs, whereas the appeals to Fehr were asking him to intervene with other organizations (particularly USA Hockey), and that can be tougher.
But Fehr is still under fire, and these particular comments are strong indications that Fehr personally received more information on Aldrich than what he claimed in that statement Wednesday. This wasn’t just about comments to a NHLPA doctor that were kept confidential. And it’s particularly notable that Gurney has gone on the record with specifics of what he said he told Fehr, and that Seravalli has reported that another agent brought similar concerns to Fehr. And while the pathway for Fehr to lose his job over this isn’t as clear as it is for anyone in the NHL (Seravalli notes that only the player-led NHLPA executive board could get rid of Fehr, and it’s unclear that they’re even considering that right now), Seravalli’s description of “waning support” for Fehr is certainly interesting. We’ll see if that leads to anything more.
[TSN, Daily Faceoff; photo from Gregory Fisher/USA Today Sports]