Blackhawks sexual assault scandal: Investigation into NHLPA’s involvement raises more questions than it answers

An investigation into the NHL Players’ Association’s handling of Kyle Beach’s 2010 sexual assault allegations against ex-Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich has cleared the NHLPA and its director, Donald Fehr.

The investigation, conducted by the law firm Cozen O’Connor and released publicly Friday, could not “identify any individual wrongdoing or institutional failures of policy or procedure by either Fehr [or] NHLPA personnel.”

But the details within the investigation report raise far more questions than they answer.

Beach and “Black Ace 1,” the still-anonymous Hawks prospect whom Aldrich allegedly sexually harassed in 2010, refused to participate in this Cozen O’Connor investigation. Why?

Beach’s former agent, Ross Gurney, told investigators he called Fehr in December 2010 after Aldrich was hired by USA Hockey, hoping Fehr would notify USA Hockey about their new coach’s immorality. Gurney recalled describing Aldrich as either a “sexual predator” or “pedophile” to Fehr, yet Fehr swears he doesn’t remember hearing that.

How does Fehr not remember? And more importantly, why did he not notify USA Hockey at the time?

Fehr told investigators he wouldn’t have notified USA Hockey regardless without knowing more details about what Aldrich did and whether Beach had reported it. In that case, why did he not ask for such details, or why did Gurney not provide them?

Gurney told investigators he remained in regular contact with Fehr but never followed up about Aldrich. Why? And why did he not keep track of Aldrich himself and try notifying his later employers,such as Notre Dame and Miami (Ohio) universities?

Black Ace 1’s former agent, Joe Resnick, emailed Fehr in April 2011 about Black Ace 1 talking to an NHLPA-affiliated therapist about the sexual harassment he endured. In that email he wrote, “I know you have spoken with [Gurney] regarding an incident with [Beach]…last year.”

How did Resnick know about Gurney and Fehr’s conversation? The most logical possible answer is that Gurney told him, but that scenario would suggest the Beach-Aldrich assault was more widely discussed between relevant persons than the investigation suggests. What other conversations occurred? Who else might’ve been told?

Investigators found phone records of a 14-minute call between Resnick and Fehr hours after that email, yet neither Resnick nor Fehr remember the call. What was said? Why did it not lead to tangible action? How do neither remember it?

Dr. Brian Shaw, a psychologist in the NHL and NHLPA’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, told investigators Beach gave him a “graphic account” of Aldrich’s sexual assault and asked if someone was contacting USA Hockey about Aldrich. But Shaw considered Beach’s comments a “privileged conversation” between patient and therapist and therefore confidential; thus he did not notify USA Hockey.

Why did Shaw not ask Beach if he wanted Shaw to contact USA Hockey? Why did he not clarify with Beach that perceived confidentiality?

Shaw also didn’t share this story of his call with Beach with Jenner & Block investigators during the Hawks’ investigation last year –because they asked if he’d “met” with Beach, not if he’d talked to him in general. Why did Shaw initially withhold this information over such a minor technicality?

And finally, the investigation findings clearly demonstrate a pervasive culture of poor communication and deferral of responsibility within the NHLPA and other NHL circles. So how is that not indicative of an “institutional failure of policy or procedure”?

All told, some may dismiss this investigation and its questions as relatively irrelevant. Indeed, Beach’s lawsuit has been settled and Blackhawks executives involved in the cover-up have been fired.

But to ensure another similar universal breakdown of accountability never reoccurs, all bases must be covered. The NHLPA remains the association responsible for protecting NHL players and their interests. Fehr remains its director. Gurney and Resnick remain agents. They all matter. And these questions will linger, curiously unanswered.

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