NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Monday defended the league’s recent response to sexual assault allegations made by former Chicago Blackhawks player Kyle Beach, apologizing to Beach and saying he was “horrified.”
Beach came forward last week as the “John Doe” plaintiff in a May civil lawsuit against the Blackhawks that accused a former coach of a 2010 sexual assault, allegations that led to the resignation of the team’s general manager and the NHL fining the club $2 million.
Bettman offered an apology to Beach on behalf of the league: “We could not be more sorry for the trauma that Kyle has had to endure and our goal is to do what is necessary to continue to move forward.”
Bettman said he was “horrified” to watch Beach’s tell-all interview on a Canadian sports network last week.
“It was emotional. I was distressed. And I knew that he had obviously been suffering just by watching him and I wanted to make sure that we were continued to be focused on how to deal with what was now in front of us and I was sorry as a personal matter that anybody, particularly him, had to go through what he was discussing,” Bettman said.
Beach alleged that in May 2010, while a prospect for the Blackhawks, video coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted him under the threat of violence. Beach said he reported the assault to the team that month, but that they delayed action because the team qualified for, and eventually won, the Stanley Cup that year.
Aldrich resigned from his position in June 2010 in order to avoid an internal investigation into his alleged conduct, according to an outside investigation.
The May civil lawsuit, filed in a Chicago court, alleged “negligence and willful and wanton conduct related to alleged actions or failure to act by the Blackhawks” after they learned of Beach’s allegations.
Coming after the release of an independent investigation into the NHL’s response to his allegations, Beach’s decision to speak publicly about his experience and identify himself as “John Doe” touched off a scandal within the NHL.
Last week, Joel Quenneville, who at the time of the allegations was coach of the Blackhawks, resigned from his position as coach of the Florida Panthers and Stan Bowman resigned as general manager of the Blackhawks.
“I want to express my sorrow for the pain this young man, Kyle Beach, has suffered. My former team, the Blackhawks, failed Kyle, and I own my share of that,” Quenneville told Toronto-based sports network TSN last week. “I want to reflect on how all of this happened and take the time to educate myself on ensuring hockey spaces are safe for everyone.”
Bowman said he was made aware of “potential inappropriate behavior” 11 years ago and reported it to John McDonough, the team’s president and CEO at the time. The organization fired McDonough last year.
“I learned this year that the inappropriate behavior involved a serious allegation of sexual assault. I relied on the direction of my superior that he would take appropriate action,” Bowman said last week while announcing his resignation. “Looking back, now knowing he did not handle the matter promptly, I regret assuming he would do so.”
Aldrich did not respond to an NBC News request for comment. He has previously said the encounter with Beach was consensual and denied the allegations.
Bettman defended the National Hockey League’s recent response and disciplinary measures, including the $2 million fine against the Blackhawks, saying it “was substantial by any measure and acknowledges that the organization failed to act appropriately.”
“This was to make clear that the way the Blackhawks organization handled this matter was not appropriate, even though the ownership was not aware. And it was also a message to the rest of the league that you need to make sure your organization is functioning properly on these matters,” Bettman said.