- Kristen Shilton is a national NHL reporter for ESPN.
An NHL Player’s Association independently-commissioned investigation has found no “individual wrongdoing or institutional failures of policy or procedure” by its executive director Donald Fehr or others in ther handling of Kyle Beach’s allegations of sexual assault against Chicago Blackhawks then-video coach Brad Aldrich in 2010.
The 20-page review, shared by the NHLPA on its social media channels on Friday and created by Toronto-based law firm Cozen O’Connor, found there were breakdowns in miscommunication and misunderstanding in the process of the NHLPA’s handling of Beach’s allegations, but concluded there was no evidence of “any individual or systemic failure.”
“After a thorough examination of the contemporaneous record,” Cozen O’Connor’s said in its report, “the policies and practices in place at the [players’] union at the time, and the recollections of each of the parties to the contacts with the NHLPA or the SABH program, we cannot identify any individual wrongdoing or institutional failures of policy or procedure by either Fehr, NHLPA personnel, or the SABH program concerning the handling of Beach’s reports.”
Cozen O’Connor said its review into the union’s handling of Beach’s allegations “included the review of thousands of emails, relevant phone records, controlling documents and policies for the SABH [Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health] program and NHL Hotline, and interviews with eleven individuals.” However, both Beach and another former Blackhawks player negatively affected in the past declined to be interviewed by Cozen O’Connor.
Each of the NHL’s 32 team player representatives received a copy of the investigation earlier this week and that group subsequently voted to make the findings public.
The investigation into the union’s role and how it could have better supported Beach stems from his initial allegations he was sexually assaulted during the 2010 Stanley Cup playoffs by Aldrich. The 32-year-old Beach brought a negligence lawsuit against Chicago last summer, which was settled in December. Prior to that, the Blackhawks released in October 2021 the findings of its independent investigation into Beach’s allegations conducted by the law firm Jenner & Block.
Contained in that report were details concerning Fehr and his response to Beach’s allegations at the time they were levied. The NHLPA subsequently commissioned its own inquiry into Fehr’s actions.
Cozen O’Connor stated the core disputes from the NHLPA’s perspective were “sharply conflicting accounts” provided by Fehr and player agent Bob Gurney surrounding a conversation they had about Beach’s allegations, and a conversation between Dr. Brian Shaw [a psychologist, and program administrator with the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program] and Beach.
According to the firm, Gurney said he called Fehr in late December 2010 after Beach told him Aldrich had been hired as a video coach by USA Hockey in connection with a tournament that was being held later that year. Fehr had recently been appointed NHLPA Executive Director, and Gurney felt he would want to know about Beach’s concerns.
Gurney told Cozen O’Connor’s investigators he described Aldrich as either a “pedophile” or “sexual predator” but did not tell Fehr any details of what had allegedly happened between Beach and Aldrich.
Fehr denied to investigators having any recollection of the call, as he’s done since Beach’s allegations originally came to light.
“Fehr, an experienced lawyer, repeatedly made the point that if Gurney had either described Aldrich as a pedophile or sexual predator or requested him to contact USA Hockey, he would have remembered it,” Cozen O’Connor detailed in its report. “Fehr is adamant that had the incident been so reported to him, he could not, and would not, have taken — or agreed to take — any further action without being provided with more details regarding the alleged incident, including whether Beach had reported — or was prepared to report — the incident.”
An “exhaustive review of the entirety of Fehr’s emails during the same time period” did not show any reference to a conversation with Gurney either. That extended to a further review of Fehr’s emails over the next decade which did not show any tie into Gurney. Also, the report found that no one who interacted daily with Fehr recalls him ever mentioning Gurney or Beach at the time.
One incident in the Jenner & Block report that included Fehr related to another conversation between him and player agent Joe Resnick. In an email contained within that investigation and dated April 18, 2011, Resnick told Fehr he knew the executive director had been made aware of “an incident” that involved Beach.
In the Cozen O’Connor interview, Resnick “did not recall receiving any response to his email, and none was found in our review of Fehr’s emails.” Resnick also did not recall any follow-up conversation with Fehr.
“Fehr acknowledged to us — as he did in the Jenner Report — receiving the email but had no recollection of it or following up with Resnick regarding the matter,” the report said. “Likewise, Gurney also does not recall any discussions with Fehr concerning Aldrich outside of his December 2010 call described in the Jenner Report.”
As for the conversation between Dr. Shaw and Beach regarding whether USA Hockey was alerted to allegations surrounding Aldrich’s past actions, Cozen O’Connor found it was an issue of miscommunication.
“All parties involved managed to walk away from these interactions under some misapprehension,” the report stated. “Gurney and Beach walked away from their respective conversations believing that someone…had agreed to take responsibility for contacting USA Hockey; Dr. Shaw thought that others, either the union or Beach’s agent, would address Beach’s concerns about USA Hockey and that he was bound to keep what Beach had told him confidential; Resnick believed he was sharing a concern about a coach who was odd, bullying, and inappropriate, but not a sexual abuser.”
Cozen O’Connor concluded that given Fehr’s background as a lawyer, he would have known to act upon serious allegations had they been communicated to him.
“Our conclusion,” the report continued, “is further supported by the absence of any evidence that Fehr either memorialized the conversation or discussed it with anyone else affiliated with the NHLPA, including his brother, Steven, who is outside counsel to the NHLPA. This departure is completely at odds with Fehr’s documented practice of routinely and promptly tasking others to follow up on matters of much less significance.”
Beach had been openly critical of Fehr’s inaction since revealing himself as the case’s John Doe in an interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead last October.
“I reported every single detail to an individual at the NHLPA, who I was put in contact with after,” Beach told Westhead. “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.”
On October 28, 2021, Fehr released his own statement regarding Beach’s ordeal.
“Kyle Beach has been through a horrific experience and has shown true courage in telling his story,” Fehr said in October. “There is no doubt that the system failed to support him in his time of need, and we are part of that system. “In his media interview, Mr. Beach stated that several months after the incident he told someone at the NHLPA the details of what happened to him. He is referring to one of the program doctors [Dr. Brian Shaw, a psychologist, and program administrator] with the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program. While this program is confidential between players and the doctors, the grave nature of this incident should have resulted in further action on our part. The fact that it did not was a serious failure. I am truly sorry, and I am committed to making changes to ensure it does not happen again.”
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