The NHLPA’s handling of allegations by Kyle Beach, the former player representative for Toronto Maple Leafs is getting a critical review. While not finding any wrongdoing from Donald Fehr and his staff, it does note that “a considerable number” of players may have felt pressured to sign off on contracts for other players.
In the handling of Kyle Beach’s sexual assault charges against Chicago Blackhawks then-video coach Brad Aldrich in 2010, an NHL Player’s Association inquiry found no “individual misconduct or institutional violations of policy or process” by its executive director Donald Fehr or others.
The 20-page report, created by Toronto-based law firm Cozen O’Connor and shared by the NHLPA on its social media channels on Friday, found miscommunication and misunderstanding in the NHLPA’s handling of Beach’s allegations, but concluded there was no evidence of “any individual or systemic failure.”
“Following a thorough examination of the contemporaneous record, 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,” Cozen O’Connor’s report concluded, “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.”
“Thousands of emails, relevant phone records, controlling documents and policies for the SABH [Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health] program and NHL Hotline, and interviews with eleven individuals” were among the findings of Cozen O’Connor’s investigation into the union’s handling of Beach’s allegations. Beach, as well as another former Blackhawks player who had been severely impacted in the past, refused to speak with Cozen O’Connor.
The NHLPA has made public the independent evaluation of Cozen O’Connor, as per the Executive Board’s decision.
The whole study may be seen at: https://t.co/9Uz2gY00xD pic.twitter.com/DtVB1LiqVG
April 15, 2022 — NHLPA (@NHLPA)
Earlier this week, each of the NHL’s 32 club player representatives got a copy of the study, and the group opted to make the results 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.
Details about Fehr and his reaction to Beach’s charges at the time they were made were included in that report. Following that, the NHLPA launched its own investigation into Fehr’s activities.
According to Cozen O’Connor, the NHLPA’s main disagreements stemmed from “sharply conflicting accounts” provided by Fehr and player agent Bob Gurney about a conversation they had about Beach’s allegations, as well as a conversation between Beach and Dr. Brian Shaw [a psychologist and program administrator with the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program].
Gurney allegedly phoned Fehr in late December 2010 after Beach informed him that Aldrich had been engaged as a video coach by USA Hockey for a tournament later that year, according to the business. Gurney believed Fehr, who had just been named NHLPA Executive Director, would be interested in learning about Beach’s concerns.
Gurney told Cozen O’Connor’s investigators that he called Aldrich a “pedophile” or a “sexual predator,” but he didn’t tell Fehr anything about what allegedly transpired between Beach and Aldrich.
Fehr, as he has done since Beach’s claims first surfaced, denied having any recall of the conversation to investigators.
“If Gurney had either labeled Aldrich as a pedophile or sexual predator or urged that he notify USA Hockey, Fehr, an experienced lawyer, repeatedly stressed the point that he would have remembered it,” Cozen O’Connor highlighted in its report. “Fehr is adamant that if the incident had been reported to him in this manner, he could not, and would not, have taken — or agreed to take — any further action without first receiving more details about the alleged incident, including whether Beach had reported — or was willing to report — the incident.”
There was no mention of a communication with Gurney in a “exhaustive analysis of the totality of Fehr’s emails over the same time period.” This included a ten-year analysis of Fehr’s emails, which revealed no ties to Gurney. In addition, no one who dealt with Fehr on a daily basis remembers him ever mentioning Gurney or Beach at the time, according to the investigation.
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.
“I don’t remember getting any response to his email,” Resnick said in the Cozen O’Connor interview, “and none was located in our analysis of Fehr’s emails.” Resnick also had no recollection of a subsequent chat with Fehr.
“Fehr confirmed getting the email to us — as he did in the Jenner Report — but had no recall of it or following up with Resnick addressing the subject,” the report said. “Similarly, outside of the December 2010 conversation reported in the Jenner Report, Gurney does not remember any talks with Fehr about Aldrich.”
Cozen O’Connor determined that the exchange between Dr. Shaw and Beach about whether USA Hockey was informed to concerns around Aldrich’s earlier acts was a case of misunderstanding.
The investigation concluded, “All parties engaged managed to walk away from these exchanges under some misunderstanding.” “Gurney and Beach believed that someone…had agreed to take responsibility for contacting USA Hockey; Dr. Shaw believed 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.”
Given Fehr’s history as a lawyer, Cozen O’Connor determined that if significant charges had been brought to his attention, he would have known what to do.
“”Our finding is further strengthened by the lack of any indication that Fehr either documented or discussed the discussion with anybody else involved with the NHLPA, including his brother, Steven, who is outside counsel to the NHLPA,” the study added. This move is in stark contrast to Fehr’s recorded habit of consistently and immediately assigning people to follow up on minor things.”
Since disclosing himself as the case’s John Doe in an interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead last October, Beach has been openly critical of Fehr’s actions.
Beach told Westhead, “I submitted every single detail to a person at the NHLPA, who I was placed in touch with subsequently.” “I think Don Fehr was approached by two distinct persons. And I’m not sure how he can be your leader if he turns his back on the players when his one task is to defend them at all costs. I’m not sure how he manages to be in control. If that’s what he’ll do when a player comes to you and tells you anything, whether it’s about abuse, drugs, or anything else, you’re supposed to have the players’ backs, and they didn’t have mine.”
Fehr issued his own remark on Beach’s tragedy on October 28, 2021.
In October, Fehr remarked, “Kyle Beach has gone through a horrendous tragedy and has showed real fortitude in relaying his tale.” “There’s no denying that the system failed him in his hour of need, and we’re part of that system.” Mr. Beach indicated in his media appearance that he contacted someone at the NHLPA about the event some months after it occurred. He’s referring to one of the NHL/NHLPA player assistance program’s program physicians [Dr. Brian Shaw, a psychologist and program administrator]. While this program is kept private between the athletes and the physicians, the seriousness of the situation should have prompted us to take additional action. The fact that it didn’t was a major setback. I sincerely apologize, and I pledge to make adjustments to guarantee that this does not happen again.”