Jets GM: Didnt know depth of Beach allegations

    Kristen Shilton is a national NHL reporter for ESPN.

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said Tuesday he was never made aware of sexual assault allegations by Kyle Beach against former Chicago Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich while he was assistant GM of the team.

In a news conference with Jets owner Mark Chipman, Cheveldayoff acknowledged that he was in the room on May 23, 2010, with Blackhawks executives — including then-GM Stan Bowman, senior vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac, president John McDonough and coach Joel Quenneville — after Beach approached the club about what he said were improprieties on Aldrich’s part.

But Cheveldayoff maintains he did not know immediately the depth of Beach’s allegations.

“I was asked to walk into a meeting that was ongoing,” Cheveldayoff said. “I was then asked if I had heard any allegations or if I had known of any rumors or anything like that regarding Brad Aldrich and any of the players. I replied that I had not. My involvement in that meeting after that was none.”

Cheveldayoff said he was told at the time “through some conversations” that there “were allegations of the inappropriate texts and unwanted advances [between Aldrich and Beach] and that maybe they were socializing away from the rink, which really shouldn’t be happening. So it shocked me, but that was limited to all that I knew.

“What I heard in the room, though again not acceptable, was some allegations that in my non-legal mind was along the lines of harassment … and my understanding was it was going to be investigated and dealt with. Had I known that there was any sexual assault involved, I would like to think that it would have risen to a different level.”

Beach — using the alias “John Doe” in his filing — brought two lawsuits against the Blackhawks in May over how they mishandled his allegations against Aldrich. Chicago subsequently commissioned an independent investigation by Jenner & Block LLP, results of which were made public last week.

Jenner & Block said “all the participants” in that May 23 meeting “recalled being informed that there was an incident between Aldrich and John Doe involving an unwelcome sexual advance” but that “none of the participants recalled being told about the type of clearly non-consensual sexual conduct that is described by John Doe in his lawsuit or was described during John Doe’s interview with us.”

When Cheveldayoff left that meeting, he said he did so with the assumption that a member of senior management would escalate it. And, when Aldrich was let go by the organization three weeks later, Cheveldayoff said he believed the matter “had been addressed.”

Despite that, Cheveldayoff still released a statement in July saying he “wasn’t aware” of any sexual assault allegations presented by Beach until he was departing the Blackhawks organization in 2011. On Tuesday, Cheveldayoff attempted to clarify that statement, saying it was with respect to another meeting prior to May 23, one with Blackhawks skill coach Paul Vincent, in which Beach’s allegations were discussed.

“There was a meeting with Paul Vincent and several of the executives [from the May 23 meeting] that were named there,” Cheveldayoff said. “People started asking if I was part of that, and I was not. And clearly that alleged meeting happened before [the other] meeting, that did occur on [May 23]. So there was obviously litigation involved. I wasn’t in a position to be introducing new facts about a meeting that I knew of. So, there’s nothing false or inaccurate in that [previous] statement at all. [I] never had any meetings with Paul Vincent regarding this matter.”

After reading the Jenner & Block report, and watching Beach reveal himself as “John Doe” during an interview with TSN on Wednesday, Cheveldayoff said he still felt remorse over not having acted differently in the face of what he did know.

“Kyle was failed by a system that should have helped him,” Cheveldayoff said. “But it did not, and I’m sorry that my own assumptions about that system were clearly not good enough.”

Cheveldayoff remains the only executive in the May 23 meeting still employed by the NHL. Once the Jenner & Block report came out, Bowman resigned as GM of the Blackhawks and MacIsaac was also ousted. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman then met with Quenneville about his part in it, and Quenneville resigned as coach of the Florida Panthers later that day.

Cheveldayoff had a sit-down with Bettman in New York on Friday, but the commissioner felt the evidence suggested his role in the saga was too small to warrant punishment of any kind.

“Because of his limited authority and circumstance, he left the meeting [on May 23] believing that this matter was going to be investigated by his bosses and when Aldrich parted ways with the team, he thought that was what had happened,” Bettman said Monday.

When pressed later on Cheveldayoff not being held accountable, Bettman cited the fact that it was Cheveldayoff who made it known he was even present for the meeting at all.

Chipman sat alongside Cheveldayoff for Tuesday’s news conference and expressed similar feelings about his GM. The owner became emotional sharing that he’s seen first-hand the effects sexual assault has had on people close to him. His belief was steadfast that Cheveldayoff would have done the right thing by Beach if given more information.

“He didn’t know about the harm that had been done to Kyle. He couldn’t have known,” Chipman said. “If he had known, the Kevin Cheveldayoff that I know would have acted and would have done whatever it took to make sure that Kyle received incredible levels of suppor … that Kyle’s privacy would have been protected and that the perpetrator wouldn’t have been in any position that would have possibly allowed him to harm anyone else.”

Cheveldayoff vowed to help make the league a more inclusive place in which situations like Beach’s don’t happen again.

“I think everyone is paying prices at different levels,” Cheveldayoff said. “I am fortunate that I have an opportunity to be someone that still has a chance to make a change in the game, and to help grow and learn.”

To that end, Cheveldayoff said he has spoken with sexual abuse survivor Sheldon Kennedy over what can be done to make the game safer moving forward. Kennedy was assaulted for five years as a teen by junior hockey coach Graham Jones. Kennedy has been a prominent advocate for survivors ever since.

“When I spoke with Sheldon, I committed to beginning his online training, and having follow-up discussions with him after that as to what level we can bring that to our organization,” Cheveldayoff said. “I was talking to my staff here and brainstorming about what can we do? Can we encourage [Kennedy] to even be a guest coach for a day … and help [players] think it’s OK if ever something happened away from the rink, or my life, or if I know someone that is hurting, [I can] say to them, ‘I understand.'”

Before meeting with Bettman in New York, Cheveldayoff convened with Jets players and encouraged them not only to read the Jenner & Block report but watch Beach’s interview with TSN.

“I said I wanted an organization that was inclusive in all aspects of things,” Cheveldayoff said. “I wanted an organization that no matter what race you were, what sexual orientation you were, what you believed, that you should feel free and safe to be a part of it and never feel excluded … Whether it’s bullying or harassment or whether it’s that you think it’s a coach or manager or trainer or anyone associated around you, you should feel safe, safe to speak up, safe to ask a question, safe that there’s not going to be reprisals.”

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