For over an hour on Tuesday, Winnipeg Jets’ Executive Chairman and Governor Mark Chipman and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff met with media both in Winnipeg and via Zoom in response to the National Hockey League’s decision to not hand out punishment to the team’s front office executive for his role in the Kyle Beach/Chicago Blackhawks investigation.
Just days after NHL commissioner Gary Bettman cleared Cheveldayoff of any wrongdoing in the May 23, 2010 meeting between Blackhawks execs following reports of sexual misconduct between forward Kyle Beach and video coach Brad Aldrich, the long-time Jets’ GM spoke of his involvement – or lack thereof, with support from the always well-spoken Chipman.
On Tuesday, Chevy led with a prepared statement and made it clear that he was never aware of sexual assault allegations from Beach against Aldrich while he served his role as assistant GM of the Blackhawks. He did admit to being in the room during the meeting that referenced “a player being involved in unwanted sexual advances” with the team’s video coach at the time.
Although allowing senior management to take care of the situation, Cheveldayoff admitted to believing all was taken care of upon hearing of Aldrich being let go from the team following Chicago’s Stanley Cup victory.
In the meeting with Cheveldayoff was then-GM Stan Bowman, senior vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac, president John McDonough and coach Joel Quenneville, all of whom have been relieved of their respective duties within the NHL.
“I was asked to walk into a meeting that was ongoing,” Cheveldayoff said on Tuesday evening. “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.”
Although not looking to dodge the blame of what ended up happening, Cheveldayoff did make it clear that the topic of conversation in the room was nothing pleasing.
“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.”
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Reading through the Jenner & Block 107-page report and watching TSN’s one-on-one interview with Rick Westhead and Kyle Beach helped Chevy fully grasp the situation at hand. His own better judgment has since been questioned, mainly by others on the outside, but also himself.
“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. Knowing what I know today, I wish I could have been an empowered bystander.”
Taking the idea of empowerment as a bystander is an act that Cheveldayoff picked up through conversation with sexual assault survivor Sheldon Kennedy. Mentioning his chat with the widely-known activist, Chevy insisted that him remaining with the Jets will broaden his focus and help provide leadership and raise awareness in the role of empowerment as it pertains to sexual assault within the workplace or elsewhere.
“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.”
“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,” he added. “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.'”
Not only was it the team’s GM responding to various local, national and international media members, but the team’s Executive Chairman and Governor Mark Chipman also passionately on what he called “a horrific week”.
“I cannot presume to begin to understand what Kyle has been through,” Chipman reflected. “But I have had the experience of seeing the impact of sexual abuse … on people very close to me. I’ve watched with a sense of helplessness, the pain and devastation, and I’ve come to learn its consequences are not self-contained. So, I need Kyle to know how very, very sorry I am and how much I admire his courage.”
Despite offering his support to the victim, Chipman was quick to defend his right-hand man in an attempt to further clear his name, while protecting and restoring his image through Cheveldayoff’s many years of service to the team.
“He didn’t know about the harm that had been done to Kyle. He couldn’t have known,” Chipman added. “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 support … 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.”
Expressing emotion in his opening comments, Chipman actually had to momentarily pause before continuing with his statement. Serving as a member of the NHL’s Executive Committee (an elite 10 representative group) the team’s governor did his part to alleviate blame, while also expressing the need for systemic change, both league-wide and organizationally.
Comments from Chevy following Chipman’s point on inclusivity included sexual assault, hazing, racism and other forms of bullying. Despite getting off scot-free following his meeting with Gary Bettman last week, Cheveldayoff did hold a meeting with his players, urging them to watch the TSN interview as well as read through the official report.
“I said I wanted an organization that was inclusive in all aspects of things,” Cheveldayoff added. “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.”
Following Tuesday’s home win over the visiting Dallas Stars, alternate captains Mark Scheifele and Josh Morrissey were asked about the commentary made by Chipman and Cheveldayoff, as well as the team meeting led by the GM.
“I’ve been with this organization for 11 years now,” Scheifele began. “Mark Chipman and Chevy have been there through it all and they’re some of the best people in the world and especially in this community. They’re character guys, fantastic human beings. They’re people that you look up to, when I was younger, people that gave me guidance. They’re fantastic people and I love playing for this organization and I love playing for those guys.”
“As Mark said, my experience with Chevy and Mark, I’ve been treated so well,” Morrissey added. “I feel so fortunate to be part of this organization. When Chevy addressed the team, it was powerful. It was something that you could see how important for him to address us and talk to us and make sure if we didn’t know already it was a safe space for this locker room and the organization — if it’s anything, if it’s family matters, if it’s anything that you’re dealing with — it was really powerful. For Chevy to do that, and to be open to the guys if they had any questions about anything, it’s leadership. I think it really meant a lot to me as a player that he was willing to do that and speak to us.”