From the Blackhawks to the Washington Football Team, the sports world suffers from a stunning lack of accountability – The Boston Globe Leave a comment

Anyone who has ever watched, never mind attended, a Bill Belichick postgame news conference knows it is not an exercise for the weak.
Belichick’s notorious ability to stonewall questions he does not want to answer is legendary, finely tuned over decades in the NFL. Belichick shares only what he wants to share. If he doesn’t want to explain why he benched Malcolm Butler or how he felt after Tom Brady’s departure, no amount of questioning will convince him to do otherwise. He does not trade in lengthy explanations.
But one thing Belichick does trade in? Accountability.
When the Patriots lose, his words may dissolve into predictable low-volume mumbles, but he does not pass the buck. “I’ve got to coach better,” “I have to do more to prepare the players,” or “I will work harder,” routinely punctuate his comments.
When it comes to on-field performance, accountability is a foundation of the Belichick Way, built through a “do your job” mantra that has been drilled into his locker rooms across the years. When you do your job, and trust that others around you will do their jobs, too, the collective effort produces the best results.
If only the NFL could be that way, too. If only the Chicago Blackhawks could be that way, too. If only the many organizations that run the sports we love could be that way, too. Instead, as the past week reminded us in heartbreaking, infuriating, and depressing fashion, accountability is sorely lacking at the highest levels of sports.
It took 11 years for the Blackhawks to admit to their shocking inaction in response to the sexual assault of a prospect in their organization, and they only did that this past week because the victim, Kyle Beach, continued to press them over a former video coach’s transgressions. And we can’t seem to get any level of transparency from the NFL and recalcitrant commissioner Roger Goodell regarding the toxic, misogynistic, harassment-fueled workplace of the Washington Football Team.
Between the unprecedented and unusual oral report (read: no paper trail) delivered at the end of the NFL’s investigation and the 650,000 e-mails Goodell has sworn to keep hidden (except, of course, for the ones that already leaked and cost Jon Gruden a job), WFT owner Daniel Snyder remains under the protection of his Park Avenue cronies.
Stop it.
Stop the obfuscation. Put away the rugs and the brooms. Stop sweeping problems away because you’re in the middle of a playoff run, or because you don’t want to embarrass an owner, or because you don’t want to believe a victim, or because you don’t want to sully the reputation of a popular league or franchise. Stop putting the interests and reputations of institutions ahead of the well-being and safety of human beings. Really, it’s exhausting to keep reading these kinds of stories. The USA Gymnastics, the Penn State or Baylor football programs, the NWSL — shame on them all for stealing our good will for the sports we love.
When Goodell stood up in New York this past week and insisted Snyder had been held accountable, that a fine to barely dent his billionaire bank account and a hiatus that Goodell didn’t even have the guts to call a suspension was punishment enough to fit a multitude of crimes, he insulted our collective intelligence. There is no target in sports as movable as Goodell’s definition of justice, where domestic violence seems to require video evidence to merit any real reaction but a claim of deflated footballs can spawn lengthy scientific investigation and voluminous reports.
It was a long ago political scandal that brought us the ubiquitous suffix we use for any such brouhaha now — and the Watergate scandal supposedly taught us for good that it’s not just the crime, but the cover-up that will get you. Truth is, it’s the cover-up and the crime that deserve equal scrutiny. It’s the crime and cover-up that demand action.
It’s bad enough to ignore a credible sexual abuse allegation for fear it will derail a playoff run (Beach was victimized while the Blackhawks were on the way to winning the Stanley Cup in 2010). But then to hide any and all evidence that you did so, to then suggest the victim is partly at fault for putting himself in a bad situation, to continually blame a system ill-equipped for dealing with such an allegation when in fact your own human resources department had specific guidelines for investigation — that is a conscious, and unforgivable, choice to continue victimizing the victim.
That was part of the message Beach delivered in his courageous interview on the Canadian channel TSN, when he went public for the first time as the John Doe in the Blackhawks case.
“The one thing I want to make sure comes from this is change,” he told reporter Rick Westhead. “I want to make sure in any way possible that this does not happen to somebody else. Because it will happen again, I will not be the only one. Whether it’s in hockey, soccer, any sport, any business, any company, there needs to be a system in place that it gets dealt with. And that it’s somebody making the decision to deal with it, that has no skin in the game.
“Because if this had been reported to someone other than [then-team president] John McDonough, or [then-coach] Joel Quenneville, or [then-GM] Stan Bowman that didn’t have skin in the game of winning a Stanley Cup, it would have been dealt with and would have protected all of the survivors that came after me.”
Even after the Blackhawks made their damning report public, a necessary and commendable act of transparency, the way Quenneville blamed the Blackhawks for failing Beach, the way NHLPA executive director Donald Fehr blamed “the system” for failing Beach, all of it ignores their personal accountability.
A simple, “I’m sorry,” or “I was wrong,” can go such a long way in restoring trust. Just look at Alex Cora, who consistently answered questions about his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal and subsequent season-long suspension by saying, “I was wrong. I made a bad choice. And I apologize for it.”
Is that really that hard?
Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Globe_Tara.
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