When the Boston Blades hired Brian McCloskey as their new head coach, they inherited a long resume of women's hockey coaching. McCloskey served at University of New Hampshire for many years. I didn't think too much of the gap in his resume between 2013 and 2015, but I did notice it. I was busy, in the middle of getting a new job and moving to a new city. But then I Googled him. And Krista Patronick, the new Blades' general manager, reached out to me about the assault charges from in 2013. These weren't assault charges from his private life, though, as I clarified at the time that Patronick provided me with comment. This was an assault on his team's bench during a women's ice hockey game. The victim was one of his Wildcats' players.
A few months after the incident, the most prominent account of the event was published in the Boston Globe. This account made it sound like a misunderstanding or an accident. McCloskey agreed to serve a "diversion program" en route to having the charges dropped.
Documents obtained by SCOC and a conversation with the Strafford County District Attorney's Office indicate that the true story of what happened on the Wildcats' bench that day is a bit different from the story the Globe and McCloskey told at the time. In addition, part of his diversion agreement has been to admit that any version of events contradicting the victim's version was incorrect. I'm not beyond believing that people can change and that this was not part of a pattern of abuse on McCloskey's part, as I wrote in my initial coverage of this.
I also understand that from McCloskey's perspective, the incident was not gendered and certainly did not have a sexual component based on what we know about the case. However, contextually, assault by a male superior on a female subordinate is very problematic and warrants looking into and exploring, especially as we move towards seeing physicality in women differently on a societal level. We are also socially moving towards a greater, more nuanced understanding of masculinity and how it can affect culture when it is used as a power structure.
McCloskey's diversion program lasts until February 3, 2016, when, if successful in the program, he will not be found guilty. He waived the right to a speedy trial. The original charges were "criminal threatening" and three counts of simple assault, later described in the diversion agreement as "unprivileged physical contact." He pulled down this female player by her jersey, causing her to land on the bench on her back, and hit her head. He also held her down with his knee on her hip, and was described as yelling at her while she was down on the bench in the original charges.
If he does not complete the program successfully, he will be scheduled to enter a plea and proceed to sentencing. The program includes no contact with the victim or her family, 100 hours of community service, anger management counseling, public acknowledgement of the agreement itself, and a condition of good behavior and no new felony or misdemeanor crimes.
I have requested the video of the incident under the Right to Know provision, NH RSA 91-A. The video itself is not public (I imagine since it is evidence in an open case).
The question remains what type of team the Blades are going to be this season. They've lost players at every position and the CWHL has still not officially released some of the biggest names on the roster. Still, it seems that the majority of Blades' players will be recent draftees--many recent graduates. What happens in these first years of their pro careers will dictate their relationship with the sport going forward. On top of that, this is a period of major change in women's hockey.
I'd like to prepare a list of questions to ask both the CWHL and NWHL about support systems for athletes in a variety of contexts. We know that members or employees of any organization often have disputes or concerns about management, their superiors, or their peers. The wider sports fan community has been talking a lot about how there need to be formal and effective channels in men's sports to deal with things like domestic violence, drug abuse, and other issues. How are the women's hockey leagues going to handle these incidents, should they occur?
I'm not an athlete myself--running and biking and yoga are solitary activities for me. I haven't had a coach since co-ed JV basketball. I've been lucky to work as a girl in a male-dominated industry, but in the most progressive imaginable environments of that industry.
I'm asking for input because I want the SBN/SCOC community to let me know what concerns you have about player safety and power structures in women's hockey so I can pass those on to the CWHL and NWHL. I'm asking because I know there are things I haven't thought to ask yet. First, I want to ask what channels players should go through if they have a problem with their coach(es), general manager, or other team staff. As an example, the college level has very clear rules about contact between college staff and students, by the mere virtue of them being students, which is why I think the McCloskey case was handled the way it was. Professional leagues don't have the same legal burdens that schools do in terms of player safety, eligibility, and discipline.
The zero-tolerance policy that the Blades espoused regarding assault is great and important. But the culture of the sport should be sure to back that up, not just with punishment for transgressions, but with the right support system in place for players and community members before transgressions even occur.