This post will be the harshest criticism I’ll give of our youth hockey culture, including an abandonment of values on the part of a few people in leadership positions at USA Hockey.
Before I begin, I want to preface by saying that I think there are a lot of really good people at USA Hockey. A lot of good people that continue to do some really amazing things for our sport. Many of those people I consider friends and colleagues with whom I’ve collaborated and worked with a lot over the years to better our game.
But I started the Hockey Think Tank to make the hockey world a better place. And while usually that’s by highlighting the good that our sport has to offer, sometimes things just need to be called out. Even if it makes us uncomfortable.
This story I’m about to tell you is downright stomach-turning. And to give you the whole scope, I’ll first take you back a few years because it’s something I lived through as a kid.
Growing up in Chicago in the late 1990’s, my family started to realize that higher level hockey was probably where I was headed. I’m grateful to have had awesome coaching and been put in environments that led to that point.
As I got to Bantam hockey and we started to map some things out, my parents informed me that I was not allowed to play in the future for the most esteemed midget coach in our area. The man was Chico Adrahtas.
This was a coach that had a history of moving midget hockey players onto junior, college, and professional hockey – the dream that I’d had since I was little.
I still vividly remember the conversation with my parents:
“Why can’t I play for him?” I confusedly asked.
My parents looked at each other and then asked me to sit down. It was one of those requests where you knew something kind of big or important was coming.
“Toph,” they uncomfortably answered, “He’s a pedophile.”
“A pedophile?” my 13-year-old self asked back. “What’s a pedophile?”
Long, deep, anxious breaths and an uncomfortable silence followed. “Well, it means that it’s pretty widely known that he has a history of sexually abusing youth hockey players.”
That’s an actual conversation that my parents had to have with me when I was 13 years old. And it’s a conversation that I know a lot of other Chicago area families had with their kids as well.
But unfortunately, many other families chose to allow their kids play for Adrahtas. Even with the widely known rumors. And the reasoning scares the hell out of me (which you’ll see below).
Here is a mind-boggling excerpt from an article written by Katie Strang of The Athletic, who brought this story to the greater hockey world earlier this year. She spoke with many Chicago area coaches, players, and families about Adrahtas, including Nick Aulich who is quoted below.
Take a second and please wrap your head around that passage.
The coach wasn’t allowed in the locker room because of his rumored history of child sex abuse; yet parents felt pressure to play for him so their kids had a chance of achieving the next level of hockey.
If that’s not an indictment of our youth hockey culture, and the leadership of our youth hockey culture that allow things like this to happen, I don’t know what is.
Anyone that has read my stuff knows that the one thing I believe in most is that we play hockey for the life lessons that it teaches us. It’s not about getting the scholarship or playing professional hockey. The “making it” part should be a by-product of the lessons and experiences we share.
For that reason, it pains me to see parents subscribe to doing anything – even something as messed up as allowing their child to play for a rumored (now proven) child abuser – to get their kid to the next level. Parents, please take a step back and get some perspective on why you put your kid into hockey.
But the youth hockey obsession with “making it” and the parents that buy into it aren’t the only target of this post; it’s the people in leadership positions of our sport who allowed this type of culture to materialize in the first place – especially with the Adrahtas situation in Illinois which I’ll detail next.
If you haven’t already, I would strongly encourage you to go read Katie Strang’s reporting on this story in The Athletic. For young hockey players growing up in Chicago, like me, the rumors surrounding Adrahtas were widely known. But Strang’s incredible reporting uncovered the gut-wrenching details – not only about Adrahtas’ own misconduct, but about the way people in power positions failed to handle them.
It started in the 1980’s when Adrahtas mysteriously left coaching at the University of Minnesota after one season. According to Strang, a main reason for his abrupt departure was that he abused multiple players on the team. Rumors about Adrahtas’ abuse at Minnesota cast a shadow on him for years, but nothing was ever done about it.
After leaving Minnesota, Adrahtas moved to Chicago where he’d already built a reputation of being a successful coach. And remember that conversation I had with my parents from earlier? Well, unfortunately there was more to the story that was shared with me that day.
It turns out, one of the people that hired Adrahtas a few years after he left Minnesota was my grandfather. He was putting a team together at my uncle’s age and hired Adrahtas to coach it. My grandfather had heard the rumors about Minnesota but was persuaded by Adrahtas that they weren’t true.
A couple months into the season, my grandfather caught wind that a few of the billeted players were sleeping over at Adrahtas’ house. Alarmed, he approached the players about what was going on. And in a meeting, one of the kids just broke down. He couldn’t bring himself to admit what had happened, but according to one person in that room, everyone knew. With Adrahtas’ history the dots were easy to connect.
That person who was in the room that day and recalled what had happened…that was my dad. And to this day, he becomes an emotional wreck every time he recalls this encounter.
My grandfather immediately fired Adrahtas. My family spent years trying to sound the alarm. I have memories of my parents having heated arguments with other parents who allowed their kids to play for him. But unfortunately, to no avail.
“It’s not going to happen to my kid.”
I still remember hearing that excuse and feeling sick to my stomach hearing parents say that. Yeah, it might not happen to your kid. But it’s OK if it happens to someone else’s kid? All so your kid can make it to the next level? It still makes me sick thinking about it.
What followed was decades of rumor about Adrahtas. If you were involved in AAA hockey in Chicago (or high-level hockey anywhere) during the next few decades you almost certainly heard the rumors. It was openly talked about.
Yet he continued to coach. It’s absolutely insane.
Again, THERE WAS A RULE THAT HE WASN’T ALLOWED IN THE LOCKER ROOM BUT PEOPLE THOUGHT IT WAS OK TO EMPLOY HIM COACHING KIDS.
But then came 2010.
Decades of rumor up until this point. Parents and hockey directors turned a blind eye because he was a great coach and moved kids to the next level. Although suspicions of abuse were there, nothing was really ever proven, no allegations were put in writing.
According to Katie Strang, a SafeSport investigation into Adrahtas revealed that in 2010, despite all the rumors, the Illinois affiliate of USA Hockey (AHAI) made plans to put Adrahtas into the Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame. The rumors had effectively stalled the committee’s plans to induct him up until that point, but according to the SafeSport investigation (as reported by Strang), this time they decided to push him through.
Upon hearing Adrahtas’ impending Hall of Fame induction, a former player, Chris Jensen, sent a letter to AHAI detailing the sexual abuse that Adrahtas inflicted on him when he was a teenager.
And here’s how things played out after Jensen sent his letter, again, according to one of Katie Strang’s articles in The Athletic.
So according to Strang’s reporting on the SafeSport investigation…
An affiliate of our sport’s governing body, whose main job is to provide a safe environment for kids to play hockey, got a letter in writing detailing Adrahtas’ sexual abuse of a minor. Then they got the man ADMITTING to another form of sexual misconduct. And what happened?
The answer to that question appears to be NOTHING.
Because according to Strang, even though Adrahtas was indefinitely suspended by AHAI after his admission, he still managed to coach amateur hockey for eight years.
He got a job coaching ACHA College Hockey at Robert Morris College in Chicago and coached for CLOSE TO A DECADE.
According to Strang’s reporting, AHAI had proof of his sexual abuse in writing by one of his victims AND by his own admission; yet, according to the SafeSport investigation, they didn’t feel it necessary to make sure he never coached again. Here’s another excerpt from Strang’s article:
That last statement is absolutely chilling. They “did not view it as their responsibility” to warn RMU about Adrahtas’ history of abuse. And the kicker:
Robert Morris College – where Adrahtas coached for EIGHT YEARS after Chris Jensen’s 2010 letter to AHAI – plays their home games out of the same arena that AHAI has held many of their meetings.
All they needed to do was “walk down the hall” and let the college know that the man they employed was a predator. But no. According to the SafeSport investigation, they decided against it. And for CLOSE TO A DECADE this man was allowed to coach amateur hockey players.
Hundreds of more kids put in his supervision. Because AHAI officials reportedly “did not view it as their responsibility.”
And according to Strang’s reporting, it wasn’t until 2018 when ANOTHER letter from ANOTHER abuse victim was written to the ACHA upon hearing that Adrahtas was still coaching, that Adrahtas was suspended again from coaching.
Adrahtas mysteriously resigned from ANOTHER place with no repercussions. Under the radar. Swept under the rug.
And not until after Katie Strang’s articles were written in 2020 and the finalization of his SafeSport investigation was Adrahtas permanently banned from coaching amateurs within USA Hockey. Decades after the rumors started. Ten years after the letter to AHAI.
If you’re reading the tea leaves and wondering if I’m pissed off about this…I am.
The most recent article written by Strang on Adrahtas detailed yet ANOTHER sexual abuse victim. And this time, it was a friend of mine.
So yeah, I’m pissed.
A great guy got his life and innocence taken away from him by a sexual predator enabled by people who didn’t do their job protecting kids.
And because I’ve been outspoken about this story on social media, I’ve had other survivors of Adrahtas’ abuse reach out to me. And teammates of survivors. And high-level coaches who remember the rumors. I even had one long tenured college coach tell me he can’t get himself to read Strang’s articles because he heard the rumors back in the day and couldn’t bear that they’ve finally come out as true.
This sexual abuse allegedly spanned decades. From the University of Minnesota before I was even born to this happening to a friend near my age. And for this predator to be banned from the sport JUST THIS YEAR after Katie Strang’s articles brought it to the forefront?
There are a lot of people that should be absolutely ashamed of themselves. And yet still, nobody has been held accountable for turning a blind eye to what happened.
Worst of all, according to Strang’s reporting, it goes all the way to the top of the governing body of USA Hockey.
According to one of Strang’s articles, the president of USA Hockey – Jim Smith – is currently under investigation for his handling of the reports of Adrahtas’ sexual abuse. This is a recent public statement from USA Hockey Executive Director, Pat Kelleher, again from one of Katie Strang’s articles:
Smith is still currently under investigation, yet somehow he remains visible at the forefront of USA Hockey’s operations.
A few months ago, while under investigation, Smith was FRONT AND CENTER of a USA Hockey “Back to Hockey” video for all of the hockey world to see.
— USA Hockey (@usahockey) August 13, 2020
Let’s think about this objectively:
In what world…honestly…IN WHAT WORLD would someone who is being investigated for his potential inaction surrounding a youth hockey coach sexually abusing youth hockey players be the face of a video of this importance and magnitude coming from USA Hockey?
Business as usual. Nothing to see here. What a slap in the face to the multiple survivors and victims of Adrahtas’ sexual abuse.
Investigations are going on right now. But it took almost 4 decades and a whole lot of people knowing or hearing that Chico Adrahtas was a predator before HE HIMSELF was held accountable.
It’s in Safesport’s hands now, and this is exactly what Safesport was made for. Justice needs to be brought for the abuse victims who were put in the supervision of a predator due to the negligence of so many people.
Here’s my question:
Why has nobody yet been held accountable? Why business as usual? Why does it seem like this continues to be swept under the rug? Again. After all these years.
Aside from the decades of rumor and this being openly talked about by the hockey community for years, according to Strang, the SafeSport investigation has revealed proof in writing from sexual abuse victims AND an admission from the abuser. And not only that, SafeSport evidently has emails and statements from people in leadership positions revealing that they elected to wash their hands of the whole Adrahtas problem.
Is it a reputation thing? Are USA Hockey or AHAI afraid that the reputation of a high-ranking official is going to take a huge hit?
Is it a liability thing? I’m not a lawyer but I have to imagine that their inaction puts them in a tough spot liability-wise, especially after 2010.
Is it a power thing? Are people afraid to lose their positions of power within our governing body?
With more stories of abuse coming out in youth sports at alarming rates (USA Gymnastics, Ohio State wrestling, Penn State Football, etc…), USA Hockey and the USOC have made it very publicly known that they are doing everything they can to keep youth sports safe for the young athletes.
So here it is on a silver platter for them. An opportunity to take a stand and set an example. A chance to show leadership and simply do the right thing.
Jim Smith even said it in the “Hockey is Back” video, and while he was talking about Covid, his quote represents the main job of our governing body…
“Our cumulative goal is to keep rinks and programs as safe as reasonably possible.”
If there’s any truth to former AHAI President Mike Mullaly’s reported statements to SafeSport about this situation, then many people in this situation failed.
This whole thing is strikingly similar to what happened with USA Gymnastics. There, multiple athletes were abused yet information was suppressed, downplayed, and even covered up with regards to what was going on with Larry Nassar. And because USA Gymnastics tried to keep it all in the shadows, it ended up blowing up on them when people decided enough was enough. And look how far they’ve fallen.
It’s time to show leadership. Our sport needs it more than ever.
For my friends and colleagues in the game that have texted or called me about this situation telling me how they all heard the rumors and talked about it back in the day (and there have been many of you)…
Please, don’t just text me. Help do something about it. Share Katie Strang’s articles. Reach out to your contacts and demand there be accountability for what happened. The silence from people in-the-know is deafening.
People in leadership positions in our sport didn’t come close to fulfilling their responsibilities of keeping our kids safe. I have no clue what the right consequence for their negligence is, but I still can’t believe that literally nobody has been held accountable.
And if I’m being completely honest, I’d have much more respect for these people (and all the people who hired Adrahtas) if they owned it.
Here’s what they could say:
“You know what, we messed up. There was always a lot of rumor, hearsay, etc. But we should have taken action or looked into it more and we deeply regret our inaction.”
But no. According to Strang, people continue to put their head in the sand and hope this goes away because it implicates some high-level people.
Maybe it’s arrogance that they’re infallible. Maybe it’s just going along business as usual so people gloss over the situation. I don’t know.
As I said at the beginning, there are a lot of really good people at USA Hockey. Too many good people that shouldn’t get wrapped in with the abandonment of values of a few. This is not an indictment of what I think of them or the incredible job they are doing for our sport. I have contributed to USA Hockey’s mission many times at coaching clinics, seminars, and other events because I believe in a lot of what they’re doing.
But I’m not living my values if I don’t continue to bring this to the forefront.
It would be an injustice to the multiple survivors of this man’s abuse who stepped forward to share their stories if I didn’t stand beside them and share their accounts with the platform I’ve built. They are the heroes of this whole situation and their courage to step forward is going to save other young kids from having to endure what they experienced. Using their voice and bringing this predatory behavior out will deter other predators from acting on other kids and will deter people in power positions from enabling these predators by being silent.
I ask everyone reading this with knowledge of this situation or other situations like this to use your voice as well. Please. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Trust me, I’m expecting a few nasty calls after I publish this post. But that’s all the more reason why it’s necessary for this post to be written. And if we’re truly trying to do what’s right and keep the game safe for our kids…
Think of the survivors of this man’s abuse. The ones that spoke up publicly. The ones who shared their stories with SafeSport. The ones that continue to suffer in silence.
And think of all the kids that would not have been abused if people chose to do the right thing.
*To listen to our podcast with Katie Strang centered around this story, CLICK HERE.