This article was written by Melissa Burgess of Die by the Blade. If you enjoy it, please check out her other work.
Kyle Beach’s courageous and open discussion of the abuse he suffered over 10 years ago has, in some ways, opened the floodgates for a wider conversation on difficult topics of abuse, harassment and more in hockey, and how the sport’s culture and the “old boys’ club” mentality fosters an environment for such abuse.
Generally, hockey lacks transparency and accountability. Secrecy surrounds locker rooms and team environments, and those involved are often encouraged to do what’s best for the team, even if it comes at their own expense.
Milwaukee Admirals defender Josh Healey is aiming to break down the walls around the sport and help athletes across the country, at all levels of play, through his iOS app called The Sports Aux.
“[The app] provides a platform for players, both women and men, to anonymously voice their experiences and opinions on their past and current coaches for everyone to see,” Healey said. “It’s designed to hold coaches and agents accountable for their actions and facilitate transparency.”
The 27-year-old, who signed an AHL contract with the Admirals earlier this year, has been lucky. While he hasn’t experienced any forms of abuse or harassment in his hockey career, Healey knows that many others are not as fortunate. By creating this mobile app, he hopes to open the lines of communication and foster a digital environment where players feel comfortable speaking openly about how they’ve been treated by coaches, agents & more.
As Healey says: you don’t know what you don’t know.
“Going through junior hockey, I was recruited by different schools and agencies, and at the time, there was nowhere to find credible information on these individuals who were selling you the world,” he said. “I want to allow players to share their experiences with other players & parents to set themselves up for success when they go to school, or sign with an agent.”
So—how does it work?
Players can sign up for the app at no cost. Staff working on the backend verify a player’s account to connect it with information including teams they’ve played on and coaches they’ve played under. This information is not public—maintaining the players’ anonymity—but is verified on the backend to ensure quality control (so a player can’t leave a review for a coach they’ve never worked with).
Players are then able to leave anonymous feedback, positive or negative, on coaches they’ve worked with. Others—fans, players, agents—are able to search for a coach and see how they’ve been reviewed by those who perhaps know them the best. The app also creates a streamlined communication channel between players, coaches and agents.
Healey has been developing The Sports Aux for several years now. He met with developers in 2018 when he was playing in Stockton, and the app went live in January 2019.
Many have already signed up for the app, and feedback has been positive so far.
“I’ve been reaching out to tons of players on Instagram and asking them to jump on the app and leave their anonymous reviews,” Healey said. “Quite honestly, there’s a crazy amount of players who have said, ‘Hey, man, I really could’ve used this when I was looking at schools, or agents… I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”
“That kind of gives me some reassurance that I know I’m doing the right thing,” he said, “because it is all about helping the players and everyone in the industry, providing them with the information they need.”
The potential for the app is significant, too. Teams, or even organizations like USA Hockey and Hockey Canada, could use the feedback to vet a potential hire. Players could learn more about their coaches, and parents can learn more about the individuals who are spending large chunks of time with their children on and off the ice.
“I think it would be very helpful for everyone involved,” Healey said. “To know what other players are saying about their coaches and provide them with the info they’re looking for to make the most-informed decisions and hire the best candidate to teach these kids, and be around these kids all day, as they’re moving up in their hockey career.”
By promoting transparency and accountability, Healey’s app is battling against the secrecy and toxicity that is often prevalent in hockey culture. It’s that culture that allows abuse to happen, so tackling it is an important step in moving forward.
“There is a lot of secrecy in this industry, and I think what I’m trying to do is facilitate transparency and accountability,” he said. “It’s important to shed light on these coaches that are around young players, both boys and girls, every day.”
“There are a lot of guys who don’t want to speak out now and have a name attached to it, because it could affect their career for 5 or 10 years down the road,” he added. “In the past, it has been kind of a tight-knit old boys’ club in a sense, and you don’t want to have your name attached to something that could potentially harm you and your career down the road. I think with The Sports Aux, it’s providing a platform for players to speak freely, both good and constructively, without having their name attached to it.”
Healey acknowledges these problems—abuse, harassment, etc.—don’t only exist in hockey, but that trying to tackle these issues in the sport alone can still help many people.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” he said. “I never was in a situation like Kyle [Beach]. But it’s every sport, every level, and I want to do everything I can to facilitate that accountability and transparency, and help out the players that have nowhere else to go.”
“I believe in what I’m doing, and I might take some heat from it at times,” he added. “But overall, I know it’s what’s good for the sport and for everyone.”