Massachusetts Hockey, the governing body responsible for safeguarding tens of thousands of young players in the state, failed for many years to adequately protect children from abuse by Carl Gray and others in his famed Assabet Valley girls’ program in Concord, according to an investigative report released this week by USA Hockey.
The investigation was triggered by Globe reports that Gray and others in his program for decades allegedly mistreated girls as young as 8 years old while Mass Hockey did little to stop him.
“Over a long period, Massachusetts Hockey failed to take action against Mr. Gray and the Assabet program for its actions and mistreatment of players, and it is clear that the repeated reports by witnesses and third parties should have been investigated,” the USA Hockey report stated. “An apology is owed to the players who suffered mistreatment in the Assabet program.”
USA Hockey commended seven Assabet players who came forward in 2019 with abuse allegations against Gray’s program. The parents of some of those girls as well as Estey Ticknor, who alleges Gray engaged in a sexual relationship with her in 1981 — when she was 17 and he was her 43-year-old coach — pressed USA Hockey to investigate Mass Hockey’s handling of the allegations.
Gray, now 84, is widely regarded as a pioneer of girls’ youth hockey. He founded the Assabet program in 1972 and later helped to make women’s hockey an Olympic sport. He has denied mistreating any girl, though he has declined to address Ticknor’s allegation, other than to tell the Globe in 2020, “We were best of friends. I respected who she was.”
Mass Hockey, USA Hockey’s state affiliate in the US Olympic and Paralympic Movement, said in a statement regarding the investigative report that it “applauds the courage of the seven young women and their families who submitted their complaints in 2019, and sincerely apologizes for the unacceptable environment to which they were subjected at the Assabet Valley program.”
USA Hockey said it has rescinded from Gray one of the organization’s most coveted honors, the William Thayer Tutt Award for volunteer service, which he received in 2004. But Gray has remained a member of the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame since 2005, and it’s long past time he is removed, Ticknor and others said.
“He shouldn’t have his name on a plaque anywhere with any kind of honor after decades of systematic, terrible behavior by him and people who worked under him,” Ticknor said.
Mass Hockey said its next board of directors meeting in September will “likely include a discussion with respect to Carl Gray’s continued inclusion in the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame.”
The board also will consider a number of key recommendations in the USA Hockey report, including Mass Hockey revising its discipline review policy; increasing “the size and breadth of its discipline committee”; investigating as best as possible anonymous and third-party complaints; creating an ethics committee to better address conflicts of interest; and reviewing the current ownership and operation of the Assabet program to ensure that Gray is not involved in any way.
USA Hockey instructed Mass Hockey to report back within 60 days on its plan to act on the recommendations.
Gray resigned from Assabet in 2020, after the Globe reported, based on interviews with more than two dozen former players, that they and other girls were emotionally harmed by Gray’s profane verbal abuse, unwanted physical contact, and unannounced intrusions in their locker rooms, among other mistreatment.
“I am extremely proud of the courage and strength shown by the players who, on their own initiative, did what many adults were afraid to do for years: stand up to the toxic Assabet culture,” said a parent of one of the seven girls who sought the USA Hockey investigation. “They stood together when hockey organizations failed to protect them, primarily with a driving concern for the younger girls coming up through the program.”
While Mass Hockey ultimately played a role in Gray’s resignation, the seven girls and their parents said it proved to be too little too late.
“I’m glad that USA Hockey recognizes Mass Hockey’s lack of proper governance and oversight of Assabet and the culture of denial that has existed for decades,” said Fred Isbell, a former volunteer Assabet coach.
Isbell said Mass Hockey failed to act on his complaints about Gray in the 1990s. Isbell’s daughter, Katie Isbell, also said Gray sexually harassed and emotionally abused her as her coach in 2007, when she was 11 years old.
Fred Isbell called Mass Hockey’s disciplinary failures “shameful and unacceptable.”
Mass Hockey attributed its failures largely to less stringent standards and practices for addressing abuse complaints in previous years.
Mass Hockey said it’s “committed to improving its disciplinary processes to ensure consistency and transparency” so that members and the community “trust that they are participating in a sport in which they feel protected and that their voices are heard.”
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Bob Hohler can be reached at email@example.com.