By: Jay Cohen
For three weeks in 2010, they did nothing. That’s how long it took for the leadership of the Chicago Blackhawks to act on allegations that an assistant coach sexually assaulted a player.
Three weeks. Three weeks that — more than a decade later — rocked a once-proud franchise and raised more questions about the culture of sports.
In the span of 107 pages, featuring interviews with 139 witnesses, more than 100 gigabytes of electronic records and 49 boxes of hard-copy records, a report by an outside law firm detailed how senior leaders of the Blackhawks seemingly ignored the sexual assault accusations raised with the franchise days before the team won its first Stanley Cup title since 1961.
The ramifications of the independent review, commissioned by the team in response to two lawsuits, stretched into several corners of the NHL, which fined the Blackhawks $2 million for “the organization’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response.”
Florida coach Joel Quenneville is slated to meet with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman on Thursday, and Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff also is planning to talk to the commissioner. Both were with the Blackhawks when the allegations were first reported to team leadership.
Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz, the son of team chairman Rocky Wirtz, met with current players Wednesday, a day after the graphic report was released, leading to the departures of President of Hockey Operations Stan Bowman and Al MacIsaac, another top executive.
“I think the overriding message was that we, as in the organization, we’re here for you,” coach Jeremy Colliton said. “The family is behind us. The organization’s behind us, and we’re going to do everything we can to move forward here.”
Rocky Wirtz said Tuesday that he and Danny were first made aware of the accusations ahead of a May filing of a lawsuit by a player identified as John Doe alleging sexual assault by then-assistant coach Brad Aldrich in 2010, an assertion that was backed by the report. The team also is facing a second lawsuit by a former student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting in Michigan.
Susan Loggans, an attorney who represents John Doe and the former student in the second lawsuit, said attorneys for the Blackhawks contacted her Tuesday about possible settlements. A call was set up for early next week.
According to the report, the encounter between Doe, then a 20-year-old minor leaguer called up in case the Blackhawks needed help in the playoffs, and Aldrich, then 27, occurred on May 8 or 9 in 2010.
Doe told investigators that Aldrich threatened him with a souvenir baseball bat before forcibly performing oral sex on him and masturbating on the player’s back, allegations that he also detailed in his lawsuit.
Aldrich told investigators the encounter was consensual. Asked Wednesday about the law firm’s report, Aldrich responded: “I have nothing to say.”
About two weeks later, on May 23, 2010, right after Chicago advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, Bowman, MacIsaac, team president John McDonough, executive vice president Jay Blunk and assistant general manager Cheveldayoff met with Quenneville and mental skills coach Jim Gary to discuss the allegations.
Former federal prosecutor Reid Schar, who led the investigation, said accounts of the meeting “vary significantly.” But there was no evidence of any investigation before McDonough informed the team’s director of human resources about the allegations on June 14 — a delay that violated the team’s sexual harassment policy, according to Schar.
During those three weeks, Aldrich continued to work for and travel with the team. Schar said Aldrich also “made an unwanted sexual advance” toward a 22-year-old Blackhawks intern.
McDonough, Blunk and Gary are no longer employed in the NHL. Now Bowman and MacIsaac are out as well.
But the report makes clear that 11 years ago, winning the Cup took priority over taking immediate action on the Aldrich allegations: Bowman recalled that during the May 23 meeting, McDonough and Quenneville talked about the challenge of reaching the Stanley Cup Final and “a desire to focus on the team and the playoffs.”
Bowman’s description of what happened was reminiscent of scandals at Baylor, where assault claims against football players were mishandled by school officials, or at USA Gymnastics, still reeling from its mishandling of convicted serial sex abuser and team doctor Larry Nassar.
John Doe also provided investigators with emails from Gary that included pictures of naked women, crude jokes and at least one email that had “homophobic undertones,” according to the report. Gary told Jenner & Block he used juvenile sexual humor sometimes to engage with young players and encourage them to receive mental skills coaching and counseling.
Loggans said she hopes what happened with Chicago leads to changes across sports.
“There has to be a change from a mentality of complete animalism, like let’s just completely ramp up the masculinity factor of these players and whatever it takes to win a game, we’ll do that,” she said. “There has to be some context, no different than being concerned about concussions in football games.
“It’s not winning at all costs. These are human beings. They’re not gladiators whose lives are going to be sacrificed in the game.”