The Chicago Blackhawks saw the release of a long-awaited investigation into sexual assault allegations, major staffing changes and fines from the National Hockey League all in a matter of hours Tuesday.
The Blackhawks hired Jenner & Block to conduct what they called an independent review in response to two lawsuits filed against the franchise: one alleging sexual assault by then-assistant coach Brad Aldrich during the team’s Stanley Cup run in 2010 and another filed by a former student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting in Michigan.
The results of that review were released in a virtual press briefing that included Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz, CEO Danny Wirtz and lead investigator Reid Schar. The findings were made available to the public shortly after.
A Look at the Allegations
A former player said Aldrich assaulted him, and that the team did nothing after he informed an employee. The lawsuit, filed May 7 in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges Aldrich also assaulted another unidentified Blackhawks player. The former player who sued and is seeking more than $150,000 in damages is referred in the document as “John Doe.”
According to the recent investigation, the encounter between John Doe, then 20, and Aldrich, then 27 and a video coach for the Blackhawks, 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 a lawsuit. Aldrich told investigators the encounter was consensual.
Aldrich left the Blackhawks after the 2009-10 season.
He was sentenced to nine months in prison for the Michigan assault.
A recap of what happened Tuesday:
Findings of Sexual Assault Investigation by Former Chicago Blackhawks Coach Released
The findings of the investigation into sexual assault by the former Chicago Blackhawks coach, which team CEO Danny Wirtz called “both disturbing and difficult to read,” were released on Tuesday by the franchise.
During the investigation Jenner & Block interviewed 139 witnesses, including the victim and Aldrich. The investigation found that president of hockey operations and general manager Stan Bowman and senior vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac met with John McDonough, Jay Blunk, Kevin Cheveldayoff, Joel Quenneville and James Gary met in May 2010 to discuss the allegations.
No action was taken for three weeks, after the Blackhawks won and celebrated the 2010 Stanley Cup.
Schar said Tuesday accounts of the meeting “vary significantly.”
According to the report, Bowman recalled that, after learning of the incident, Quenneville shook his head and said it was hard for the team to get to where it was, and they could not deal with this issue now.
While announcing in July that he was willing to participate in the team's probe, Quenneville said in a statement that he “first learned of these allegations through the media earlier this summer.” Cheveldayoff said in a statement that he had no knowledge of the allegations until he was asked if he was aware of anything prior to the end of Aldrich's employment with the Blackhawks.
“What is clear is that after being informed of Aldrich’s alleged sexual harassment and misconduct with a player no action was taken for three weeks,” Schar said.
The report found no evidence of any investigation or contact with human resources before McDonough informed the team's director of human resources about the allegations on June 14 — a delay that violated the Blackhawks' sexual harassment policy and had “consequences,” according to Schar.
“During that period, Aldrich continued to work with and travel with the team,” Schar said. "On June 10th, during an evening of celebration after the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup win the previous day, Aldrich made an unwanted sexual advance towards a Blackhawks intern, who was 22 years old at the time.
“Also after the Stanley Cup win, Aldrich continued to participate in celebrations in the presence of John Doe, who had made the complaint.”
On June 16, 2010, according to the report, Aldrich was given the option of resigning or being part of an investigation into what happened with John Doe. Aldrich signed a separation agreement and no investigation was conducted.
Aldrich received a severance and a playoff bonus, according to the report, and he was paid a salary "for several months." He hosted the Stanley Cup for a day in his hometown, and his name was engraved on the iconic trophy.
Schar said the firm found no evidence that Wirtz or his father, Rocky, who owns the team, were aware of the allegations before the former player's lawsuit was brought to their attention ahead of its filing.
In a statement released through his attorney, Susan Loggans, John Doe said he was “grateful for the accountability” shown by the Blackhawks.
“Although nothing can truly change the detriment to my life over the past decade because of the actions of one man inside the Blackhawks organization, I am very grateful to have the truth be recognized, and I look forward to continuing the long journey to recovery,” John Doe said.
Stan Bowman Steps Down as Chicago Blackhawks Make Front Office Changes
Bowman, the Chicago Blackhawks' president of hockey operations and general manager, "stepped aside" from the organization Tuesday afternoon. At the same time, senior vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac was relieved of his duties.
"We talk a lot about hockey culture. I believe one of the beautiful parts of our game is the focus on team success over individual achievements and accolades," Danny Wirtz said. "But that cannot come at the expense of individual safety and well-being.
"It is clear that in 2010, the executives of this organization put team performance above all else. John Doe deserved better from the Blackhawks. And while we believe we have a strong legal defense, I have instructed our lawyers to see if we can reach a fair resolution consistent with the totality of the circumstances."
Kyle Davidson, who's currently the assistant general manager of hockey administration, will serve as the Blackhawks' general manager on an interim basis.
Stan Bowman Addresses Blackhawks Sexual Assault Scandal
Bowman released a statement shortly after the announcement, saying "the team needs to focus on its future, and my continued participation would be a distraction."
"Eleven years ago, while serving in my first year as general manager, I was made aware of potential inappropriate behavior by a then-video coach involving a player," he said. "I promptly reported the matter to the then-President and CEO who committed to handling the matter. I learned this year that the inappropriate behavior involved a serious allegation of sexual assault. I relied on the direction of my superior that he would take appropriate action. Looking back, now knowing he did not handle the matter promptly, I regret assuming he would do so."
Bowman also informed USA Hockey late Tuesday afternoon that he is stepping down as general manager of the 2022 U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team.
“In light of what’s happened today, I think it’s in the best interests of USA Hockey for me to step aside,” he said in a statement. “I’m grateful to have been selected and wish our team the very best in Beijing.”
NHL Fines Blackhawks $2 Million, Gary Bettman Releases Statement on 2010 Findings
The NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million for "the organization’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response in the handling of matters related to former video coach Brad Aldrich’s employment with the Club and ultimate departure in 2010," the league announced.
The Blackhawks and league have agreed to dedicate $1 million of the fine money to fund local organizations in and around the Chicago community "that provide counseling and training for, and support and assistance to, survivors of sexual and other forms of abuse."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that if Blunk, Bowman, McDonough and MacIsaac wish to re-enter the league, it will require a meeting with the commissioner in advance of accepting any NHL-related job. He also plans to arrange "personal meetings in the near future" with Cheveldayoff and Quenneville, both of whom are employed by different organizations, to "discuss their roles in the relevant events as detailed in the Report" and will "reserve judgment on next steps, if any, with respect to them.
The Panthers declined to comment, citing Bettman's plans to meet with Quenneville. Cheveldayoff said he shared everything he knows with Jenner & Block for its report.
Blackhawks Pen Letter to Fans Addressing Sexual Assault Scandal
The team addressed the flurry of news surrounding the investigation in a letter to fans.
"The Blackhawks are more than just a hockey team. We are a community that is built upon the trust and support of our fans, players, employees, and partners," the letter read. "That trust was shaken when disturbing allegations recently came to light about our handling of sexual misconduct that occurred 11 years ago. When we learned of these detailed allegations as part of recent public reports, our ownership initiated an independent investigation led by the law firm Jenner & Block to determine what occurred and how our organization responded."
The team noted the report revealed "it is clear the organization and its executives at that time did not live up to our own standards or values in handling these disturbing incidents."
Read the full letter here.