The Chicago Blackhawks delayed an investigation into allegations of sexual assault against a member of their coaching staff to suppress negative publicity during the club’s 2010 Stanley Cup run.
That was just one of the revelations of a scathing report that was released on Tuesday by a Chicago law firm and resulted in the immediate resignations of Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and senior vice-president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac. Shortly after that, a US$2-million fine was levied against the team by the National Hockey League.
A probe conducted by Jenner & Block found senior executives, head coach Joel Quenneville and assistant general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff were made aware of accusations against video coach Brad Aldrich during a meeting on May 23, 2010, but did nothing about it until three weeks later – after the Blackhawks had won their first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
The club had a policy at the time that required reports of sexual harassment to be investigated promptly and thoroughly, but no information was shared with human-resources officers until June 14.
The law firm was hired by the Blackhawks this summer to conduct an investigation after two lawsuits were filed against the team for not properly reviewing complaints against Aldrich. One lawsuit was filed by a former Blackhawks player who said Aldrich committed sexual acts on him after the video coach threatened to ruin his career unless he complied. The other was filed by a high-school hockey player who came into contact with Aldrich after he left the Blackhawks.
According to the report, Aldrich met with the club’s HR director on June 16 and was offered the option to undergo an investigation into what occurred with the Blackhawks player, who is known only as John Doe, or to resign. Aldrich chose to resign, signed a separation agreement and no investigation was conducted.
As per terms of the agreement, the report said Aldrich received severance pay and a playoff bonus, continued to be paid for several months, was permitted to play host to the Stanley Cup for a day in his hometown, had his name engraved on the trophy, received a championship ring and was invited to the Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony at the United Center the following fall. Jenner & Block found he went on to have paid and unpaid positions with USA Hockey, the University of Notre Dame, Miami University in Ohio, and Houghton High School in Houghton, Mich. While in Houghton, in 2013, Aldrich was arrested and pled guilty to fourth degree criminal sexual conduct involving a minor.
Details in the report were released by Reid Schar, a former federal prosecutor and a partner at Jenner & Block. The firm is not representing either the team or the plaintiffs who have sued it. The investigation was conducted over four months and included interviews with 139 witnesses. Among them were 21 current and former Blackhawks players or players from the Rockford IceHogs, Chicago’s American Hockey League affiliate.
Schar said the investigation uncovered no evidence that the Blackhawks’ current ownership group, president of business operations or its general counsel were aware of the events of 2010 before John Doe’s lawsuit was filed.
In announcing the fine, the NHL criticized the club’s inadequate internal procedures, as well as its insufficient and untimely response.
According to a statement, the NHL and the Blackhawks agreed to direct US$1-million of the fine money “to fund local organizations in and around the Chicago community that provide counselling and training for, and support and assistance to, survivors of sexual and other forms of abuse.”
“We acknowledge that the Blackhawks have taken responsibility and ownership for what transpired, and have already implemented new preventative measures, as well as committed to additional changes that may be deemed appropriate as part of its responsive plan of action to the investigation and report,” commissioner Gary Bettman said in a statement. “This response should send a clear message to all NHL clubs and personnel that inappropriate acts must be addressed in a timely fashion.”
Jenner & Block pointed out that its report found discrepancies in statements from Quenneville and Cheveldayoff, who were identified as having attended the May 23, 2010, meeting but subsequently said were unaware of the sexual-assault complaints until the lawsuits were filed this summer.
Quenneville is now the head coach of the Florida Panthers, and Cheveldayoff is general manager of the Winnipeg Jets.
Bettman said he plans to schedule meetings with them in the near future to discuss their roles in the incident.
On Tuesday night, Cheveldayoff issued a statement through the Jets communications manager.
“I have shared everything I know about this matter as part of my participation in Jenner & Block’s investigation,” Cheveldayoff said. “That is reflected in today’s investigation report. Further, I look forward to my discussion with Commissioner Bettman at the soonest possible date to continue to cooperate fully with the National Hockey League. I will reserve any further comment until after that conversation has been conducted.”
According to the report, during the May 23, 2010, meeting, John McDonough, then-president of the team, told the others that the HR department would not be alerted during the playoffs so as not to disturb team chemistry.
Earlier this summer, Marc Bergevin, who was the Blackhawks director of player personnel at the time, said he had no knowledge of the situation. He is currently in the last year of his contract as general manager of the Montreal Canadiens.
Bowman, who also resigned as GM of the U.S. men’s hockey team for the 2022 Winter Olympics, issued a statement on Tuesday explaining why he decided to resign.
“The team needs to focus on its future, and my continued participation would be a distraction,” he said. “I think too much of this organization to let that happen.”
In trying to repair the damage, the Blackhawks on Tuesday issued a lengthy letter to its fans and partners.
“The Blackhawks are more than just a hockey team,” the statement began. “We are a community that is built upon the trust and support of our fans, players, employees and partners.
“That trust was shaken when disturbing allegations recently came to light about our handling of sexual misconduct that occurred 11 years ago. 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.
“We deeply regret the harm caused to John Doe and the other individuals who were affected and the failure to promptly respond. As an organization, we extend our profound apologies to the individuals who suffered from these experiences. We must – and will – do better.”
Ben Pope, the beat reporter for the Chicago Blackhawks for the Chicago Sun-Times, posted a statement on Twitter that he attributed to the player only known as John Doe.
“Although nothing can truly change the detriment to my life over the past decade – because of one man within the Blackhawks organization – I am very grateful to have the truth be recognized, and I look forward to continuing the long journey of recovery,” the statement reads in part. “I know I am not the only victim in this world of sexual abuse, and I hope my story can inspire change within the organization and around the world.”