The Chicago Blackhawks saw major staffing changes, the release of a long-awaited investigation into sexual assault allegations 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.”
The eight-page lawsuit says Aldrich, then a video coach for the Blackhawks, “turned on porn and began to masturbate in front of” the player without his consent. It says Aldrich also threatened to “physically, financially and emotionally” hurt the player if he “did not engage in sexual activity” with him.
Aldrich 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 an investigation into sexual assault by a Chicago Blackhawks coach were released on Tuesday.
During the investigation the firm interviewed 139 witnesses, including the victim and Bradley 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.
Aldrich left the Blackhawks after the 2009-10 season.
Stan Bowman Steps Down as Chicago Blackhawks Make Front Office Changes
Chicago Blackhawks president of hockey operations and general manager Stan Bowman "stepped aside" from the organization. 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."
Former federal prosecutor Reid Schar, who led the investigation, said Tuesday accounts of the meeting “vary significantly.”
“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.
USA Hockey did not immediately have any comment on Bowman’s status as GM for the 2022 Winter Olympics.
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.
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.