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Blackhawks Investigation Fallout: The Report, Statements, Fines, Firings, More

Chicago Blackhawks

After a months-long independent investigation into the sexual abuse allegations surrounding former coach Brad Aldrich and an unnamed player (“John Doe”) that occurred during the 2010 season, the Chicago Blackhawks have taken sweeping action to rid the organization of those executives who were employed by the team at the time of the incident(s).

For example, President of Hockey Operations/GM Stan Bowman and Vice President of Hockey Operations Al MacIsaac are no longer a part of the Blackhawks organizations as a result of their complicity in the 2010 incident. Meanwhile, Assistant GM Kyle Davidson has been named the interim GM of the Blackhawks, before a proper search can get underway.

Blackhawks Statement:

The Chicago Blackhawks issued a statement on the findings and this afternoon.

“A Letter to our Fans, Partners and Community —

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.

That trust was shaken when disturbing allegations recently came to light about our handling of sexual misconduct that occurred eleven 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.

Jenner & Block has delivered their findings to the organization and the report can be read in full here: https://jenner.com/Chicago_Blackhawks_Investigation_Report. [Content warning: The report contains graphic descriptions that some may find upsetting or offensive.] The report details very troubling events that occurred in 2010 and outlines the Blackhawks’ knowledge and treatment of those events at that time.

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.

What we do off the ice is equally as important as anything we do on it. Our ownership and leadership teams are committed to ensuring that the Blackhawks adhere to the highest ethical, professional, and athletic standards. We will not tolerate behavior that is antithetical to our values from any member of the organization, nor will we accept the type of inaction that allows such issues to continue unchecked.

Since 2010, we have implemented numerous positive changes throughout our organization, especially over the past year — including more clearly defining organizational structure, alongside the hiring of new personnel who demonstrate our values and bring the right subject matter expertise in the areas of compliance, human resources and mental health & wellbeing.

We have policies, procedures and practices in place to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our employees, including policies that require leaders to report any suspected or actual harassment reported to them or which they observe, as well as processes to appropriately handle and investigate any reports of misconduct of any type by employees or third parties.

We have reviewed and modernized our employee handbook to ensure best practices, including our Anti-Harassment, Discrimination and Retaliation Policies.

The entire Blackhawks organization participates in mandatory annual anti-harassment and anti-discrimination trainings and, as part of that, we clearly communicated several mechanisms for reporting of concerns including internal and third-party options such as the NHL’s anonymous hotline operated by Deloitte.

We believe these actions underscore and solidify our commitment to ensuring that the failures of the past will not be repeated. We intend to win championships without ever compromising our integrity.

To our fans, employees, players, partners, sponsors, and the entire Blackhawks community – Thank you for standing by us. As we move forward, we are committed to continuing to earn your trust and support both on and off the ice.”

The Independent Report:

A few points of interest from the full report from Reid J. Schar and Jenner & Block, LLP.

•   Here is the opening to the Executive Summary, outlining the reason for the independent investigation by Schar and the firm:

On May 7, 2021, a hockey player formerly affiliated with the Chicago Blackhawks Hockey Team (the “Blackhawks”) filed a lawsuit against the team. The player, John Doe, alleged that in May 2010, he was sexually assaulted by the then-video coach for the Blackhawks. John Doe further alleged that the Blackhawks were made aware of the alleged assault soon after it occurred and failed to act to address the assault. In late June 2021, Jenner & Block LLP (“Jenner & Block”) was hired by the Blackhawks to conduct an independent investigation. Over the course of four months, we investigated (i) the conduct of the former video coach, Brad Aldrich, in and around May 2010; (ii) the extent to which individuals affiliated with the Blackhawks, including those in senior management, knew about Aldrich’s conduct in May 2010, and when and how those individuals learned about the conduct; and (iii) when and how individuals affiliated with the Blackhawks, including those in senior management, responded to the information they learned about Aldrich’s conduct in May 2010.”

•   According to the report by Schar, Blackhawks chairman Rocky Wirtz and CEO Danny Wirtz did not have knowledge of the incident or the claims until the lawsuits were filed.

•   In the report, it’s stated that in addition to the unnamed Blackhawks prospect, Aldrich also had an inappropriate sexual encounter with “One Front Office paid intern, a male employee who was twenty-two years old at the time,” on the night of June 10, 2010. The incident wasn’t reported at the time by the employee.

The employee stated when interviewed that he did not feel the need to report the incident to the Blackhawks, where he was still employed at the time, and in fact did not report the incident to Human Resources or anyone in senior management. The employee further explained that Aldrich apologized and the employee “chalked it up to a drunken mistake.” The employee also recalled that he did not want to say anything about Aldrich’s proposition to anyone, including to Blackhawks management, because the employee knew that Aldrich’s father worked for the San Jose Sharks. The employee wanted to ensure that Aldrich would serve as a reference for him for future employment in the hockey industry and did not want to risk Aldrich or Aldrich’s father being an issue for a future job.

•   The report names the following individuals as members of the Blackhawks organization who were aware of the incident between Brad Aldrich and the John Doe prospect during the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs (in the order in which they appear in the report and their position within the organization at the time):

Paul Vincent (Skating Coach)
Al MacIsaac (Senior Director of Hockey Administration)
Jim Gary (Mental Skills Coach)
Stan Bowman (General Manager)
John McDonough (Team President)
Kevin Cheveldeyoff (Assistant GM)
Jay Blunk (Senior Vice President)
Joel Quenneville (Head Coach)

• A conclusion of the findings by Schar and the firm (bolded emphasis mine):

In May 2010, a sexual encounter involving John Doe and Brad Aldrich occurred at Aldrich’s apartment in Chicago. John Doe stated that the encounter was not consensual and was a sexual assault. Brad Aldrich stated that the encounter was consensual. In the days and weeks that followed, John Doe shared information about the encounter with his confidant; the Blackhawks’ skating coach (Paul Vincent); and the Blackhawks’ mental skills coach (Jim Gary), who was dispatched by Al MacIsaac to speak to John Doe. Gary took information he recalled receiving from John Doe to the senior leaders of the Blackhawks organization.

There are multiple accounts of what occurred during the meeting of those senior leaders at the United Center on May 23, 2010. Gary stated that he shared with the senior leaders that Aldrich was pressuring John Doe for sex and threatening to harm John Doe’s career if John Doe did not comply. Others recall Gary’s comments as less stark—that Aldrich had tried to “get under the sheets” with John Doe. At a minimum, the senior leaders, including then- President John McDonough, were informed of alleged sexual harassment of a player by a coach, including efforts by the coach to engage in unwelcome sexual activity with that player. Several witnesses recalled or later told others about a discussion that ensued during the meeting regarding whether the time was right to address the allegations against Aldrich in light of the need to protect team chemistry and avoid bad publicity during the ongoing playoffs.

….

As a result, the Blackhawks’ own sexual harassment policy—which required investigation of all reports of sexual harassment to be conducted “promptly and thoroughly”—was violated. The failure to promptly and thoroughly investigate the matter and the decision to take no action from May 23 to June 14 had consequences. During that period, Aldrich continued to work with and travel with the team. Aldrich engaged in an unwanted sexual advance on a Blackhawks intern—physically grabbing the intern in a sexual manner. And Aldrich continued to participate in team activities and celebrations, in the presence of John Doe.

Even after the allegations were finally reported to the Director of Human Resources, still no investigation occurred, and Aldrich was permitted to resign his position and to continue participating in Stanley Cup victory events.

***

You can read the full 107-page report from Jenner & Block, LLP., and lead investigator, Reid J. Schar.

Executive Fallout and Statements:

As a result of today’s findings, the only two remaining members of the business and hockey operations departments within the organization, and the coaching staff, that the report indicates had knowledge of the incident, Stan Bowman and Al MacIsaac have resigned from the organization.

Here’s the statement by Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz on Stan Bowman’s departure from the organization:

Stan Bowman also released a statement on his departure from the organization and his handling of the incident in 2010 and beyond.

The part of Danny Wirtz’s statement in which he compliments Stan Bowman for his “extreme professionalism and integrity” in cooperating in the investigation is especially difficult to read, considering that it immediately follows Wirtz admitting that Bowman made a mistake back in 2010.

A mistake?

A mistake is when my wife forgets to tell me she left my car on E before I get into it. What Stan Bowman — and the rest of the named members of the organization — did in 2010 and beyond was an egregious act of selfishness, negligence, and malpractice within his capacity as one of the chief decision-makers of the Chicago Blackhawks.

As a result of the investigation, the NHL has fined the Chicago Blackhawks $2 million “for the organization’s inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response in the matters related to the former video coach Brad Aldrich’s employment with the club and ultimate departure in 2010.”

Blackhawks Fines:

The NHL and the Blackhawks announced immediately after the findings that they will be dedicating $1 million of the fine money to fund local organizations in and around the Chicago community that provide counseling, and training for support and assistance to survivors of sexual and other forms of abuse.

NHL Statement:

Here is the statement from the National Hockey League on the complete findings of the investigation:

NEW YORK – The National Hockey League announced today that the Chicago Blackhawks have been fined $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 and the Blackhawks have decided that $1 Million of the fine money will be dedicated 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.

Today’s announcement results from the League’s review of an independent investigative report (the “Report”) conducted and prepared by the law firm of Jenner & Block, LLP. The League has reviewed the Report and is satisfied as to its methodology and thoroughness. The investigation was conducted independent of interference or other influence from the Blackhawks, the NHL or any other third party. The scope of the investigation was broad and comprehensive, involving the interviews of 139 witnesses and the review of all relevant documents and records that remained available for inspection. We are comfortable that the Report provides an accurate account (or at least as accurate as possible) of the events that transpired 11 years ago.

The Report is primarily focused on the Club’s response (or lack of response) to an incident brought to senior management’s attention in the Spring of 2010, when the Blackhawks were competing in the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, which involved then-current video coach Brad Aldrich. According to the Report, based on available evidence and recollections of those involved, Aldrich was involved in a sexual encounter with another individual in the organization (a Player), which some described as a sexual assault and others described as consensual. Unfortunately, as a result of the Club’s inadequate and delayed follow-up upon learning of these events, as well as the sheer passage of time, it is now difficult, if not impossible, to determine the specifics of the incident with any adequate degree of certainty. Nevertheless, and regardless of the precise nature of the incident itself, it is recognized and must be acknowledged that the respective employment roles of the two involved individuals (Coach and Player) rendered the encounter — even if it was consensual — problematic and inappropriate.

The Report describes in detail a meeting that was convened among members of senior Club management on May 23, 2010, following the clinching game of the 2010 Western Conference Championship Series. The meeting involved (at various times) six individuals from then-senior Club management, including then-President John McDonough, then-Senior Vice President Jay Blunk, General Manager Stan Bowman, then-Senior Director of Hockey Administration Al MacIsaac, then-Assistant General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, and then-Head Coach Joel Quenneville. (Jim Gary, at the time a mental skills coach for the Blackhawks, was also present for the beginning of the meeting, but departed upon making his report.) According to the Report, after discussion of the alleged incident and how the Club should be dealing with it — including the potential options of initiating an investigation, notifying appropriate members of the Human Resources Department, ensuring the immediate separation of Aldrich from the Club’s Players, among other things — ultimately the determination was made and direction given that Hockey Operations personnel should devote their exclusive attention to on-ice matters heading into the Stanley Cup Final, and that other appropriate Club personnel within the organization would take responsibility for “handling” the Aldrich situation in a prompt and appropriate manner — which, as subsequent events make clear, did not happen.

Specifically, the Report concluded, “after being informed of Aldrich’s alleged sexual harassment and misconduct with a player, no action was taken for three weeks…While there was a lack of recollection as to whether anyone else present in the meeting besides [the Club’s President] needed to or would take any additional steps, nothing was done by the other senior leaders to address the situation.” The failure to promptly and thoroughly investigate the matter not only violated the Blackhawks’ own sexual harassment policy in effect at the time, the decision to take no action from May 23 to June 14, [2010] had real consequences, including allegations involving an additional unwanted sexual advance by Aldrich to a Blackhawks’ intern before he was ultimately separated from the Club.

“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. “Such steps have included, but were not limited to: (i) retaining independent counsel to conduct a thorough investigation into the facts surrounding the 2010 allegations and the sufficiency of the Club’s response thereto; (ii) reviewing the Club’s internal policies, procedures and practices, including its internal operating structure and management personnel, to ensure a best-in-class approach going forward; and (iii) implementing various changes and upgrades to its internal procedures and personnel, including by adding enhanced subject matter expertise, creating more stringent reporting obligations, developing new and modernized employee handbooks, and implementing more comprehensive training and education programs.

“Having said that, today’s fine represents a direct and necessary response to the failure of the Club to follow-up and address the 2010 incident in a timely and appropriate manner,” Bettman continued. “And, this response should send a clear message to all NHL Clubs and all NHL personnel that inappropriate acts must be addressed in a timely fashion. In that regard, we also reiterate that the League has implemented a confidential and anonymous Hot Line, which is available at any time to all NHL personnel.”

Importantly, the Report makes clear that senior management’s handling of the alleged incident included a failure to report the matter to Chicago ownership, both as to what was alleged and how it was being handled. This failure only highlights the flawed and inadequate procedures the Club had in place at the time to deal with an allegation of this type.

“Additionally, we are faced with determining whether the imposition of League discipline is appropriate for the Club’s senior leaders at the time who were specifically referenced in the Report. As to four of those individuals (i.e., John McDonough and Jay Blunk and, as of today, Stan Bowman and Al MacIsaac), they are no longer employed by the Chicago Blackhawks and are no longer employed in the League. Should they wish to re-enter the League in some capacity in the future, I will require a meeting with me in advance of their accepting any NHL Club-related position in order to determine the appropriate conditions under which such new employment might take place,” Bettman said.

“With respect to Messrs. Cheveldayoff and Quenneville, who are currently employed by NHL Clubs other than the Blackhawks (the Winnipeg Jets and the Florida Panthers, respectively), I plan to arrange personal meetings in the near future with both individuals to discuss their roles in the relevant events as detailed in the Report. I will reserve judgment on next steps, if any, with respect to them.”

I’m sure we’ll have more on this story as the fallout continues.



Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is a Staff Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.