Hockey

The Blackhawks Situation

The Blackhawks Situation
Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images

Disclaimer: The below article contains subject matter that may be difficult for some to read, including references to sexual assault. This article also includes links to the original report by Jenner and Block LLP. The report contains graphic details that may be difficult for some to read. 

Summarizing the Blackhawks situation. Jenner and Block LLP (J&B), an independent law firm tasked with investigating allegations of sexual assault by a former video coach of the Chicago Blackhawks (Brad Aldrich) in 2010, as well as the organizations’ attempts at covering up said assault, released their findings on Tuesday, October 26. The report was both explosive and disturbing. In the 107 page report, J&B associate Reid J. Schar confirms the allegations, as well as shedding more light on the mismanagement of the situation by team executives.

The report outlines meetings held between Blackhawk management and coaches. The decision from these meetings was to delay reporting the assault until after the playoffs. During this delay, Aldrich remained with the team. He was allowed to take part in the Stanley Cup celebration that followed. More importantly, the delay allowed Aldrich to have another inappropriate incident with a team intern (page 57-58 of report, linked here). For a further summary of the events surrounding the lawsuit brought against the team and Aldrich, please refer to TSN’s Rick Westhead’s excellent reporting on the subject, as well as an article written by myself for Championship Sports Media on September 15th.

Findings and Conferences

Prior to the release of the report, Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz, Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz, and Reid Schar held a conference via Zoom to outline the findings of the report. That conference can be found here. The link to the full report can be found above, and also here. Following the report, several resignations from the Blackhawks organization were announced. 

Additionally, the player at the center of the allegations, previously referred to as “John Doe”, revealed his identity. The player is Kyle Beach, a first round pick of the Blackhawks in 2008. Beach gave a powerful and courageous interview to Rick Westhead on TSN, which can be found here

Below, I will be summarizing the key figures that have played a part in these proceedings. I will look at what has become of them since the allegations surfaced, as well as in the days since the J&B report has been released.

Stan Bowman Resigns

During the Zoom conference, Danny Wirtz announced that Stan Bowman was stepping down from his position as GM and President of Hockey Ops. Further, it was announced that Bowman had stepped down from his position as GM of the US Olympic Men’s Hockey team for the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Taking over as Interim GM of the Blackhawks in the wake of this resignation is Kyle Davidson. Davidson has been with the Blackhawks organization for 11 years, most recently serving as Assistant General Manager. 

Bowman, who joined the Blackhawks in 2001, was reported to have cooperated fully with the investigation. In a statement released at the time of his resignation, Bowman said that his “continued participation would be a distraction” to the team moving forward. On his involvement in the cover-up of the assault in 2010, Bowman made the following comment: “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. 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.”

Guerin’s Troubles

Expected to assume the role of US Olympic GM is Bill Guerin. Guerin is currently the General Manager for the Minnesota Wild. This is problematic as well, though. Guerin is alleged to have played a part in covering up the sexual assault of the wife of former Wilkes-Barre/Scranton assistant coach Jarrod Skalde. This happened while serving as Assistant GM of the Pittsburgh Penguins. The investigation by the US Center of SafeSport into this matter is still ongoing.

Kyle Beach Comes Forward As John Doe

At the center of the entire investigation has been a former Chicago Blackhawks player referenced as “John Doe”. Upon release of the J&B report, however, Kyle Beach came forward to reveal his identity as John Doe. Beach was a first round pick of the Blackhawks in 2008. He had received his first call-up with the Blackhawks when Aldrich assaulted him.

In a powerful, courageous, and emotional interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead, Beach recounted the events in 2010. Beach spoke about feeling “alone, dark”, as well as feeling like there was no one he could turn to for help. Further, Beach mentioned that he had his career threatened. He recounts the time after the assault, and seeing Aldrich allowed to stay with the team despite reporting the incident. He said that seeing Aldrich allowed to celebrate with the Cup made him “feel like nothing. It made me feel like I didn’t exist. It made me feel that I wasn’t important. It made me feel like he was in the right and I was wrong”.

The Reason

Westhead then asked Beach why he came forward as John Doe. Beach first mentions that, in the J&B report, the details are such that it was obvious Beach was John Doe. But more importantly, Beach said that he wanted others in the sporting world who have been victims of assault to know that they are not alone. He wanted to bring attention to the support systems in place for those victims. Beach further said he hoped that him coming forward could encourage change. 

The most gut-wrenching part of the video to watch, though, is when Westhead asks Beach about the 16 year-old hockey player in Michigan that Aldrich assaulted. Beach breaks down and apologizes, saying he wishes that he would have done more. Beach said that he found out about Aldrich’s assault on the Michigan teen while playing overseas. He states how seeing that gave him the courage and conviction to finally come forward with his story.

Courage

The closing of this column is where I plan on giving my thoughts and opinions. But I want my thoughts here to be separate from that. The courage of Kyle Beach cannot be overstated. To bring forward this lawsuit after all these years of being soundly ignored is courage on its own. But to put his name out there, to give the interview he did, is bravery that cannot be defined.

Hearing Beach recount all the people and organizations that failed him is infuriating. To hear him be the one to apologize to that boy in Michigan, to hear him assume responsibility… It is heart-breaking. Kyle Beach has personified courage throughout this process, and the hockey world owes it to him to listen and change.

Al MacIsaac Resigns

Also resigning in the wake of the J&B report being released was Blackhawks Senior VP of Hockey Ops Al MacIsaac. When the assault took place in 2010, MacIsaac’s role with the organization was Senior Director of Hockey Administration. In this role, MacIsaac reported directly to then- President and CEO John McDonough. MacIsaac took part in a meeting in 2010 with other members of Senior Management and coaches to make the decision to delay the reporting of the assault until after the playoffs that year (starting on page 46 of J&B report).

Joel Quennville Steps Down As Panthers Coach

Former Blackhawks coach Joel Quennville resigned from his most recent role as coach of the Florida Panthers on October 28. This came after a meeting with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss Quennville’s involvement in the mishandling of the sexual assault on Kyle Beach in 2010. In a statement released to TSN, Quennville said “I want to express my sorrow for the pain this young man, Kyle Beach, has suffered. My former team, the Blackhawks, failed Kyle and I own my share of that. I want to reflect on how all of this happened and take the time to educate myself on ensuring hockey spaces are safe for everyone.”

Up until the time of his resignation, Quennville had denied any knowledge of the assault in 2010. However, in the J&B report, Quennville was reported to be in the meeting with senior management discussing how to handle the sexual assault (page 46, 50 of J&B report).

On the day that Kyle Beach revealed his identity as John Doe, and stated that Quennville was in fact aware of Aldrich’s assault on him in 2010, Quennville was allowed to coach in a game against Boston. Additionally, instead of addressing the media after the game, Florida GM Bill Zito read a statement saying Quennville would not be available for comment until he met with Bettman. 

Kevin Cheveldayoff

Kevin Cheveldayoff met with commissioner Gary Bettman on October 29th. This was to discuss his role in the mishandling of the 2010 assault. Cheveldayoff, current general manager of the Winnipeg Jets, was assistant GM of the Blackhawks in 2010. Further, Cheveldayoff was reported to be in the meeting in 2010 where it was decided to delay the reporting and investigation of the assault (pages 46 and 50 of J&B report).

Cheveldayoff has not stepped down from his role as GM of the Jets, nor has any discipline been issued. In a statement released by the NHL, the league stated that Cheveldayoff “was not responsible for the improper decisions made by the Chicago Blackhawks” in 2010. Cheveldayoff himself held a press conference, accompanied by Jets owner Mark Chipman. In the conference, Cheveldayoff acknowledged he was in that fateful 2010 meeting. But he said he was not aware of the depth of Beach’s accusations.

Cheveldayoff had stated in July that he was unaware the sexual assault in 2010. Further he stated that he did not learn about it until he left the organization in 2011. Cheveldayoff stated that he participated in the investigation and shared everything he knew on the matter. This came after the report was made public.

John McDonough

In 2010, John McDonough was President and CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks. McDonough was relieved of his position on April 27, 2020. The dismissal of McDonough was not related to the allegations of mishandling Aldrich’s assault on Beach.

Throughout the investigation, several references had been made that the decision to report the assault or not fell on the shoulders of McDonnough. This is most obvious in Bowman’s statement, as quoted above. Bowman’s statement essentially says that he reported the incident to McDonough and expected follow-through. 

Since being dismissed from his position in April of 2020, McDonough has not released any public statement. Nor has he responded to requests for comment. It must be said, however, that McDonough did cooperate fully with Reid Schar and J&B’s investigation.

Current and Former Players

Twenty-one current and former players were interviewed by Reid Schar during his investigation for J&B. Most notable are Brent Sopel and Nick Boynton, who have been vocal throughout the process. Sopel is named in the report (page 52), and is on record stating that “everyone” knew about the assault in 2010. Also notable is that Duncan Keith, currently playing for the Edmonton Oilers but part of all three Blackhawk Cup-winning teams, declined to be interviewed as part of the investigation. Further, he stated that he knew nothing of the assault at the time and felt he had nothing to contribute to the investigation. Keith was an assistant captain of the Blackhawks in 2010.

Kane And Toews

On the night that Kyle Beach revealed his identity as John Doe, the Blackhawks faced the Toronto Maple Leafs in Chicago. After the game, Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews was asked about Beach, and the incident as a whole. Toews said that he didn’t hear about the allegations until training camp the year after winning the Cup. “I feel a ton for what Kyle went through and what he’s dealing with at this point, too. I don’t know what else to say. I think the guys that were part of that group all wish they could have done something different,” Toews said to the media. 

Patrick Kane echoed Toews’ sentiments towards Beach. “Very courageous for (Beach) to come out and let his name be known to the world after everything he went through. I wish back then we could have done some different things, knew about some different things, maybe we could have helped him.”

The Wrong Take

However, when asked about Bowman and MacIsaac, tones changed. Toews said that he didn’t feel Bowman and MacIsaac were “directly complicit in the activities that happened”. Toews went on to say that “for someone like Stan, who has done so much for the Blackhawks — and Al as well — to lose everything they care about and their livelihoods as well. … I don’t understand how that makes it go away, to just delete them from existence and (say), ‘That’s it, we’ll never hear from them again.’ I have a lot of respect for them as people. They’re good people. When it comes down to how they feel looking back on the situation, that’s not up to me to comment on”.

Kane once again echoed Toews’ comments on the subject. “I knew Stan very well, know him as a great man. He did a lot for me personally, coming into the league and over the course of my career. I’m sure he would’ve handled things differently nowadays. What happened happened in the past, and I think the organization made the right moves to get the Blackhawks going forward in the right steps and making sure they’re trending forward.”

Bettman and Daly

On November 1st, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly held a press conference over Zoom to address the situation. After reading a written statement apologizing to Kyle Beach, Bettman opened the floor to questions from the media. 

The conference itself is close to an hour long. Apart from the opening statement, there appeared to be a complete lack of empathy towards Beach or any other of the key players in the incident. When asked about the $2 million fine levied against the Blackhawks in comparison to the harsher punishments given to the Devils and Coyotes for circumventing the CBA in various ways, Bettman responded with “different contexts, different facts”.

Ignoring Westhead

Bettman was later asked by Westhead if he would be willing to offer the same support that he offered Kyle Beach to the Michigan teen assaulted by Aldrich in 2016, dubbed John Doe 2. Bettman responded that he would need to “know more about that circumstance”. He further stated that he was focused on “what happened in the NHL environment”. It should be mentioned that Westhead was not allowed to ask a question until close to the conclusion of the conference. Several others on the call were able to ask multiple questions beforehand. It was not until Pierre LeBrun pointed this out that Westhead was called on. 

There was much more to the conference, and it can be watched in its entirety here(link). It was objectively a failure on Bettman and the league’s part. They had the chance to show empathy and an interest to make things right. Instead, Bettman chose to speak only in vague “lawyer” talk. In the process, he showed the league’s priorities, and it is not in implementing change or making amends.

Thoughts

Writers much more eloquent and talented than myself have weighed in on the events surrounding the Blackhawks. But I would be remiss if I didn’t add my thoughts. It took me a long time to write this column. It was tough reading and watching how a league and a sport that I love completely failed not only Kyle Beach, but countless others. I cannot fathom what it is like to live with it every day. Kyle Beach, John Doe 2, and all of the other survivors of sexual assault, their strength cannot be put into words.

For my part, it has once again made me question my love of hockey. But beyond that, it has made me question my love of sports as a whole. Because at the end of the day, this is a story about individuals in power putting success ahead of a human in need. John McDonough, Stan Bowman and the rest put the pursuit of a Stanley Cup ahead of doing what was right. And as a result, lives were changed, people were hurt, and harm beyond what any of us can put into words was done to people that were just trying to achieve their dreams.

I don’t know how we fix this. I wish I did. But at the very least, all of us in sports can try to help change the culture. We can help show that victims of sexual assault will be heard and believed. We can help ensure that reports of abuse and assault will be handled in a timely and appropriate manner so that predators like Brad Aldrich are not empowered to harm people again and again. Most importantly, we can ensure that victims understand that they are not the ones at fault.

Sports culture, and hockey culture in particular, failed Kyle Beach and John Doe 2. I hope that we can learn from this and not let it happen again. We owe them that much.

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2 Comments

  1. Pingback: NHL Schedule November 8-14, 2021 - Championship Sports Media

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