A top Chicago Blackhawks official has stepped down and the National Hockey League has fined the organization $2 million Tuesday for not acting promptly on sexual misconduct allegations against an ex-coach, after a newly released investigative report implicated the team’s ex-front office for the failure.
The investigation commissioned in June by the team concluded it kept an ex-player’s allegations against now-former coach Brad Aldrich quiet during its 2010 run for the Stanley Cup and acknowledged for the first time that Aldrich made an unwanted sexual advance to a team intern after the championship.
Release of the blockbuster findings coincided with the hefty NHL fine against the Blackhawks that league Commissioner Gary Bettman said “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.”
Along with the release of a 107-page report by the Chicago law firm Jenner & Block, the team announced it was parting ways with longtime executive Stan Bowman, who was general manager at the time Aldrich engaged in the alleged misconduct, including against the player, dubbed John Doe in court filings. (Jenner & Block is currently representing WBEZ in legal work unrelated to this story.)
“We deeply regret the harm caused to John Doe and the other individuals who were affected and our failures to address these allegations as we became aware of it,” said team CEO Danny Wirtz in a call with reporters.
Wirtz also said he has asked his lawyers to find a “fair resolution” to pending lawsuits against the team from the ex-player and a former 17-year-old male high school hockey player. Aldrich was in 2013 convicted of criminal sexual misconduct against that high school player after leaving the team.
“As an organization, we extend our profound apologies to these individuals who suffered from the misconduct of our former employee,” Wirtz said. “We must and will do better.”
The allegations surrounding Aldrich — from his alleged sexual assault of the former Blackhawks player to his later conviction of sexually assaulting the Michigan boy — have stained Chicago’s National Hockey League franchise since WBEZ first reported on them.
The Jenner investigation was led by one of the firm’s partners, Reid Schar, a former federal prosecutor who helped win corruption convictions against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich. While with Jenner, Schar has helped Commonwealth Edison minimize legal exposure from a federal bribery probe of its Springfield lobbying.
The lawyer representing the former player and the man who said Aldrich abused him in Michigan as a youth praised Jenner’s work and said the former player feels redeemed.
“I was very impressed to see the objectivity of the intelligent and professional independent investigator,” lawyer Susan Loggans said in a statement. “John Doe feels vindicated. Now let’s see if the Blackhawks back up their statement of apology and interest in resolution with action.
“David stood up to Goliath, and the little guy does have a chance against the big corporation,” she said.
Report details alleged abuse of ex-player
In graphic detail, the Jenner report shed more light on the circumstances surrounding the ex player and the allegations against Aldrich. According to the report, the ex-player was a 20-year-old who had recently been called up to the team as a back-up for the Blackhawks’ 2010 pursuit of its first Stanley Cup in 49 years.
In early May of 2010, the alleged sexual encounter occurred at Aldrich’s apartment. While Aldrich claimed to Jenner’s investigators that the act was consensual, the ex-player insisted it wasn’t and provided details about the non-consensual interaction.
The report said Aldrich, then 27 and in his second full year as a video coach for the Blackhawks, invited the player to his apartment for dinner and drinks and proceeded to tell him he “had the power to get the player on the team roster.”
Aldrich then allegedly turned on pornography and threatened the player that “he needed to act like he enjoyed the sexual encounter or [he] would never play in the NHL ‘or walk’ again.’ The report said the player claimed Aldrich “forcibly performed oral sex on [him], masturbated on [his] back, and then threatened [him] again before [he] was able to escape Aldrich’s apartment.”
The report said about a week later, the ex-player told a confidante not affiliated with the team about the sexual encounter and portrayed it as non-consensual.
On May 23, 2010, the team’s then-senior director of hockey administration learned about the encounter and dispatched the team’s mental skills coach and counselor to speak to the player about what had happened, the report said.
Later that day, the report continued, a confab that included then-team President John McDonough, MacIsaac, Bowman, then-Executive Vice President Jay Blunk, then-Assistant General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and then-head coach Joel Quenneville met to discuss the player’s allegations against Aldrich.
It was the same day the team had secured its playoff win to advance to the Stanley Cup.
“Bowman recalled that during the meeting, McDonough and Quenneville made comments about the challenge of getting to the Stanley Cup Finals and a desire to focus on the team and the playoffs,” the report said. Several years later, MacIsaac, in discussing the situation between Aldrich and John Doe with another Blackhawks employee, stated that McDonough did not want any negative publicity during the Stanley Cup Finals, according to the report.
Bowman told Jenner’s investigators that McDonough, the most senior member of management in the room, indicated he would “handle the situation.”
“Several witnesses recalled and later told others about a discussion that then ensued during the meeting regarding whether the time was right to address the allegations against Aldrich in light of the ongoing playoffs,” Schar said, reiterating the report’s finding that a witness said McDonough and Quenneville then talked about needing to focus on the playoffs.
“What is clear is it after being informed of a Aldrich’s alleged sexual harassment and misconduct with a player, no action was taken for three weeks,” Schar said.
And that, Schar said, was a violation of the team’s sexual harassment policies that require a prompt and thorough investigation of all claims.
Report says a witness alleged leaders sat on allegations to protect playoff run
The report also included previously unreported allegations that Aldrich assaulted a team intern.
On June 10, 2010, the report noted, after a night of bar-hopping with players to celebrate the team’s Stanley Cup victory, Aldrich groped a 22-year-old male intern in a cab in a bid to persuade him to come to his apartment. The young man became angry and rejected the overture, the report said, but did not report it to the team.
On June 14, 2010, after the playoffs had concluded, the report said that McDonough reported the allegations involving Aldrich to the Blackhawks’ director of human resources. She later told Jenner’s investigators that McDonough had said there had been a decision not to alert her department about the Aldrich matter “during the playoffs so as not to disturb team chemistry.”
In his own interview with Jenner, McDonough disputed that statement from the team human resources director, the report said.
Two days later, the report said, the team’s human resources chief met with Aldrich and told him he either could submit to an investigation into what had happened with the player or resign, and Aldrich opted to resign. No investigation occurred into the matter until this year.
Still, the report noted, “Aldrich received a severance and a playoff bonus, and continued to be paid a salary for several months. He was permitted to host the Stanley Cup for a day in his hometown. His name was engraved on the Stanley Cup. He received a championship ring, and he attended a Stanley Cup banner-raising ceremony at the United Center.”
Aldrich did not respond to a WBEZ request for comment on the report Tuesday, and McDonough could not be reached.
Bowman, however, expressed contrition for not speaking up about the Aldrich matter but made clear he had conveyed information to McDonough, who failed to act.
“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,” Bowman said.
“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 said Tuesday.
Bowman on Tuesday also resigned as general manager of the U.S. Olympic Men’s Ice Hockey Team, according to a statement from the organization.
Bettman, the NHL commissioner, said the league is weighing potential disciplinary action against Quenneville, the former Blackhawks coach who now coaches the Florida Panthers, and Cheveldayoff, who was Bowman’s assistant general manager when Aldrich allegedly assaulted the ex-player.
“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,” the commissioner said in a statement.
In July, Quenneville told the Associated Press through a statement from the Panthers that he had learned about the allegations against Aldrich “through the media.”
“I first learned of these allegations through the media earlier this summer,” Quenneville said, according to the AP article. “I have contacted the Blackhawks organization to let them know I will support and participate in the independent review. Out of respect for all those involved, I won’t comment further while this matter is before the courts.”
A Florida Panthers spokeswoman Tuesday acknowledged plans for Bettman and Quenneville to meet to discuss the Jenner report but declined comment on behalf of the coach and team.
The report’s release comes as the team has been fighting to fend off two lawsuits related to its handling of the claims against Aldrich. The team has asked a judge to dismiss both cases.
One case was brought by the former player. The other case was filed by the Michigan victim, who was sexually abused by Aldrich in 2013. For that, Aldrich was convicted of criminal sexual conduct, which also landed him on Michigan’s sex offender registry. The Michigan victim, who was a 17-year-old high school hockey player when he was abused, is identified in court filings as John Doe 2.
WBEZ has reported on a string of other sexual misconduct allegations involving Aldrich, including at Miami University, which employed him in 2012 for a five month stint. The university has acknowledged it was aware of two sexual assault allegations against Aldrich while he was employed at the Ohio university.
All told, WBEZ, through court filings and investigative reports, has documented at least seven individuals with similar allegations against Aldrich since his time with the Blackhawks. The crime involving the Michigan boy is the only one that resulted in a conviction.
Following the report’s release, the ex-player identified as John Doe expressed gratitude to the team for its “accountability” in publicizing its mishandling of his allegations against Aldrich.
“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,” the player said.
“I know I am not the only victim in this world of sexual abuse, and I hope my story can inspire change within the NHL and around the world,” he said. “I am still speechless.”
The Jenner report made clear that neither Danny Wirtz, the team’s current CEO, nor the Blackhawks’ chairman, Rocky Wirtz, knew of the allegations against Aldrich in 2010, a point the elder Wirtz underscored during a brief statement to reporters Tuesday.
“The Chicago Blackhawks are more than just a hockey team to me and my family. We are a community. It’s built on the trust and support of our fans, players, employees and partners,” he said.
“This is why we are so troubled to learn about these very serious allegations made by a former player and is why we commissioned the law firm of Jenner & Block to conduct an independent investigation into these events,” Wirtz continued. “To be clear, neither myself nor Danny knew anything about these allegations until we received word that a lawsuit was being filed. If we had, we certainly would not be standing here today.”
Cheryl Raye-Stout contributed.