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The Chicago Blackhawks Traded in Accountability for Championships

The results of an independent investigation into allegations abuse within the Chicago Blackhawks organization paint a picture of a brutally-cavalier franchise more interested in winning NHL games than in protecting vulnerable employees.
Chicago Blackhawks

The results of an independent investigation into allegations of sexual abuse and misconduct within the Chicago Blackhawks organization were released early in the afternoon Tuesday. And they paint a picture of a brutally-cavalier franchise more interested in winning NHL games than in protecting vulnerable employees.

Produced by legal firm Jenner & Block, LLP, the 107-page report describes, in painstaking detail, the accusations of a then-Hawks minor league player, whose name was given as John Doe to protect his anonymity. The accusations center around former Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich, who is alleged to have used his position of power to force players and Chicago team staff into committing sexual acts in May of 2010 – right in the middle of the Hawks’ Stanley Cup playoff run – and bullied abused players and staff into silence regarding their ordeal.

In the wake of the report’s release, the Blackhawks announced Tuesday that GM Stan Bowman, who was in his first year as Hawks GM at the time of the alleged incidents, would be “stepping aside” as president and GM of the franchise. But Bowman’s resignation, a tacit admission of wrongdoing, shouldn’t be the only admission that results in a prominent loss of employment. The report also states that, after being made aware of the allegations in 2010, then-Blackhawks assistant GM (and current Winnipeg Jets GM) Kevin Cheveldayoff and then-Hawks head coach (and current Florida Panthers head coach) Joel Quenneville did not follow through on any sort of reprimanding of Aldrich. Although both Cheveldayoff and Quenneville deny any fault in how the accusations regarding Aldrich were handled, their silence at the time, in retrospect, is damning. The NHL released a statement of their own after the Jenner & Block report was made public, one in which they fined the Blackhawks $2 million because of their mishandling of the accusation. But this is not an issue that is going to be quietly papered over with exorbitant amounts of money.

No, what ought to happen here is NHL commissioner Gary Bettman should meet with Cheveldayoff and Quenneville to get their official side of the story – and Bettman publicly stated Tuesday that he intends on meeting with Cheveldayoff and Quenneville before deciding if any punishment of them is merited – then act quickly, and with force. Bettman already has come out and said that any executives who were involved in the 2010 accusations will need to reapply through the commissioner’s office before they get another NHL job. That stands for Bowman, former Blackhawks team president John McDonough, former executive vice-president Jay Blunk, Cheveldayoff, Quenneville and mental skills coach James Gary – none of whom remain with the Blackhawks.

That said, allowing Cheveldayoff and Quenneville to keep their current job creates optics that are not positive for the Hawks nor the league in this public relations disaster. Certainly, the two men deserve not to be judged without sufficient proof of their guilt, but if they evade sanctions, the message that will be sent to fans and industry observers is, “You can hide your head in the sand if someone tells you something that will cause unrest, and no fault will ever come your way”. And that’s not a message the league or any of its member teams can send. There must be a strong response, one that leaves no doubt in the mind of any hockey power broker considering whether or not to speak out about an issue that falls under their professional umbrella. The answer must be that the NHL is, first and foremost, going to be there in support of accusers, and not keep any problems “in-house”.

The Blackhawks did yeoman’s work in the early aughts in terms of rehabilitating their on-ice image as competitive pushovers. However, all the good work they’ve done washes away quickly in the face of legitimate concern about their off-ice operations. There is no excuse for their actions in a case that is nearly 12 years old – and that only came to light now because of the persistence of one of the accusers.

You can be a great hockey team all you want, but if it comes at the cost of the well-being of numerous human beings, the price is much too high.


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