Chicago Blackhawks GM and president Stan Bowman has resigned after the release of an independent investigation into the team’s handling of 2010 sexual assault allegations against former video coach Brad Aldrich, and it feels inadequate. Bowman had to go—it would’ve been better if he hadn’t been allowed to “step aside”—but the institutional rot here ran deeper and broader than any one person. A lot of very powerful people had to stand by and do nothing for Aldrich to face accusations from multiple players, and then be allowed to resign quietly and pursue other hockey jobs, where he would be accused of another assault on a high schooler.
Executive Al MacIsaac, who was also in the meeting where brass decided what to do with the allegations against Aldrich, has resigned as well. The Blackhawks were also fined $2 million by the NHL.
The full report, prepared by former federal prosecutor Reid Schar, can be read here. It confirms much of the reporting by TSN’s Rick Westhead, who has been on this story since the former player filed a lawsuit against the Blackhawks in May, and it has a lot of new details, all of which makes the Blackhawks look pretty awful. Schar interviewed 139 witnesses, including current and former players, executives, and team employees, including Aldrich and the player who made the initial accusation, referred to here and in his suit as John Doe.
Doe was a player for the Rockford IceHogs, the Blackhawks’ AHL affiliate, who had been called up to travel with the team during the 2010 postseason—a “black ace,” in hockey parlance. From the report:
John Doe stated, among other details, that on one occasion, during the second week of May 2010, Aldrich invited him to his apartment, provided him with dinner and drinks, told him he had the power to get John Doe onto the Blackhawks’ roster, and turned on pornography. John Doe stated that Aldrich threatened John Doe by telling John Doe he needed to act like he enjoyed the sexual encounter or John Doe would never play in the NHL “or walk” again, forcibly performed oral sex on John Doe, masturbated on John Doe’s back, and then threatened John Doe again before John Doe was able to escape Aldrich’s apartment.
Aldrich disputed the details of the encounter, claiming it was fully consensual.
A second black ace said Aldrich had made multiple unwanted sexual advances on him, including sending him an unsolicited photo of a penis. That player “recalled Aldrich stating that he ‘could bury us’ in the Blackhawks organization and make sure ‘you could never play’ by saying ‘not nice things about us.'” According to TSN’s reporting and witnesses interviewed for this investigation, multiple players knew about the allegations against Aldrich and that he threatened young players’ careers.
About two weeks after the encounter with John Doe, the Blackhawks had team counselor Jim Gary speak to Doe to find out what had happened. Gary recalled that Doe told him “limited, yet still very troubling information.” On May 23, 2010, immediately after the Blackhawks won the Western Conference final, the team’s top executives held a meeting with Gary:
Five members of senior management (then-President John McDonough, MacIsaac, General Manager Stan Bowman, then-Executive Vice President Jay Blunk, and then-Assistant General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff), along with then-head coach Joel Quenneville, and Gary, met to discuss what had been learned about Aldrich and John Doe.
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. 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.
While there was a general failure to recall how the meeting ended, Bowman
recalled a statement by McDonough, the most senior member of management
in the room, that he would handle the situation.
McDonough did not handle it. Despite an organizational policy requiring “prompt and thorough” investigation of all reports of sexual harassment, nothing was done until the end of the playoffs. Aldrich was allowed to be around and travel with the team, including Doe, for weeks after he brought his story to the front office’s attention.
The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup on June 9. On June 10, at a team celebration, Aldrich is accused of making an unwanted sexual advance on an intern.
Four days later, on June 14, McDonough informed the Blackhawks’ then Director of Human Resources that Aldrich had allegedly made a sexual advance on John Doe. According to the Director of Human Resources, McDonough also informed her about the May 23 meeting in his office, during which McDonough said it was decided that the group would not alert Human Resources or do anything about the incident during the playoffs so as not to disturb team chemistry.
Two days later, the HR director gave Aldrich the option to resign or face an investigation. He resigned, and no investigation was ever undertaken. Aldrich received severance, a playoff bonus, and several months of salary, and was given a championship ring and a day with the Stanley Cup in his hometown. He was invited back the following season for the raising of the Blackhawks’ championship banner.
According to a lawsuit, the team provided him with positive employment references for subsequent jobs he took at the college and high school levels. In 2013, Aldrich was arrested and pleaded guilty to criminal sexual conduct involving a minor. This minor is believed to be the 16-year-old player for Houghton (Mich.) High School, where Aldrich was then assistant coach, who is currently suing the Blackhawks. That suit alleges that Aldrich “provided alcohol to the then minor plaintiff and performed oral sex on the plaintiff without his consent.”
“John Doe deserved better from the Blackhawks,” said team CEO Danny Wirtz today. Wirtz said he has instructed the organization’s lawyers to try to reach a settlement with both Doe and the former high school player.
“I am very grateful to have the truth recognized,” Doe said in a statement today. “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.”
The NHL sorely needs change. It is difficult to ask any player to speak up when, in this case, the team allowed Aldrich to be around Doe for weeks following his allegation, and never even bothered looking into the truth. What message does that send to other victims out there weighing the benefits of coming forward? It took 11 years for Doe to get something resembling justice, even if it’s a pale imitation.
And what of those who knew? Of the executives involved in the meeting, only Bowman and MacIsaac were still with the Blackhawks. Kevin Cheveldayoff is now the GM in Winnipeg. Joel Quenneville is the head coach of the Panthers. Will they pay any price for doing nothing? Or for lying to the NHL about when they first heard about Doe’s allegations? (Both claimed they only learned of them this year, after Doe filed his lawsuit.)
In a statement, Stan Bowman said he “relied on the direction of my superior that he would take appropriate action”—the ol’ Joe Paterno defense, and it rings just as hollow here. Bowman currently also serves as general manager of USA Men’s Hockey, though it seems that won’t last long.
If Bowman is the face of this moral failure, he’s also merely one of many in and around the sport who put their team’s on-ice performance ahead of the treatment of its people. Brad Aldrich wasn’t fired or even investigated because the Blackhawks did not want a “distraction” for their Cup run; any victims were just collateral damage. Chicago’s executives counted on John Doe not coming forward, because every step of the hockey ecosystem conditions players to keep quiet about anything that might get in the way of success. The men in that meeting were all lifers; they knew how this works; they believed Doe would never speak up and reveal what they had done, or hadn’t. For more than a decade, they were right.