What’s Going On with the Chicago Blackhawks?

The hockey world came to a bit of a halt on Tuesday, when Chicago Blackhawks president of hockey operations, Stan Bowman, and senior vice president Al MacIssac resigned after an independent investigative report outlining accusations of sexual harassment and assault during the team’s 2010 Stanley Cup run was released. 

The Report

The investigative report comes after an unnamed player, John Doe, who has since identified himself as Blackhawks’ 2008 first round draft pick Kyle Beach, filed a lawsuit against the Blackhawks alleging that he was sexually assaulted by coach Brad Aldrich in May of this year. The Blackhawks hired law firm Jenner and Block to conduct an investigation and develop a report regarding the allegations. The disturbing report, released on Tuesday, centers around three major issues: (1) the conduct of former-coach Brad Aldrich, (2) the extent to which individuals associated with the Blackhawks knew of his conduct and when they learned about it, and (3) how those individuals responded. 

According to the report, Aldrich and Beach had a sexual encounter in May of 2010, after Aldrich invited the player to his apartment. Both men agree the encounter occurred, but they differ on what happened and whether it was consensual. The player alleges that it was nonconsensual and that Aldrich threatened to ensure the player would never play in the NHL again if he did not comply with Aldrich’s desires. Aldrich contends that the encounter was completely consensual. 

The report states that MacIssac was told by a team employee that an encounter may have occurred between Aldrich and Beach on May 23, 2010. MacIsaac sent the team’s mental skills coach/counselor to speak to Beach. The coach recalled that Beach gave him limited, but troubling, information about Aldrich that he believed to be true: that Aldrich threatened Doe to comply or else he wouldn’t be in the NHL. Later that same day, a group of five members of the team’s senior management (including MacIssac; Bowman; Joel Quenneville, now the head coach of the Florida Panthers; and general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, now the GM for the Winnipeg Jets) met to discuss what had been learned about Aldrich and Beach. All participants had recollection of the meeting occurring, but none recalled being told about the “clearly non-consensual sexual conduct that is described by [Kyle Beach],” rather just than an incident between them occurred. The meeting, however, did end with some sort of game plan on how the situation would be handled in place. 

At the time, the Blackhawks’ policy provided that all reports of sexual harassment would be investigated “promptly and thoroughly.” The report, however, found no evidence of the Human Resources department being contacted or initiating an investigation until after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup on June 9. In fact, the Director of Human Resources was not informed about the allegations until June 14. On June 16, the Director of Human Resources met with Aldrich and offered him the opportunity to be investigated or to resign. Aldrich resigned and no investigation was completed. He was paid $20,622 in severance, along with a $15,000 playoff bonus. In 2013, after sexually assaulting a high school student, Aldrich was arrested and pled guilty to fourth degree criminal sexual conduct involving a minor. 

In addition to the actions of Aldrich, Beach recalled that during the 2010-11 preseason, multiple players called him derogatory names and asked if he missed “his boyfriend Brad [Aldrich].” Beach also recalls that players made derogatory remarks and comments about the incident continued for several years after, with one incident occurring in 2014. None of the players interviewed admitted to this, but if true, would be considered sexual harassment. This is perhaps one of the more heartbreaking parts of the report: teammates making homophobic remarks to the player who was sexually assaulted by a coach. There is no place for this type of blatant intolerance in sport. Period.

The report concludes by recapping that a sexual encounter occurred and that there were questions to whether it was consensual. Further, it was concluded that senior management of the team was aware of the situation and that after being informed about a coach’s potential sexual harassment and misconduct with a player, “no action was taken for three weeks . . . [and] [a]s 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 Fallout

There has been some major fallout since the report was released. To start, Blackhawks’ president of hockey operations, Stan Bowman, and senior vice president, Al MacIssac, resigned hours after the report came to light. Further, the team released a statement stating that “the organization and its executives at that time did not live up to our own standards or values in handling these disturbing incidents.” Further, they “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.”

In addition, the NHL has fined the Blackhawks 2 million dollars for “inadequate procedures and mishandling” the situation. This is incredibly inconsistent with other penalties teams have suffered for lesser infractions. In comparison, the Arizona Coyotes lost a first-round and second-round draft pick for violating the scouting process, rather than facing any type of fine, which according to Commissioner Gary Bettman, would have been “no less than 250,000 dollars for each infraction.” Essentially, one team ignored and covered up sexual misconduct and only faced a fine while a team that violated scouting rules ended up losing two high-valued draft picks. The Blackhawks’ owner, Rocky Wirtz, announced that anyone involved with the incident will no longer be part of the organization moving forward. However, the last remaining members were Bowman and MacIssac, who resigned yesterday. Bowman also resigned as GM for the USA Men’s Olympic Hockey Team, just ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics. Wirtz also wrote a letter to the hockey hall of fame chairman, Lanny MacDonald, asking for Aldrich’s name to be removed from the Stanley Cup.

But that’s not all folks. The investigation directly contradicts what Joel Quenneville has previously stated. On July 13, 2021 Quenneville publicly stated that he “first learned of these allegations through the media earlier this summer.” Quenneville clearly knew about the allegations in almost-real time. He knew within two weeks of the incident occurring and as far as the report has shown, he did nothing and he lied about it just months ago. In light of this report, Quenneville and Chevelday will be meeting with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman to discuss what happened. After reading through Twitter, it appears that there is a general consensus about what should happen to Quenneville: if the NHL is serious about player safety Quenneville should be fired unless he can provide an air-tight answer as to why he didn’t report the incident; “team chemistry” just doesn’t cut it. Similarly, Mike McIntyre, a Winnipeg Jets beat writer for the Winnipeg News, has called for Cheveldayoff’s firing if “he can’t offer a plausible explanation for his inaction.”

On Thursday evening, after his meeting with Gary Bettman, the Florida Panthers announced that Quenneville resigned as head coach of the Panthers and he will no longer have a role within the organization.

So you may be asking yourself: “what else can the NHL Commissioner do?” Well, a lot actually. Gary Bettman has the power to punish both Quenneville and Cheveldayoff, and potentially ban them from the NHL, and it is likely that if they were to challenge any punishment, they would lose. According to Article VI, Section 1 of the NHL Constitution, the Commissioner is charged with “protecting the integrity of the game of professional hockey and preserving public confidence in the league.” Further Article VI, Section 3 lays out the powers the commissioner has. He (or hopefully one day, she) has the “full and exclusive jurisdiction and authority to arbitrate and resolve: (5) any dispute involving a Member Club or Clubs, or any players or employees of the League or any Member Club, or Clubs…that in the opinion of the Commissioner is detrimental to the best interests of the League or professional hockey or involves or affects League policy.” Further, due process does not apply, as it is a private association—private association law applies. The courts would only intervene if (1) the association violates its own rules; or (2) there is fraud or illegality; or (3) the action taken is arbitrary and capricious. Here, none of that would apply: the league provides exclusive authority to the Commissioner to resolve issues like this, there is no fraud or illegality, and the removal of these individuals would not be arbitrary nor capricious—they violated league rules and covered up sexual misconduct in the process. 

Many view this incident as a reminder. In the words of Flyers’ beat writer, Charlie O’Connor: “I don’t think what we call “hockey culture” is all bad . . . But man, it could (and should) be A LOT better. Today serves as a big-time reminder of that.” We all can do better to make hockey, and all sport for that matter, a better, more inclusive space.

To Kyle Beach: we stand with you, and all other victims of sexual assault.

Photo via: CBS Sports

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3L & Editor-in-Chief of the Buffalo Environmental Law Journal. Sad fan of the Philadelphia sports teams and Tottenham Hotspur. I enjoy writing and learning about the intersection of sports and business law, with a focus on the NHL. H2P!

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