A second former player from the Chicago Blackhawks organization who alleges that former video coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted him during the 2009-10 season filed a negligence lawsuit against the Blackhawks November 2, 2023, asking for in excess of $300k in damages. The Chicago Blackhawks settled a similar suit with former player Kyle Beach in December of 2021. An independent investigation prepared by Jenner and Block at the behest of the team in connection with Beach’s allegations that Aldrich sexually assaulted him found that Aldrich engaged in sexual misconduct while with the Blackhawks during the 2009-10 season. Aldrich did not deny that sexual encounters took place, but he characterized any encounters as consensual. The Blackhawks also reached a settlement in December of 2021 with a victim that Aldrich sexually assault at a high school in Michigan in 2013 while Aldrich was a volunteer hockey coach at the school. Aldrich was able to obtain the position, in part, because the Blackhawks never went to the police about the allegations against Aldrich and never raised a red flag with Aldrich’s future employers. Aldrich was sentenced to nine months in jail in connection with the Michigan assault.
The current lawsuit seeks to hold the Blackhawks organization accountable for institutional negligence. The lawsuit contains six counts of negligence, including negligence related to hiring Aldrich and related to intentionally inflicting emotional distress on “John Doe.” The Jenner and Block report detailed how the Blackhawks organization covered up Aldrich’s behavior, instructed players who complained about Aldrich’s behavior to drop it, and refused to take steps at the time to address misconduct for fear of derailing a successful playoff run. The current lawsuit discusses how then-team mental skills coach Dr. James Gary told “John Doe” that he “had misconstrued and/or provoked coach Aldrich’s conduct and stated that “John Doe” should move on with his life.”
The lawsuit alleges that Aldrich used his position with the team to essentially groom minor league players called up by the Blackhawks for the playoffs by first engaging in what could be seen as inappropriate but not inherently abusive behavior by doing things such as hosting players at his apartment, setting up massages for players at the team hotel, and encouraging players, including “John Doe,” to use Aldrich’s apartment for their sexual encounters with women. The lawsuit details how, as the playoffs progressed, Aldrich became more sexually aggressive towards “John Doe,” attempting to show him pornographic videos and demanding a “quid pro quo exchange for his favours.” On one occasion, Aldrich attempted to physically include himself in a sexual encounter between “John Doe” and a woman he had invited to Aldrich’s apartment. The lawsuit alleged that Aldrich repeatedly sent sexually explicit text messages to “John Doe,” including a text message stating that Aldrich could give a better “blow job” than any woman.
Lawyers for “John Doe” directly addressed the disconnect between the Jenner and Blocker report and the current allegations. Kyle Beach, who did not reveal his name until after the report had been released, told investigators that Aldrich had harassed others and that he had discussed his own encounters with Aldrich with “John Doe.” When Jenner and Block interviewed “John Doe,” he categorically denied that he had had any sexual encounters with Aldrich. The report states that “Black Ace 1 [“John Doe”] vehemently denied to us in writing and during his interview that he had any direct sexual encounters with Aldrich.” Antonio Romanucci, managing partner of Chicago law firm Romanucci & Blandin, who is representing “John Doe,” explained that earlier comments reflected the difficulty his client had with coming to terms with the true nature of what had happened to him. “He feels an intense amount of personal shame, guilt and embarrassment, and it took a long while for him to reconcile,” Romanucci said during the November 2nd press conference addressing the lawsuit.
Rick Westhead of TSN provided insight on possible limitations and what a realistic outcome might be for the lawsuit in a conversation with Northwestern professor of law Deborah Tuerkheimer, an expert on sexual assault litigation. According to Tuerkheimer, as recounted to Westhead, the statute of limitations for filing such lawsuits, typically two years, “represent[s] a significant hurdle for “John Doe.”” Chicago-Kent College of Law professor Katharine Baker, an expert on sexual violence, told Westhead that if the law suit survives statute of limitations challenges, the Blackhawks will most likely move to settle quickly in order to avoid potentially further damning discovery in civil court and protracted negative media coverage.
It will be interesting to see how the Blackhawks organization addresses allegations of institutional negligence, especially as all those in leadership positions at the time of the alleged assaults are no longer with the organization. Given the count of negligence related to the hiring of Aldrich, one wonders if there are lessons related to due diligence in hiring to be learned here, in addition to lessons about how to respond to allegations once they are voiced.
Taking a survey of the comments on Twitter related to Westhead’s reporting reveals a persistent attitude that a player in “John Doe’s” position should have done something, should have stood up for himself, should have physically rebuffed Aldrich, but those comments miss, intentionally or not, the power dynamics between player and coach that make the allegations so awful in the first place. Aldrich used his power over players with marginal roles in the organization to manipulate them into doing things they did not want to do – he did not need to physically overpower them because he could simply get them fired – or he could get them labeled as “suspect” – closet homosexuals who were going to cause issues on the team. At the time, and now to a greater extent than one might like to admit, players, whatever their sexual orientation, would have had a legitimate fear that a perception that they were not straight would be seen as a negative. One hopes that teams are now more aware of the inherent power imbalances that make reporting so difficult. What is disturbing in this case is that one of the players, Kyle Beach, did go to the team about Aldrich, and the team’s response made it clear that those in power cared more about winning a Stanley Cup than addressing sexual assault.