When the Chicago Blackhawks failed to report allegations of sexual abuse by one of their own coaches during their Stanley Cup run in 2010, they sent a message that winning is more important than anything else.
It's more important than the safety and well-being of their own players.
It's more important than preventing sexual assault.
It's more important than holding sexual predators accountable for their abhorrent actions and more important than holding those who enable the assault accountable for theirs as well.
The Blackhawks got one thing right by commissioning an independent investigation by Chicago-based law firm Jenner & Block into the allegations in a lawsuit by one of their former players and a former Michigan high school player. The suit alleged that former video coach Brad Aldrich sexually assaulted John Doe 1 during the team's 2010 Stanley Cup run, and John Doe 2 while he was a high school student in Aldrich's hometown of Houghton, Michigan.
Everything else, they got wrong.
The evidence was damning. It will have far-reaching effects throughout the NHL. Two dominoes already fell, with vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac and general manager Stan Bowman resigning so as not to be a "distraction" to the team moving forward.
Using the word "distraction" in this situation minimizes the severity of what transpired and makes it seem as though it's just a minor inconvenience. But sexual assault is a horrific crime, and for the Blackhawks and Bowman to deem it as anything else shows a shocking lack of empathy and should disqualify him and everyone else involved from ever working in the sport again.
The club's senior management knew about the John Doe 1's allegation and failed to report it for three weeks, waiting until after the Stanley Cup Final, to not "disturb team chemistry" and avoid any potential detriment to its playoff success.
Aldrich continued working during the Cup Final. He celebrated with the Cup, and his name was etched on the trophy. He brought the Cup back to his hometown and he attended the banner-raising ceremony the following season, even though he had resigned from his post.
For some reason, the club allowed Aldrich to resign following that 2010 championship run. He had a choice: Take a leave of absence while the club investigated or resign. He chose the latter.
The club quietly allowed him to leave without any sort or punishment. They never reported it to law enforcement, as former skating coach Paul Vincent asked them to do. They never reported it to the NHL, they never reported it to any of the other organizations he worked for.
The Blackhawks quietly covered everything up and dismissed his actions as if they never happened. Their actions—or maybe their inactions—speak louder than words. As a result, the words they told the public Tuesday when they made the findings of the investigation public were hollow, at best.
"This organization, beginning with the Wirtz family, has been extraordinarily good to my family and to me. That is why today, after discussions with Rocky and Danny, I have decided to step aside," Bowman said in a statement. "The team needs to focus on its future, and my continued participation would be a distraction. I think too much of this organization to let that happen."
Aldrich claimed multiple victims through a pattern of harassment and abuse throughout the years the Blackhawks employed him. He was then allowed to go on to work in paid and unpaid positions with USA Hockey, Miami University (Ohio) and Houghton High School until 2013, when he was arrested and charged with third- and fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving John Doe 2. He was later sentenced to serve nine months in jail and five years of probation.
Does this sound like a guy who deserved to be congratulated for winning a Stanley Cup? Joel Quenneville, now the coach of the Florida Panthers, sure thought so when he gave Aldrich a glowing performance review after John Doe 1's allegation. All of these organizations are going to have to answer for why members of the Blackhawks' front office were never consulted when they hired Aldrich, but the Blackhawks have to answer for much more.
Aldrich weaponized his power by emphasizing his role as a trusted confidant of the coaching staff. He allegedly threatened to derail John Doe 1's career. He also used an actual weapon—a miniature souvenir baseball bat—to threaten John Doe 1 physically.
The report also stated Aldrich made unwanted sexual advances to a 22-year-old Blackhawks front office intern after a Stanley Cup celebration. The intern did not report anything to management because he wanted to continue working in hockey and recognized that Aldrich, whose father worked for the San Jose Sharks, could make or break those career plans.
To make matters worse, the unwanted "groping" and asking "in a suggestive manner, if the employee wanted to go upstairs" came well after John Doe 1 and Vincent had reported the abuse to a senior management group that was comprised of Bowman, MacIsaac, Quenneville, former team president John McDonough and former assistant general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, now the GM of the Winnipeg Jets.
"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."
All of this for a shiny trophy and a banner. It sounds kind of silly when you boil it down to that, right? After all, it's extremely difficult to get to a Stanley Cup Final and people play for years just for a chance to try to hoist that 35.5-pound trophy.
But it's inhumane to think that a trophy is worth more than a life. The lives of John Doe 1 and John Doe 2 will never be the same. What was taken from them can never be returned. For Bowman, McDonagh, MacIsaac, Quenneville and Cheveldayoff to collectively agree that this was a mere "distraction" sends the message that you can get away with bad things if you win.
They aren't the first to send this message. Sports culture is broken, and those who have the power to fix it don't seem to have much interest in doing so.
The investigation found that Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and his son, CEO Danny Wirtz, were not aware of the allegations. But the two still handled this poorly in their decision to allow Bowman to resign. The same goes for Team USA. It was a spineless decision by both organizations. Bowman's actions were inexcusable. He should have been fired.
Team USA's assistant general manager is Minnesota Wild GM Bill Guerin, who is currently under investigation by SafeSport for allegations of mishandling an unrelated sexual assault allegation. Where does it end?
The Jets and Panthers should fire Cheveldayoff and Quenneville as well, or at the very least suspend them until commissioner Gary Bettman meets with them. Cheveldayoff has continually said that he was not aware of the allegations, and we now know that to be false.
Shame, too, on the NHL for levying what is essentially a wrist-slap of a punishment. The New Jersey Devils had to pay $1 million more for circumventing the salary cap with Ilya Kovalchuk's contract (the league later returned half the fine). The Arizona Coyotes were stripped of a first-round pick this year because of draft combine testing violations.
The dynasty created under the direction of Bowman and Quenneville has had its legacy tarnished. Every time Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith take the ice, people will be wondering what they knew. I know I will.
John Doe 1 told TSN's Rick Westhead that he hoped to inspire other victims to come forward with their own stories of abuse. But the responses by the NHL and the Blackhawks show that hockey still isn't ready to believe victims. It still isn't ready to admit that some things are more important than winning a Stanley Cup.
Don't distract them, they're trying to win.
Winning at all costs might be the prevailing mentality, but it's the wrong one. Sexual abuse should not be a cost anyone has to pay in order for a hockey team to win a title.