CHICAGO — Stan Bowman has stepped down as Chicago Blackhawks general manager and president of hockey operations as a result of a law firm’s independent review of the team’s handling of a former player’s 2010 sexual misconduct allegations against then-video coach Brad Aldrich.
The results of Chicago-based Jenner & Block’s findings were revealed Tuesday, and Hawks CEO Danny Wirtz announced that Bowman has “stepped aside.” Kyle Davidson, vice president of hockey strategy and analytics, will take on the role of interim GM.
“Rocky and I appreciate Stan’s dedication to the Blackhawks and his many years of work for the team,” Wirtz said in a statement. “However, we and he ultimately accept that in his first year as general manager he made a mistake alongside our other senior executives at the time and did not take adequate action in 2010.
“Stan exhibited extreme professionalism and integrity in cooperating in the investigation, more so than his peers, and we cannot overstate the important role Stan played in revisiting that meeting in the report. I believe that if this had happened in 2020-2021 with Stan at the helm, the Stan that I know and that we know would have acted differently and been a louder voice in that room.”
None of the other executives involved in the Hawks’ response in 2010 will be with the organization moving forward. According to a source, Al MacIsaac also is out as senior vice president of hockey operations, and mental skills coach James F. Gary retired in June. Jay Blunk, who was executive vice president for nearly 14 years, left in August.
The NHL fined the Hawks $2 million for “inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response” in handling Aldrich’s employment and departure. Half of the fine money will go toward funding Chicago-area organizations that provide counseling and support for survivors of sexual abuse and other forms of abuse, a league statement said.
The anonymous former player, using the pseudonym “John Doe,” has an ongoing lawsuit against the team alleging negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Aldrich pleaded guilty in 2013 to misdemeanor criminal sexual conduct with a former Houghton (Mich.) High School hockey player who later also sued the Hawks.
The Hawks have filed motions to dismiss both cases, but Wirtz hinted Tuesday that a swift resolution to the former player’s lawsuit may be possible.
“It is clear that in 2010 the executives of this organization put team performance above all else,” he said. “John Doe deserves better from the Blackhawks and while we believe we have a strong legal defense, I’ve instructed our lawyers to see if we can reach a fair resolution consistent with the totality of the circumstances.”
While announcing the law firm’s findings, Wirtz also apologized to John Doe.
“I am confident this would not be tolerated in our organization today,” he said. “We must and will do better.”
John Doe, who participated in the review, released this statement: “Today I am grateful for the accountability from Rocky, Danny Wirtz and the Blackhawks organization. I also want to thank Jenner & Block and specifically Reid Schar for the respect he and they showed me throughout their investigation.
“Although nothing can truly change the detriment to my life over the past decade because of the actions of one man inside the Blackhawks organization, I am very grateful to have the truth be recognized, and I look forward to continuing the long journey to recovery.”
Hawks Chairman Rocky Wirtz said neither he nor his son knew of the allegations until the lawsuit was filed.
“If we had, we certainly wouldn’t be standing here today,” he said.
Reid Schar, a partner at Jenner & Block, said the investigation found that several Hawks executives and coaches met within an hour of the clinching victory in the Western Conference finals on May 23, 2010, to talk about the allegations against Aldrich. The report says no action was taken for three weeks.
Those present included Bowman, then-team president John McDonough, MacIsaac, then-coach Joel Quenneville and Gary, among others.
“Accounts of that meeting vary significantly and the participants have limited recollection of the details of the meeting,” Schar said. “At a minimum, the senior leaders including then-president John McDonough were informed of alleged sexual harassment of a player by a coach, including efforts by the coach to engage in unwelcome sexual activity with that player.”
According to the report, Bowman recalled during his interview with Jenner & Block “that during the (May 23) meeting, McDonough and Quenneville made comments about the challenge of getting to the Stanley Cup Final and a desire to focus on the team and the playoffs.”
Schar continued, “What is clear is that after being informed of Mr. Aldrich’s alleged sexual harassment and misconduct with a player, no action was taken for three weeks. One witness recalled that the decision on how to proceed was left in Mr. McDonough’s hands and another witness recalled Mr. McDonough saying he would speak to John Doe. Mr. McDonough did nothing to address the allegations until June 14 after the playoffs were over when he reported the information to the director of human resources.
“While there was a lack of recollection as to whether anyone else present in the meeting besides Mr. McDonough needed to or would take any additional steps, nothing was done by the other senior leaders to address the situation. As 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.”
Schar said Aldrich was allowed between May 23 and June 14, 2010, to travel with the team and participate in celebratory events. On June 14, when given the option of facing an investigation or resigning, Schar said, Aldrich chose to resign.
Schar said Aldrich, with an attorney, participated in the investigation.
Bowman issued a statement through the team noting that he was in his first year as general manager and that he “promptly” reported the matter to McDonough.
“I relied on the direction of my superior that he would take appropriate action,” Bowman said in the statement. “Looking back, now knowing he did not handle the matter promptly, I regret assuming he would do so.”
Schar said the four-month investigation included interviews with 139 people, including 21 current Hawks players and 14 members of the 2009-10 team. The firm also interviewed both John Doe and Aldrich, with attorneys present, and Schar said they offered different views of the 2010 encounter.
He said the Hawks placed “no limits” on cooperation with the investigation.
According to John Doe’s lawsuit, Aldrich threatened and forcibly touched the player during a dinner and invitation to go over game video at Aldrich’s apartment around May 2010. Then-skills coach Paul Vincent said he informed team executives about the alleged incident as well as another misconduct complaint from another Hawk, but the team opted not to report Aldrich to Chicago police.
The lawsuit states the plaintiff began counseling sessions with mental skills coach James Gary, but Gary “convinced plaintiff that the sexual assault was his fault, that he was culpable for what happened, made mistakes during his encounter with the perpetrator and permitted the sexual assault to occur.” Gary’s attorney, Eric Lifvendahl of L&G Law Group, disputed that account.
The Hawks issued a statement May 12 saying, “based on our investigation, we believe the allegations against the organization lack merit and we are confident the team will be absolved of any wrongdoing.”
However, the Hawks announced June 28 that they had hired Jenner & Block to investigate the allegations. On Aug. 2, the team pledged to share the review’s conclusions publicly and “implement changes to address the findings and any shortcomings of our organization.”
Vincent and Brent Sopel, another player on the 2010 championship team, said they had refused to cooperate with the review until the Hawks agreed to make the findings public.©2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.