CHICAGO — Stan Bowman established himself in the hockey world when the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in 2010, his first season as general manager.
That same year, Hawks upper management failed to act on a player’s sexual assault claim until after the championship was secured, according to a law firm’s independent review. The damning details in that report, released Tuesday, came at a high cost for Bowman 11 years later: He resigned from his position as Hawks president of hockey operations and general manager, as well as from his role as GM of the U.S. Olympic hockey team.
The former player, identified as “John Doe” in a lawsuit filed this year, alleged he was assaulted in May 2010 by then-video coach Brad Aldrich.
While discussing Chicago-based Jenner & Block’s findings, Hawks CEO Danny Wirtz said Tuesday: “Rocky (Wirtz, Hawks chairman) and I appreciate Stan’s dedication to the Blackhawks and his many years of work for the team. 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 2020-21 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.”
The report could have far-reaching repercussions beyond the abrupt end of Bowman’s tenure, during which he presided over three championships.
The NHL fined the Hawks $2 million, and Commissioner Gary Bettman announced he will meet with Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Hawks assistant general manager in 2010, and Joel Quenneville, the gruff coach who led the Hawks to those three titles and remains a beloved figure in team lore.
“With respect to Messrs. Cheveldayoff and Quenneville, who are currently employed by NHL clubs other than the Blackhawks (the Winnipeg Jets and Florida Panthers, respectively), I plan to arrange personal meetings in the near future with both individuals to discuss their roles in the relevant events as detailed in the report,” Bettman said. “I will reserve judgment on next steps, if any, with respect to them.”
The NHL fined the Hawks 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.
For the Hawks, Tuesday’s developments have seismic implications for the franchise.
None of the other executives involved in the Hawks’ response in 2010 will be with the organization moving forward, Wirtz said. 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.
With Wirtz’s announcement that Bowman “has stepped aside,” the shepherd of the franchise’s rebuild has been removed just as the team has gotten off to a historically bad beginning to the 2021-22 season: an 0-5-1 record without having a single lead in 360 minutes and 57 seconds — an NHL record to start a season.
Kyle Davidson, vice president of hockey strategy and analytics, will take on the role of interim GM.
The Hawks hired Jenner & Block in late June to conduct an independent investigation, and the law firm said it interviewed 139 witnesses.
The review also alleges that Aldrich touched another Hawks employee, a “front office paid intern” who was 22 at the time.
On the evening of June 10, a day after the Hawks clinched the title against the Philadelphia Flyers, the employee and Aldrich shared a taxi after celebrating downtown, according to the report. “The employee recalled that Aldrich put his hand on the employee’s ‘crotch’ at the same time that he asked, in a suggestive manner, if the employee wanted to go upstairs,” the report said. “The employee told him, ‘No.’ ”
The report says Aldrich did not deny that an interaction with this employee occurred, but he did not recall propositioning or grabbing that person in a sexual manner.
The former Hawks player, “John Doe,” has an ongoing lawsuit against the Hawks alleging negligence and intentional infliction of emotional distress, but Danny Wirtz publicly apologized to him on behalf of the team and hinted that a swift resolution to the lawsuit might be possible.
“It is clear that in 2010 the executives of this organization put team performance above all else,” Wirtz 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.”
John Doe’s lawyer, Susan Loggans, said she’s open to negotiating with the Hawks but would like them first to withdraw their motion to dismiss John Doe’s lawsuit.
The Hawks also filed a motion to dismiss a second lawsuit by a former Houghton (Mich.) High School hockey player referred to as “John Doe 2.” Aldrich pleaded guilty in 2013 to misdemeanor criminal sexual conduct with John Doe 2.
“What I would like to see is they live up to their apology ... (and) withdraw their motion to dismiss and make a good-faith effort to resolve the case because they destroyed this person’s life,” Loggans said, referring to John Doe 1. “He was listening (to the Hawks briefing), too, and he was crying on the other side.”
Danny Wirtz said during the briefing: “I am confident this would not be tolerated in our organization today. We must and will do better.”
John Doe 1, 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.”
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.
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 at the meeting, according to the report, were McDonough, Bowman, Quenneville, Cheveldayoff, MacIsaac, Gary and Blunk.
“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 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.”
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.”
Efforts to reach McDonough for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday. He was fired as team president last year.
The Panthers did not respond to attempts to reach Quenneville.
Schar said Aldrich was allowed between May 23 and June 14, 2010, to travel with the team and participate in celebratory events. When given the option on June 16 of facing an investigation or resigning, Schar said, Aldrich chose to resign.
Schar said Aldrich, with an attorney, participated in the investigation. Aldrich’s attorney said Tuesday they plan to review the report. Aldrich declined to offer an immediate comment.
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.
Schar said John Doe and Aldrich offered different views of the May 2010 encounter, with Doe insisting it was not consensual.
He said the Hawks placed “no limits” on cooperation with the investigation.
Rocky and Danny Wirtz cooperated, and Schar said the law firm did not uncover any evidence that either knew about the 2010 allegations until the lawsuit was filed this past May.
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 Hawks player, but the team opted not to report Aldrich to Chicago police.
The lawsuit states the plaintiff began counseling sessions with Gary, the mental skills coach, 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 said he feels vindicated and that Bowman made the right decision to step down.
“I get emotional because two kids, the two Blackhawks kids, were good kids, and it really upsets me their careers went nowhere and it’s a shame,” he said. “I think it made a difference with both of them, I think it impacted them in so many different ways.”
Danny Wirtz, who called the report “both disturbing and difficult to read,” pledged “robust policies, trainings and distinguished personnel” to oversee operations and “most importantly, demonstrate the culture and values we demand from all who represent the Blackhawks.”
“We believe these actions underscore and solidify our commitment to do the right thing, even if it isn’t easy,” he said.©2021 Chicago Tribune. Visit chicagotribune.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.