NHL commissioner Gary Bettman spoke to reporters on Monday afternoon, six days after a 107-page detailed report was made public regarding sexual assault allegations against former Blackhawks video coach Brad Aldrich and the team’s subsequent coverup.
The report came following a lawsuit filed against the Blackhawks in May 2021 by “John Doe.” The filing alleges the Blackhawks ignored and covered up his disclosure against Aldrich from 2010. Seven members of the Blackhawks management group were part of a May 23, 2010 meeting that discussed the allegations. The allegations were not reported to human resources until June 14, 2010, a few days after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup. Aldrich was allowed to resign.
Upon the findings in the Jenner and Block report, Stan Bowman “stepped aside” as Blackhawks GM and senior vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac is also no longer with the team. Last Wednesday, Kyle Beach came forward as the former Blackhawks player who filed a court action against the Blackhawks in May. The next day Panthers head coach Joel Quenneville, who was Chicago’s coach in 2010 when the events occurred, resigned.
Bettman, alongside deputy commissioner Bill Daly, addressed a number of questions that still remain.
When did the NHL know?
Per Daly, the NHL was given a heads up in late December 2020 by the Blackhawks’ team counsel to a “potential or threatened civil litigation, which they claimed to have looked into and to which they said there was no merit.”
The NHL was not informed of the specific allegations until after the civil litigation was filed in May 2021 by “John Doe” (revealed to be Beach) and the amended complaint — which had more details — was filed in July. Per Bettman, the NHL did not know what was in the report until last Monday and the independent investigation was complete.
Why was Joel Quenneville allowed to coach Wednesday night vs. Bruins?
Despite the report coming out on Tuesday afternoon, and Beach’s interview about an hour prior to the start of the game where he was adamant that Quenneville knew of Beach’s assault allegation, the now-Panthers coach was allowed to be behind the bench Wednesday night.
“I met with Joel Quenneville on Thursday afternoon to discuss his view of the events of 11 years ago and wanted to make sure he felt he had a fair opportunity to tell me his account of what had happened,” Bettman said in his opening remarks. “Ultimately, he decided it was best to resign, which is you know from my statement on Thursday evening is a decision with which I agree.
“Should he have coached on Wednesday night? I suppose people can quibble that point. And I understand that, but he had already coached 867 games since 2010, and I wanted to make sure that no one — including coach Quenneville — could say that I had prejudged him. Again, people can disagree on this, but I was focused on the long term, not that one game.”
Asked later in the press conference about Quenneville coaching, Bettman said: “I didn’t want him to feel that he was being prejudged in any respect. So, really, while it may have optically not been the best look, I was more concerned with the substance than the look.”
Why wasn’t Kevin Cheveldayoff disciplined?
Bettman met with the now-Jets GM and former Blackhawks assistant GM on Friday and opted to not discipline him for his role, explaining that Cheveldayoff was not responsible for the Blackhawks’ inactions.
“There seems to be some confusion on the point of whether, despite his lack of power, position or seniority, he should have felt free to speak up … because of his limited authority and circumstance, he left the [May 23, 2010] meeting believing that this matter was going to be investigated by his bosses and when Aldrich parted ways with the team, he thought that was what had happened,” Bettman read during his opening remarks. “Kevin was not in a position either to be made aware of or to access additional information about what was going on after the May 23 meeting and he did not have such information.”
According to Bettman, the only one who actually put Cheveldayoff in that May 23 meeting that discussed the allegations by Beach against Aldrich among senior members of the Blackhawks front office, was Cheveldayoff.
“Kevin was such a minor player in this,” Bettman said, adding at one point during the almost hour-long press conference Cheveldayoff was in charge of salary cap and scouting back in 2010. “Everybody else either forgot or didn’t acknowledge that he was there. He had been with the Blackhawks for nine months. He was an assistant general manager with fairly limited responsibilities. This was not something that he not only had no responsibility for — that based on what was available to him in his minor, relatively, position at the time — he had no reason to believe that anything other than the right things were going on.”
Bettman suggested Cheveldayoff was under the assumption it was being taken care of by Bowman and then-team president John McDonough. McDonough waited until three weeks after that meeting on May 23 — and, as noted, after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup — to report the allegations to human resources. Aldrich opted to resign instead of undergoing an investigation. He then went on to work with USA Hockey, the University of Notre Dame, Miami University (OH) and Houghton High School (Michigan) where he was convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a student.
It should be noted that Chevelydayoff was scheduled to speak to the media on Monday; however, the press conference was postponed due to chairman Mark Chipman’s inability to attend due to a medical issue.
What is the NHL’s response moving forward?
“I think people are going to, like us, feel — unhappy isn’t the right word — to feel dispirited, disappointed, horrified as to what happened,” said Bettman when asked what he would say to hockey fans who are having a hard time cheering for their team and the sport right now. “But understand we’ve tried to be as transparent as possible, that action has been taken, disciplinary, to address the things that were done wrong. That we have had, even prior to this, procedures and training and counseling in effect to ensure that the culture of hockey doesn’t encourage, and in fact prohibits, this type of activity.
“We’re going to have to be judged as we move forward.”
So what is the NHL planning on doing? Per Bettman, “the NHL has made considerable progress from where it was a decade ago” when the events occurred, citing training, committees, written policies, etc. Some would say the “progress” is up for debate among those in the hockey community. Bettman was asked directly why the NHL does not have a sexual misconduct policy. He replied that the league does but how the NHL addresses it is on a case-by-case basis and with a “sliding scale.”
Going forward, the NHL will be, per Bettman, implementing the following two steps:
- Seek the assistance of outside professionals to evaluate the league’s efforts to make sure they are not only adequate but most effective.
- Create a network of organizations that assist victims of abuse for all levels of hockey.
Currently, the NHL does have a hotline established to call in, even anonymously, to report improper activity.
“If this horrible situation should serve any constructive purpose, it’s to demonstrate that this will not be tolerated,” said Bettman regarding non-reporting. “If you have a problem in your organization, you better deal with it. And if you’re in a position of authority, you shouldn’t be overlooking it, because there’ll be a consequence to that.”