Editor's note: The following story deals with sexual assault, and may be upsetting for some readers. If you or someone you know is in need of support, those in Canada can find province-specific centres, crisis lines and services here. For readers in America, a list of resources and references for survivors and their loved ones can be found here.
CHICAGO – Win at all costs.
Even if it means lying, covering up, ignoring victims, passing the buck, then lying some more.
On May 23, 2010, a meeting took place with Chicago Blackhawks decision-makers — John McDonough, Al MacIsaac, Stan Bowman, Jay Blunk, Kevin Cheveldayoff, Joel Quenneville and Jim Gary — in which they discussed the allegations of sexual assault against their 27-year-old video coach, Brad Aldrich, by a player on their black aces.
(This is now public knowledge, thanks to a four-month investigation conducted by an independent firm, Jenner & Block LLP, who interviewed 139 people connected to the alleged assault and had full cooperation from Blackhawks ownership.)
The team was mere hours removed from sweeping the San Jose Sharks and advancing to their first Stanley Cup Final in 18 years. They decided to do more sweeping.
Multiple witnesses recalled a discussion regarding "whether the time was right" to address the allegations in light of the playoffs.
Upon learning of Aldrich's alleged actions, head coach Quenneville “shook his head and said that it was difficult for the team to get where they are and they could not deal with this now,” according to Bowman in the 107-page report (warning: it contains disturbing material).
McDonagh, according to Bowman’s interview with investigators, referenced the epic drought of the Chicago Cubs and that the organization better consider the difficulty of a deep playoff run before handling the issue.
Ultimately, the hockey men in that room chose to stay quiet. To take zero action. To protect a predator. And to later present him with a 2010 diamond-studded championship ring engraved with the slogan “One Goal.”
Because it’s the Cup.
Not only did the Blackhawks keep Aldrich on staff for the next three weeks, in doing so, they permitted him to allegedly make a sexual advance to a team intern during that time.
Finally, he was given an ultimatum: step away or be subject to an internal investigation.
Aldrich opted for his walking severance ($20,622), a $15,000 playoff bonus, and this glowing performance review from Quenneville:
Aldrich did a great job for the Coaching staff in preparing us for all of our meetings and coordinating several tasks that we forward his way. Brad has several people relaying on him at the same moment and has a way of deflecting and accommodating everyone at once… Congrats on winning the Stanley Cup!
Oh, and Aldrich also got his day with the Stanley Cup and attended other Cup celebrations. John Doe was at some of those parties. One could only imagine trying to celebrate when the despicable truth is as impossible to spot as Patrick Kane’s title-clinching goal.
Much like Bowman did from both the Blackhawks and Team USA’s Olympic squad on Tuesday, Aldrich wasn’t fired. He resigned. “Stepped aside” was ownership’s term.
So… what is a fireable offence?
“The report is both disturbing and difficult to read,” Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz said. “It speaks for itself.”
As do the actions of all those who stood in the path of John Doe’s need for help and justice.
This story, as appalling and indefensible as it is, would not have come to light were it not for the excellent investigative reporting of Rick Westhead and Katie Strang.
"I am very grateful to have the truth recognized... I know I am not the only victim in this world of sexual abuse, and I hope my story can inspire change within the NHL and around the world,” John Doe told Westhead Tuesday afternoon. “I am still speechless."
Words fail when trying to understand how the attempt to win a beautiful sport that rewards honest effort can foster such ugly moral corruption.
The NHL fined the Blackhawks $2 million after reviewing the report — a drop in the bucket for an organization that just handed out a $32.4 million contract to a player this summer and is coming off a 535-game sellout streak.
Blackhawks fans will gather inside United Center Wednesday for another hockey game.
Their team — a collection of men who "put team performance above all else,” Wirtz said — will skate under a 2010 championship banner that now hangs tainted. The lies weave through the fabric of 2013 and 2015, too.
But this investigation, its damning conclusions and the settlement attempts about to follow has now stretched beyond one team and its one goal.
Joel Quenneville knew. He’s currently the head coach of the Florida Panthers.
Kevin Cheveldayoff knew. He’s the long-serving general manager of the Winnipeg Jets.
Both publicly denied prior knowledge or involvement in the Aldrich coverup as recently as July.
The old boys’ network is on the fritz.
More fallout is coming. We can only hope more truth and responsibility comes, too.
Some costs aren’t worth winning for.
Some diamonds are forever tarnished.