TAMPA, Fla. -- Gary Bettman says the NHL only learned of sexual assault allegations against a Chicago Blackhawks video coach from 2010 “relatively recently” and that it will await the results of an independent investigation before deciding how to proceed.
Bettman took several questions on the allegations against the Blackhawks and video coach Brad Aldrich during his annual state of the league address before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, making the first public comments by a league official since two lawsuits were filed against one of its marquee franchises.
The first alleges sexual assault by Aldrich during the team’s 2010 Stanley Cup run and the second was filed by a former student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting in Michigan after leaving the organization.
The Blackhawks recently hired former federal prosecutor Reid Schar from Jenner & Block LLP to lead an investigation into the allegations and “follow the facts wherever they lead.” Bettman said the NHL would not conduct its own investigation.
“It’s being done independently by a law firm that’s been retained,” Bettman said Monday. “We’re satisfied that the retention has been appropriate and in the first instance we’re going to wait and see what the results are from this investigation and then we’ll determine what, if anything, we need to do to follow up.”
He added that “all options are available” when asked if there could be punishment for individuals or clubs found to have been involved in any wrongdoing.
A former Blackhawks player said Aldrich assaulted him, and that the team did nothing after he informed an employee. The lawsuit, filed on May 7 in Cook County Circuit Court, alleges Aldrich also assaulted another unidentified Blackhawks player. The former player who sued and is seeking more than $150,000 in damages is referred in the document as “John Doe.”
The eight-page lawsuit says Aldrich, then a video coach for the Blackhawks, “turned on porn and began to masturbate in front of” the player without his consent. It says Aldrich also threatened to “physically, financially and emotionally” hurt the player if he “did not engage in sexual activity” with him.
According to TSN, two Blackhawks players told then-skills coach Paul Vincent in May 2010 of inappropriate behaviour by Aldrich. Vincent said he asked mental skills coach James Gary to follow up with the players and management.
Vincent was called into a meeting with then-team President John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, hockey executive Al MacIsaac and Gary the next day. He said he asked the team to report the allegations to Chicago police, and the request was denied.
While Bettman and deputy commissioner Bill Daly were unable to recall exactly when they became aware of the allegations, Daly said Blackhawks legal counsel first brought it to their attention relatively recently.
“The reaction whenever you hear allegations like that are concerning, but my first reaction is ‘tell me the facts,”’ said Bettman. “And once we know what the facts are we’re in a better position to evaluate what may or may not need to be done.”
After leaving the Blackhawks, Aldrich was convicted of fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct involving a student in 2013 in Michigan and is now on that state’s registry of sex offenders.
The former student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting filed a separate lawsuit against the Blackhawks on May 26, saying the Blackhawks provided positive references to future employers of Aldrich despite allegations from at least one player and took no action to report the matter.
The independent review into the allegations is already underway, according to Bettman.
“What we know is based on what’s public and that’s why we’re going to be interested to see what the investigation reveals and doesn’t reveal,” he said. “And so I think everybody needs to not get ahead of themselves. These are allegations that relate to a period of time that’s quite some time ago and sometimes it takes a little bit of time to piece things together.
“When we get all the information we will do what is necessary and appropriate then.”
He wouldn’t commit to the findings being made public.
“Let us see what the investigation reveals and then we can figure out what comes next,” he said. “I think everybody’s jumping too far, too fast. This is going to be handled appropriately and professionally and done right.”
--- With files from The Associated Press