The Chicago Blackhawks will Never Learn

It was the report that shook the hockey world; the 107-page report put out this October by Jenner and Block, found that the Blackhawks had covered up the sexual assault of player Kyle Beach at the hands of video coach Brad Aldrich. The Blackhawks’ failure to take action on Aldrich led to the sexual assault of a 16-year-old boy at a Michigan High School where Aldrich was working. He was able to get that job because he had received a stellar final performance review from Joel Quenneville, the then Blackhawks head coach, who was very instrumental in the cover-up. Since then, the Blackhawks have cleaned house, firing everyone from 2010 (besides the players). After meeting with Commissioner Gary Bettman, Quenneville was allowed to resign as Head Coach of the Florida Panthers. The only people from the 2010 Blackhawks still holding their positions are General Manager of the Winnipeg Jets, Kevin Cheveldayoff, Captain of the Blackhawks, Jonathan Toews, star winger Patrick Kane, and the Ownership group, the Wirtzs. The Wirtzs were unaware of and uninvolved in the cover-up according to the report. 

(For more details about the Jenner and Block reports, Kyle Beach, and John Doe 2’s check out these articles: Investigation reveals Blackhawks covered up sexual assault , Aftermath of sexual assault report on Chicago Blackhawks

The Blackhawks have had a bad season; they are near the bottom of the league after making off-season moves that people thought would make them more competitive. That poor performance and the Jenner and Block report have led many to, rightly, no longer want to associate with the organization. With all of this as the backdrop, the ownership group, including Rocky Wirtz, his son Danny Wirtz, and President of Business Operations Jamie Faulkner, decided to host a town hall event. At that town hall, Mark Lazerus, who covers the Blackhawks for the Athletic, asked a question to Danny Wirtz, saying, “My question is for Danny. I know we’re looking forward here, but I think we have to look back, also. I think much of what happened to Kyle Beach stemmed from the power imbalance between a coach and a player and the powerlessness of a player in that situation. So what are the Blackhawks doing, what have the Blackhawks done, what will the Blackhawks do to empower a player in a similar situation to make sure that doesn’t happen again?” 

Rocky Wirtz chose to respond, stating in a hostile, defensive manner, “I’m going to answer the question, not Danny. I think the report speaks for itself. The people that were involved are no longer here. We’re not looking back at 2010; we’re looking forward. And we’re not going to talk about 2010.” 

Rocky finished the exchange declaring, “We’re not going to talk about Kyle Beach. We’re not going to talk about anything that happened. Now we’re moving on. What more do I have to say? Do you want to keep asking the same question? Ask the next question.” 

Despite Lazerus’s multiple attempts to get an answer and an attempt by Danny Wirtz to butt in, Rocky doubled down on the fact that the changes were none of the business of those outside the organization and that they were moving forward and past the incident. This is all coming from a man who promised to learn and change as a result and be more transparent when the report was released. 

Phil Thompson of the Chicago Tribune decided to press the question more after seeing Rocky Wirtz fail to respond to Lazerus and was treated similarly by Rocky. Thompson then switched to his initial question, which revolved around the drop in ticket sales; he talked about his meetings with season ticket holders who were having trouble selling their tickets to games they weren’t going to attend. He said those ticket holders were afraid of the dropping value their tickets had. 

Rocky Wirtz failed to answer again. Instead, he insulted Thompson’s employer, the Chicago Tribune, asked patronizingly if Thompson worked in ticket sales, and said he wasn’t going to talk about any negative things surrounding the organization. 

It was not the behavior of a man who wanted to create organizational changes. It was a toddler’s behavior, not a man in his 60’s. It is not the behavior of an owner who feels remorse for the wrongdoing in his organization. It is the behavior of a man who wants to push aside anything that could challenge the positive PR narrative he has been concocting that has no substance behind it. 

Beach was failed by this attitude of pushing things to the side and the past to avoid “negativity.” Rocky Wirtz seems intent on failing him and John Doe 2 all over again by suggesting they will no longer talk about Beach. Forgetting and shoving aside what happens inhibits change. You cannot right the wrongs of the past if you do not reckon with them. Rocky Wirtz showed that he rather not be bothered with protecting players and making changes. He showed a lack of transparency and accountability, the two things that were promised by himself and the organization after the Jenner and Block report’s findings were released. 

In his interview with TSN’s Rick Westhead, Beach, asserts that everyone in that 2010 locker room knew about the assault. The report confirms that Beach faced homophobic abuse at the hands of teammates in the said locker room due to them finding out about his assault. So it is improbable that members of that locker room were unaware of what had happened. The Wirtzs, while knowing this information, still hired Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa, two members of that 2010 team, to lead their search for the next GM. They clearly haven’t moved on from 2010 like Rockey Wirtz tried to claim; what they really wanted to move on from and move past was the irrevocable harm they caused to the lives of multiple individuals. 

There has been a third lawsuit brought against the Blackhawks, this time, it is from a student at the University of Miami, Ohio. Aldrich worked there before he went to coach at the high school in Michigan where he assaulted John Doe 2. The plaintiff in this suit, known as John Doe 3, was also sexually assaulted by Aldrich while Aldrich coached his team at the University of Miami. The claim alleges that the Blackhawks encouraged Aldrich to go work for the University of Miami and, as stated previously, failed to note his history of predatory behavior on any letters of recommendation and performance reviews. John Doe 3 alleges that Aldrich threw around his Stanley Cup ring and connection with the Blackhawks as a way to groom John Doe 3. Rocky Wirtz still could not articulate what they had learned from this tragedy in the wake of this. That is because nothing was learned, at least nothing by Rocky. 

On the TNT broadcast, Wayne Gretzky raised an important point when he said, “From every point of view this is just a horrible scenario, what happened to [Kyle Beach]. As a parent, you’re sitting there going, my son’s 18, he’s gonna maybe be drafted by that team … I want to know my 18-year-old son is going to be protected.” The damage that Rocky Wirtz’s comments have made to the organization’s image is insurmountable. As long as he remains CEO of the team, the Blackhawks will be the same organization they were in 2010 in the eyes of the public. Why should players or families trust this team when the CEO won’t even share what has changed to make the organization safe? Why would they even trust him when he talks about changes based on how determined he seemed to push aside Kyle Beach, John Doe 2, and John Doe 3?  

Lazerus reported that Danny Wirtz approached him after the town hall, eager to answer Lazerus’s question later. In fact, the younger Wirtz seemed frustrated through his father’s outbursts. So maybe there is hope for the future if Danny, who is poised to take over the team after his father steps down, has taken the report to heart. But for now, Danny Wirtz seems frozen outside as his father continues to rule the team with an iron fist.   The very top of the Blackhawks organization has not learned from what was revealed in the Jenner and Block report. So long as Rocky Wirtz remains owner and his mindset governs the team, the Blackhawks will never learn, and the organization will remain only slightly less toxic than it was in 2010 when these events first transpired.

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