CHICAGO (AP) — The Chicago Blackhawks and a former player who said he was sexually assaulted by an assistant coach have settled a lawsuit that eviscerated the franchise’s once-sterling reputation and shook up the NHL, bringing questions about the sport’s culture back to the forefront.
The confidential settlement was announced after the sides met Wednesday with a mediator for the first time. Former first-round pick Kyle Beach and Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz, the son of team owner Rocky Wirtz, participated in the Zoom session.
“The Blackhawks hope that this resolution will bring some measure of peace and closure for Mr. Beach,” the team said in a statement attributed to Rocky and Danny Wirtz, and Susan Loggans, Beach’s attorney.
“As for the Blackhawks organization, we remain steadfast in our commitment to ensure that, going forward, this team will be a beacon for professionalism, respect and integrity in our community. We remain grateful for the trust and support of the Blackhawks community, and we promise to continue working every day to earn and maintain that trust.”
Loggans also is part of a second lawsuit filed in May by a former high school student whom Aldrich was convicted of assaulting in Michigan. That suit is still pending, but the sides plan to meet again in the future to discuss a resolution.
The Blackhawks said as late as mid-May that Beach’s allegations lacked merit. B ut an independent review, commissioned by the team and released in October, showed the organization badly mishandled Beach’s allegations that he was assaulted by Aldrich during the team’s 2010 Stanley Cup run. Aldrich told investigators the encounter was consensual.
According to the report by Jenner & Block, the encounter between Beach, then a 20-year-old minor leaguer called up in case the Blackhawks needed help in the playoffs, and Aldrich, then 27, occurred on May 8 or 9 in 2010.
Beach told investigators that Aldrich, a video coach at the time, threatened him with a souvenir baseball bat before forcibly performing oral sex on him and masturbating on the player’s back, allegations that he also detailed in his lawsuit.
About two weeks later, on May 23, 2010, right after Chicago advanced to the Stanley Cup Final, general manager Stan Bowman, top hockey executive Al MacIsaac, team president John McDonough, executive vice president Jay Blunk and assistant GM Kevin Cheveldayoff met with coach Joel Quenneville and mental skills coach Jim Gary to discuss the allegations.
Former federal prosecutor Reid Schar, who led the investigation, said accounts of the meeting “vary significantly.” But there was no evidence that anything was done about the accusations before McDonough contacted the team’s director of human resources on June 14 — a delay that violated the franchise’s sexual harassment policy, according to Schar.
During those three weeks, Aldrich continued to work for and travel with the team. Schar said Aldrich also “made an unwanted sexual advance” toward a 22-year-old Blackhawks intern.
Bowman resigned in the wake of the independent review, and MacIsaac also departed the organization. McDonough, Blunk and Gary were already out of the NHL by the time the report was published.
Quenneville and Cheveldayoff met with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Quenneville then resigned as Florida Panthers coach, but Cheveldayoff remained in his position as Winnipeg general manager. The league also fined Chicago $2 million.
Loggans and representatives for the Blackhawks held settlement talks in early November, meeting for about an hour. She said after those discussions that “each side had different viewpoints.”
The investigation commissioned by the team found no evidence that Rocky or Danny Wirtz were aware of the allegations before Beach’s lawsuit was brought to their attention ahead of its filing. Danny Wirtz in October said he had instructed team attorneys to seek “a fair resolution consistent with the totality of the circumstances.”
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Jay Cohen, The Associated Press