We love our anniversaries in sports, don’t we? A team wins a championship, and 20 or 25 years later, there’s a celebration of the achievement. Players and coaches return to the scene of the wonderful time and take turns waving to a stadium full of adoring fans. Stories are told and smiles shared.
Few things are warmer in life than good memories.
The 20th anniversary of the Blackhawks’ 2010 Stanley Cup title is less than 10 years off, and it’s going to be very difficult to honor an accomplishment that now carries so much pain and ugliness.
How can you separate that championship and the organizational cover-up of an alleged sexual assault perpetrated by a Hawks video coach on a young hockey player that season? You can’t. And you won’t be able to in 2030, either, not if you’re a feeling human being.
Legacies are ruined, as they should be. The sin of choosing to protect a brand over players’ safety should be written in indelible ink on the foreheads of all involved. That includes former team president John McDonough, former general manager Stan Bowman and former coach Joel Quenneville. According to the team’s own investigation, the three men knew that Kyle Beach, a prospect accompanying the team during the playoffs that year, had accused former video coach Brad Aldrich of sexually assaulting him, yet the matter was buried until the season was over. Why? They didn’t want it negatively affecting the team’s pursuit of a Stanley Cup.
That’s beyond sickening.
Bowman was a first-year general manager that season, which doesn’t excuse his silence on the allegation back then, but he did make it clear in his statement Tuesday that he had relied on McDonough to take action. McDonough didn’t report Aldrich’s conduct to the Hawks’ human-resources department until three weeks after a May 23, 2010, meeting in which McDonough, Bowman, Quenneville and other team officials discussed the alleged sexual assault.
“I promptly reported the matter to the then-president and CEO who committed to handling the matter,’’ Bowman said. “I learned this year that the inappropriate behavior involved a serious allegation of sexual assault. I relied on the direction of my superior that he would take appropriate action. Looking back, now knowing he did not handle the matter promptly, I regret assuming he would do so.’’
I’m sure a lot of the people involved have a lot of regrets, and they’re going to have to live with them. But if you’re vile enough to try to cover up something like this, even temporarily, is it more likely you regret the decision to do so or that the cover-up was revealed? I’d argue for the latter.
Let’s not forget that after Aldrich resigned on June 16, 2010, he allegedly went on to assault two young men at Miami University and then a 16-year-old boy at a Michigan high school. Whether the Hawks provided Aldrich with a positive reference that allowed him to get jobs at those two stops is a point of contention between the franchise and lawyers for the alleged victims.
Still, put it all together, and a likable team, the one that created so many good memories in Chicago, isn’t so likable anymore.
Maybe some of you will be able to look back fondly on the 2010 championship and the two other titles that followed. You’ll focus on the players who made it all possible — Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Corey Crawford, etc. You’ll ignore the possibility that the players knew what had happened to Beach at the hands of Aldrich. You’ll ignore the possibility that those players could have spoken up but didn’t. Beach won’t.
But how will you forget that Quenneville, as beloved a coach as there has been in this city, was part of the dirty business of hiding the truth, according to the team’s investigation? Do you want him, McDonough and Bowman at a public reunion of the 2010 team?
Oh, and another question for you: Is Quenneville, a lock for the Hall of Fame before the facts of this case came out, still a certainty for enshrinement? Depends how bad a look you think a conspiracy is.
Time has a way of healing wounds or numbing pain, so I’ll leave open the possibility that I’m wrong about the difficulty of separating the 2010 team from this scandal. I’ve seen American fan bases forgive all sorts of terrible behavior.
But the clear thinking among us, the ones whose tolerance for bad behavior ends at abuse of any kind, won’t forget. I’m certain Beach won’t. If there’s an anniversary to celebrate that Stanley Cup team in coming years, will he show up to honor an organization that let him and others down? I sure wouldn’t.