Blackhawks, NHL mishandled sexual-assault allegations in 2020 and 2021, not just 2010

Hawks and NHL executives knew about Kyle Beach’s allegations in December 2020, four months before his lawsuit was filed and brought the allegations to light, yet they did nothing even in that time.

SHARE Blackhawks, NHL mishandled sexual-assault allegations in 2020 and 2021, not just 2010

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Monday that the league, and the Blackhawks, knew about the “threatened litigation” from Kyle Beach in December 2020.

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More than four months before Kyle Beach’s lawsuit alleging the Blackhawks had covered up his sexual assault was filed in court, the Hawks’ leadership and the NHL knew about his allegations.

Team lawyers contacted the league in late December 2020 to provide a ‘‘heads-up’’ about the ‘‘threatened litigation,’’ NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said in a news conference Monday alongside commissioner Gary Bettman.

Yet the NHL took no action before Beach’s lawsuit, which was filed May 7, brought former Hawks video coach Brad Aldrich’s alleged actions and Hawks management’s gross mishandling of the situation to light.

Daly said that’s because the Hawks told them: ‘‘There’s potential civil litigation. We’ve looked into the matter, and there’s no merit to it.’’

‘‘I’m not sure there’s anything we could’ve done differently or faster, based on the knowledge that we had,’’ Bettman said. ‘‘In retrospect, based on the knowledge that everybody has [now], I wish we knew about this in 2011. But we didn’t. What we may have thought the club was telling us — or the club thought the situation was — before the lawsuit was actually filed and what ultimately it turned out to be from the report, that wasn’t [the same].’’

The Hawks confirmed in a statement later Monday that they were notified by Susan Loggans, Beach’s lawyer, in December 2020. According to the statement, chairman Rocky Wirtz and CEO Danny Wirtz ‘‘relied on information’’ from their former lead counsel and former human-resources chief that indicated the ‘‘matter was appropriately looked into and resolved in 2010’’ — something the Jenner & Block investigation found to be false.

The NHL’s inexplicable decision to take the Hawks’ word for it and not seek any details themselves, however, exemplifies the lack of responsibility taken throughout the process.

There certainly was no accountability in 2010, when the Hawks opted to let Aldrich stick around the organization for three weeks beyond the John McDonough-led meeting discussing his alleged assault of Beach.

But the accountability demonstrated in 2021 hasn’t been nearly strong enough, either, no matter how much the involved parties tout how far the culture of hockey has come in the last decade.

The Hawks’ clear top priorities all summer were deflection and self-preservation, not honesty and justice.

Their statement May 13 couldn’t possibly look worse in hindsight. Its key sentence — ‘‘Based on our investigation, we believe the allegations against the organization lack merit and we are confident the team will be absolved of any wrongdoing’’ — was marked by blatant lies in every phrase.

(‘‘We apologize to Kyle Beach for previously stating his allegations ‘lacked merit,’ ’’ the Hawks said in their statement Monday. ‘‘It is clear now that our organization did not do the right thing.’’)

The two-month delay between the filing of the suit and the start of the investigation looks lazy at best and suspicious at worst. Only after the public firestorm of anger proved its staying power did the Hawks pull the trigger to commission the investigation, and only after more criticism did they commit to making the results public.

Both comments former general manager Stan Bowman squeezed into a news conference July 22 — that he did ‘‘not condone or tolerate harassment or assault of any type’’ and that he was ‘‘eager to speak about this [situation] in more detail in the future’’ — have aged poorly, too.

And while nothing has indicated the Wirtz family was aware of the cover-up in 2010, its decision to let Bowman and fellow executive Al MacIsaac continue to operate in their roles this offseason and preseason — while the investigation was occurring — now appears reckless.

In his TSN interview last week, Beach described the need for a system where “somebody...who has no skin in the game” deals with future sexual-assault allegations.

His alleged assault originally was covered up by Hawks executives with skin in the Stanley Cup pursuit. And his lawsuit and its allegations this summer were downplayed by Hawks and NHL executives with skin in the reputation game.

That must change.

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