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Blackhawks hire law firm to investigate sexual-assault allegations

The Hawks announced in an internal memo Monday that Jenner & Block will conduct an “independent review” of the allegations that former video coach Bradley Aldrich sexually assaulted two players in 2010.

Former video coach Bradley Aldrich, seen here in February 2010, allegedly assaulted two Blackhawks players in May 2010.
Former video coach Bradley Aldrich, seen here in February 2010, allegedly assaulted two Blackhawks players in May 2010.
Sun-Times file photo

The Blackhawks have initiated an investigation into the sexual-assault allegations against former video coach Bradley Aldrich and into the internal handling of those allegations.

After weeks of silence, the team — via an internal memo from CEO Danny Wirtz obtained by the Sun-Times — announced Monday it had hired the law firm Jenner & Block to lead an ‘‘independent review’’ of the allegations. Reid Schar, a former assistant U.S. attorney and now the co-chair of Jenner & Block’s litigation department, will lead the investigation. He prosecuted former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich during his 12 years in the U.S. attorney’s office.

‘‘We want to reiterate to you that we take the allegations described in these lawsuits very seriously,’’ Wirtz said in the memo. ‘‘They in no way reflect this organization’s culture or values.

‘‘Mr. Schar and his firm have significant experience conducting independent investigative reviews, have no previous ties to the Blackhawks organization, and have been directed to follow the facts wherever they lead.’’

The Hawks are facing a lawsuit from a former player — identified under the pseudonym ‘‘John Doe’’ — who claims he and another player were sexually assaulted by Aldrich in May 2010, a month before the team won the Stanley Cup.

Aldrich ‘‘sent . . . inappropriate text messages,’’ ‘‘turned on porn and began to masturbate in front of [Doe] . . . without his consent’’ and ‘‘threatened to injure [Doe] . . . physically, financially and emotionally if [Doe] . . . did not engage in sexual activity,’’ according to the lawsuit filed May 7.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman discussed the allegations for the first time Monday before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, saying the league will wait for the results of the investigation before determining next steps.

‘‘We’ll await the results of the investigation and then decide what, if anything, needs to be done from our standpoint,’’ Bettman said. ‘‘All options are available if there’s something that warrants punishment. . . . What we know is based on what’s public. That’s why we’re going to be interested to see what the investigation reveals and doesn’t reveal.’’

Bettman said he found the allegations ‘‘concerning’’ but repeatedly emphasized a patient approach, saying it might take ‘‘a little bit of time to piece things together.’’

‘‘Everybody is jumping too far, too fast,’’ he said. ‘‘This is going to be handled appropriately and professionally and done right.’’

Three players from the 2010 team — including defensemen Brent Sopel and Nick Boynton — came forth last week, saying Aldrich’s alleged assaults were widely known among the team.

Former skills coach Paul Vincent told TSN that he informed then-president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, executive Al MacIsaac and skills coach James Gary about Aldrich’s alleged assault at a meeting in 2010, but that the group rejected his request to report the incident to the police. Former assistant coach John Torchetti recently confirmed Vincent’s account to TSN.

After his tenure with the Hawks, Aldrich sexually assaulted a 16-year-old Michigan boy while volunteering for a high school team in 2013. That victim has filed a separate lawsuit against the Hawks, claiming they provided ‘‘positive references to future employers for Bradley Aldrich despite having knowledge of his sexual assaults.’’

In the memo Monday, Wirtz said the Hawks won’t comment further on the allegations — ‘‘out of respect for the ongoing legal proceedings and the independent review’’ — until both processes have ended.

The Hawks previously had denied all wrongdoing in a statement shortly after the lawsuit was filed. They have moved to dismiss the former player’s lawsuit, arguing in court documents that the statute of limitations has expired.

Jenner & Block, which is headquartered in Chicago and claims to employ more than 500 lawyers globally, is known for its successful antitrust lawsuit against AT&T in 1985 and its investigation into Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy in 2009.

The firm also is representing USA Gymnastics in its bankruptcy proceedings and has been criticized heavily in recent years for collecting high fees — nearly $5.8 million and counting, according to a Bloomberg report last month — while the many victims suing the organization for sexual assault have yet to receive money.