clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Plenty of blame to go around in Blackhawks’ scandal, including some for silent teammates

Why didn’t Hawks players speak up for the alleged victims of sexual assault by a team employee?

The Blackhawks pose for a team photo after defeating the Flyers and winning the 2010 Stanley Cup.
The Blackhawks pose for a team photo after defeating the Flyers and winning the 2010 Stanley Cup.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

God help the poor slob who happens to step on the large Blackhawks insignia planted in the middle of the locker room at the United Center. It’s holy ground, and Hawks players will scream bloody murder if a reporter’s foot accidentally should go astray.

Protecting that image is seen as a noble pursuit. But who was protecting two players who allegedly were sexually abused by the team’s video coach in 2010? And where were the voices raised in anger then?

This is what happens when guarding an institution becomes paramount.

Silence.

If all the sexual-abuse scandals in various sectors of society have taught us anything, it’s that those in power can’t be trusted.

But those players who reportedly were abused — where were their Hawks teammates to speak up for them?

We hear so much about the importance of leadership in sports. Where was it inside the Hawks’ locker room?

At least three former players from the 2010 Stanley Cup team have said recently that Bradley Aldrich’s alleged assaults were no secret to the team at the time. That’s the definition of ‘‘too late.’’

I want to be clear here: It was up to the people high in the Hawks’ power structure to act responsibly, to protect the vulnerable, to show courage. To call the police. If what the lawsuit says is true, they failed to do so. A former Hawks skills coach requested in a meeting in 2010 with then-president John McDonough, general manager Stan Bowman, executive Al MacIsaac and skills coach James Gary that they go to the police with the allegations. He said the group denied his request.

Three years later, Aldrich allegedly molested a 16-year-old boy in Michigan, served prison time for it and is now on a list of registered sex offenders in that state. The alleged victim in that case has filed a lawsuit against the Hawks, saying the team gave Aldrich positive references despite knowing his history of sexual assault.

It’s all terrible, and there’s more than enough terrible to go around.

Hawks players, especially the older ones, failed. They weren’t high school or college kids who lacked the maturity to speak up. They were adults, some in their mid-to-late 20s, some in their 30s. No doubt there is pressure to conform in professional sports, to do what’s best for the group. Players might have feared they’d lose their jobs or get shipped to another team if they spoke up. Or perhaps they were counting on management to do the right thing.

All those things might have been true. Eleven years later, however, they look very weak in light of the allegations and the painful fallout. If Hawks players truly thought management would take care of the problem, wouldn’t they have wondered why there was no subsequent news story about police charging Aldrich with sexual assault? Couldn’t players have continued to pursue justice for the alleged victims?

I happened to be reading ‘‘Bear Town’’ when details of the Hawks’ scandal began emerging. It’s a novel about a junior-hockey team and the hold it has on a small community in Sweden. That hold becomes an angry fist when the star player is accused of rape and the immediate reaction from the team and many in the town is to protect the organization.

It’s what the lawsuit, in so many words, accuses the Hawks of doing. It will be interesting to hear what the two alleged victims say team management told them to do. If the history of these scandals is any guide, staying quiet strongly was suggested. You know, for the good of the team, which was a month away from winning the Stanley Cup. A broom appeared, a rug was lifted and some ugly details found a home with no lights.

But ugly details never go away. Just because a player who wants to stay in the good graces of an NHL team is willing to go along with a shameful corporate strategy doesn’t mean he’s the same person more than a decade later. Hence, a lawsuit and an organization that looks horrible right now.

Hawks captain Jonathan Toews disagrees with the notion that the sexual-assault allegations were common knowledge in 2010, telling The Athletic that he didn’t begin to hear whispers about them until the next season.

But who knew what when doesn’t matter. Speaking up matters. So where were the teammates? Where were their voices?

According to the player’s suit, Aldrich ‘‘sent . . . inappropriate text messages,’’ ‘‘turned on porn and began to masturbate in front of [John Doe] . . . without his consent’’ and ‘‘threatened to injure [Doe] . . . physically, financially and emotionally if [Doe] . . . did not engage in sexual activity.’’

Coaches and general managers stress the positive effects of a good team culture. They want everybody on the same page. They want players to sacrifice individual glory for the good of the team. They don’t want trouble, but if there is trouble, they want it kept ‘‘in-house.’’ Protect the brand, at all costs.

This is how scandals happen in all walks of life. In this instance, if the details in the lawsuit are fact, it made lots of people who should have known better clam up.

Shame on all of them.