Rocky Wirtz destroys accountability with outburst over Blackhawks’ sexual-assault scandal
“We’re not going to talk about Kyle Beach,” a furious Wirtz said Wednesday. “What we’re going to do today is our business.”
Rocky Wirtz dropped a nuclear bomb on the concept of accountability Wednesday.
And just like that, he decimated any semblance of goodwill, forgiveness and positive change the Blackhawks might’ve built up in the months since Kyle Beach’s sexual assault allegations arose.
Asked by a reporter about the Hawks’ work to ensure another assault will never occur — part of a heavily scripted, so-called “town-hall meeting” — the Hawks chairman delivered arguably the most unprofessional and shameful outburst ever heard within the walls of the United Center.
“We’re not going to talk about Kyle Beach,” Wirtz said with fury. “We’re not going to talk about anything that happened. We’re moving on. What we’re going to do today is our business. I don’t think it’s any of your business. You don’t work for the company. If somebody in the company asks that question, we’ll answer it.”
Asked the same question again minutes later, Wirtz’s anger was joined by a tone-deaf undercurrent of exasperation.
“I told you to get off the subject,” he said. “I’m not going to bring up the [Jenner & Block report]. I know you’re talking about what the report was talking about, and I told you we’re moving on. It’s out of line to ask this line of questions. Why don’t you ask about something else? Why don’t you ask about the [general manager] search? Why do you bring up old business?”
His refusal to address the subject was disappointing yet unsurprising. His utter ignorance of the subject’s relevance, however, was deplorable.
Wirtz did issue a statement apologizing hours later: ‘‘Tonight, at the Chicago Blackhawks town hall, my response to two questions crossed the line. I want to apologize to the fans and those reporters, and I regret that my response overshadowed the great work this organization is doing to move forward. We have the right leaders and right processes in place to create a safe environment for our employees and players.”
Hawks CEO Danny Wirtz — his son — and business president Jaime Faulkner had previously spent the meeting’s first 25 minutes emphasizing the organization’s new commitment to doing things “the right way.”
Although their comments were rarely substantive, they at least demonstrated an awareness of the correct way to move forward. And behind the scenes, they have been making necessary, if small, progress toward reintegrating the Hawks into the community and bringing welcomed new perspectives into the organization.
But their well-intentioned work doesn’t matter when the man at the top of the pyramid acts the way he did Wednesday.
Danny Wirtz, at one point during the meltdown, even tried to interject and address what the Hawks are “doing today,” only to be cut off by a point of Rocky’s finger so harsh it could’ve drilled a hole in the wall.
The Jenner & Block report, when released in October, absolved Rocky Wirtz of responsibility in covering up former video coach Brad Aldrich’s assault of Beach during the 2010 playoffs simply because no evidence surfaced that Wirtz had been informed.
Whether or not he was informed may never be conclusively known. That seems almost irrelevant now, though.
What the report did conclusively establish is that the assault happened and the Hawks’ leadership culture at the time enabled it. What the hockey world has conclusively demanded is that the Hawks never allow another assault to happen, and especially never cover it up were it to happen again.
And what Rocky Wirtz conclusively proved Wednesday is that he, and by association the organization he runs, cannot be trusted to ensure those things.
If that’s what Rocky Wirtz says when given weeks to reflect and prepare — the meeting was actually his first public appearance in years, meant to usher in a new era of the team’s brass being more present and involved with fans, partners and media in front of the curtain — what would he say if Kyle Beach had gotten into his office in May 2010? What would he say if another sexual assault victim spoke to him now?
It sounds like he would’ve said, “we’re not going to talk about [it].” After all, that’s what he said Wednesday.
And that sounds remarkably similar to the attitude that failed Beach in 2010 and made the Hawks the embarrassment of the NHL in 2021.