Rocky Wirtz apologizes again, Gary Bettman excuses him for ‘emotional moment’ as Blackhawks fallout continues
Friday marked the resumption of the Blackhawks and NHL’s efforts to rebuild the club’s image, with CEO Danny Wirtz announcing several tangible initiatives the team has implemented to improve workplace culture.
The fallout from chairman Rocky Wirtz’s meltdown Wednesday moved into its second phase Friday, with the Blackhawks and NHL starting their attempts to build back the team’s public image again.
Most notably, CEO Danny Wirtz announced a few tangible new initiatives intended to ensure that the Hawks don’t cover up another sexual assault the way they did Kyle Beach’s in 2010 and to improve their workplace culture.
The Hawks have built and staffed a mental-health department to provide resources for players and employees, have installed a reporting process designed to ensure ‘‘any reports of non-compliance are investigated immediately’’ and soon will launch ‘‘an employee-led committee focused on aspects of culture,’’ Danny Wirtz said in a statement.
Those initiatives will be on top of the leaguewide policies and training the NHL requires of all 32 teams, something commissioner Gary Bettman emphasized during his news conference Friday before All-Star festivities began in Las Vegas.
‘‘They’re doing all the things to move forward,’’ Bettman said of the Hawks. ‘‘They’re doing the work. The people who belong gone are gone. New people have been brought in. There’s training. They’re doing things above and beyond what we’re doing at the league level. They’re putting in a wellness department. They had answers for everything.’’
The NHL isn’t going to sanction or punish the Hawks or Rocky Wirtz for his outburst, in which he said learning from the sexual-assault scandal was ‘‘old business’’ that ‘‘we’re not going to talk about’’ during two fiery exchanges with reporters.
And although the NHL will continue to hold the Hawks ‘‘accountable to do the work,’’ Bettman largely excused Rocky Wirtz’s comments as a gaffe, not an indication of an unethical approach.
‘‘[Given] what has happened with that franchise because of Kyle Beach and with Kyle Beach — which we all agree was horrible and they acknowledge, as well — this has been very emotional, frustrating and draining for the Blackhawks and Rocky, in particular,’’ Bettman said. ‘‘‘As they’re trying to focus on the things they need to do organizationally to move forward, it was an emotional moment which Rocky promptly apologized for.’’
Rocky Wirtz, meanwhile, followed his first apology — issued four hours after the incidents Wednesday — with a longer second apology accompanying his son’s statement.
In it, Rocky Wirtz said he regretted speaking about the subject at all — the question initially was directed to Danny Wirtz — and regretted what he said when he did speak.
‘‘What I would also say if given another opportunity is that the first step is putting the right people in place,’’ Rocky Wirtz said in his second statement. ‘‘Danny and [business president Jaime Faulkner] have spent the past year understanding how this happened and where it is happening — not just in our locker rooms, but in youth locker rooms, as well. And they are fully empowered to put the right things in place.
‘‘Again, I regret the outburst. I suddenly felt incredibly frustrated as I perceived we were looking back instead of looking forward.’’
In his statement, Danny Wirtz included a line that said: ‘‘Rocky and I are united that we will learn from the mistakes in this organization’s past and do the things that move our sport forward.’’
But he steered well wide of throwing his father under the bus or even criticizing his behavior, providing yet another indication of the significant power disparity between them, even with Danny operating as the CEO.
It all sounds much better, much cleaner and much more professional than the out-of-nowhere meltdown Wednesday, but it’s still hard to fathom how Rocky Wirtz could have been so unprepared — and allowed himself to be so overcome by emotion — when asked about a subject he surely knew he would be asked about at an event he had been given at least a week to prepare for.
The incident quickly became another public-relations nightmare for the Hawks — a franchise plagued with those lately because of how badly things are going on every front — and needed two days (and counting) of damage control.
The team surely hopes wing Alex DeBrincat’s participation Saturday in the All-Star Game and a steady stream of news regarding the general-manager search gradually will take attention away from Rocky Wirtz and calm the firestorm.
They probably will be correct, too. Their announcement Friday that interim GM Kyle Davidson and Hurricanes assistant GM Eric Tulsky officially interviewed for the GM job diverted some eyeballs.
But the important questions moving forward are whether the Hawks’ new initiatives will provide the necessary resources to improve their culture, whether they’ll continue putting new initiatives in place and making positive change beyond this point and whether Rocky Wirtz will involve himself in or impede those initiatives and change.
The nice-sounding words Friday probably increase the confidence that those answers are ‘‘yes,’’ ‘‘yes’’ and ‘‘no,’’ respectively. But only time will tell.