(CONTENT WARNING: Sexual Assault)
The Chicago Blackhawks are no stranger to controversy. The hockey team has come under fire multiple times in the past few years for various reasons and seems to be caught up in some new turmoil this month. Much of the current discourse relates back to a sexual assault case filed by a previous player against the team last year.
Unlike other sexual assault cases within the professional sports industry, the news has largely been staying inside the hockey world and the city of Chicago, but the discussion is now beginning to spread thanks to recent developments.
Town Hall Meeting
In a Feb. 2 town hall meeting, The Athletic reporter Mark Lazerus asked CEO Danny Wirtz what the team had done and planned to do to further prevent players from being taken advantage of. Rocky Wirtz, owner and chairman for the team and Danny’s father, interjected with what many considered to be a very disappointing response.
Lazerus later clarified that he “thought it was kind of a softball question,” and that he believed Wirtz’s response to be “unbelievable” and “unprofessional.”
Wirtz issued an apology a few hours after the incident, in which he said he “crossed the line,” and a more in-depth statement was sent out a day later. In it, he admitted he should not have answered for his son in the first place, and that his answer was regrettable, to say the least.
Sexual Assault Lawsuits
Along with the recent Rocky Wirtz discussion, the team seems to be facing three potential new lawsuits, all related to the sexual assault allegations.
This new willingness to come forward most likely stems from the 2021 Jenner & Block investigation into sexual assault allegations against former video coach Brad Aldrich. This investigation, which is what Wirtz referred to as the “Kyle Beach situation,” began anonymously, with former player Kyle Beach being referred to as “John Doe 1” until revealing his identity in an Oct. 2021 interview. The goal of the investigation was to determine how much Chicago Blackhawks executives knew of the allegations and, in turn, whether anything was swept under the rug.
The investigation uncovered a sexual encounter in May 2010 between Beach and Aldrich, who were 20 and 27 at the time, respectively. Beach maintains that the encounter was non-consensual and considers it a sexual assault, while Aldrich says it was consensual.
A few years after being allowed to quietly resign from his position with the Blackhawks, Aldrich was arrested for molesting a minor (though he was investigated for molesting another three minors and two adults).
There had already been another lawsuit involving a John Doe 2, but now the three new potential plaintiffs are John Doe 3, Black Ace 1 and former Blackhawks skills coach Paul Vincent. John Doe 3 alleges he was groomed and raped by Aldrich while John Doe was a student and they were both working for the Miami University (of Ohio)’s hockey team in 2011.
Black Ace 1 is another former Blackhawks player who was involved as a witness in the Beach investigation and is now coming forward with a story of their own involving being harassed by Aldrich through text messages. Vincent’s lawsuit suggests he was blacklisted by the team for coming forward with Beach’s and Black Ace 1’s allegations to senior executives.
Because the initial investigation is more than 50 pages long (and is really only the tip of the iceberg), this is a summary that is nowhere near as cohesive as an actual detailed report might be. Many of these potential lawsuits are ongoing and were just announced, so there’s much to keep an eye on at the moment.
Name & Logo Controversy
This is not the first time the Chicago Blackhawks have made headlines for controversy. They are among the many teams that have been implored to change their name by various Native American organizations, including the National Congress of American Indians. They are also among the many that have refused to do so, citing the real-life figure the team is named for as reason for keeping it.
This came amidst the announcement that the Washington Commanders, formally known as the Redskins, would consider a name change, which they evidently carried out. The Cleveland Guardians (previously the Indians) were commended for doing the same, but the Atlanta Braves have refused to change theirs.
Similarly, it seems many fans of hockey — and sports in general — will continue to wait for the Chicago Blackhawks to be held accountable for their actions (or lack thereof).