Content warning: This story contains a lot of frank discussion of sexual assault.
On Tuesday, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced they had reached a settlement with Jarrod and Erin Skalde regarding a sexual assault by Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins coach John Donatelli. As part of that settlement, no further details will be released, which is very much the outcome that Gary Bettman‘s NHL wanted.
That story is now owned by the league, whose new culture of accountability shares the same mission as the previous culture of accountability: protect owners’ assets. Wherever the damage is stopped, it must be stopped before it reaches the capital. That is all Gary Bettman’s job is and all it has ever been.
Whenever NHL commissioner Gary Bettman finally retires, it will be on his own terms and in his own time. For now, and all his actions should be seen through the prism of protecting the owners: stanch the bleeding lest it cost dollars. Bettman’s press conference last week was merely an hourlong ritual to absolve Chicago owner Rocky Wirtz of any responsibility for the crimes of Brad Aldrich and their subsequent coverup.
“The way the Blackhawks organization handled this matter was not appropriate,” Bettman said, quickly adding, “even though that ownership was not aware.”
“I don’t doubt for a moment that [Wirtz] had no knowledge of this.” Bettman said. “If he did have knowledge of this, the organization would have operated in a very different way.”
None of this is to suggest that Rocky Wirtz had knowledge of the Aldrich coverup. Rather, it’s to fix in our minds that the primary function of Gary Bettman is to serve a constituency of 32 team owners. Abused people are merely an unfortunate byproduct, and no amount of fan pressure could ever change Bettman’s mind, nor could it ever cause him to lose his job.
Bettman has located all authority on matters of organizational discipline within his person. His is the imperial commissionership, wherein he alone renders judgment on all matters. There are no documented policies or procedures to be shared and followed and enforced and measured and reported with all parties sharing mutual expectations and understanding. The only understanding that matters is Bettman’s.
When ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski asked if Florida coach Joel Quenneville was offered a framework for potential discipline had he not resigned, Bettman gave a telling answer that flattered his ultimatum powers. “Suffice it to say that whatever conversations I had with Joel.. . Joel ultimately concluded that the most sensible course of action for him was to resign.”
The outcome was what Bettman wanted, and the means by which he exacted that outcome are not for us to know.
Bettman later expanded upon what fairness meant for Quenneville. “He was entitled to due process — in terms of letting me hear from him directly and judge his credibility.”
In the case of a rape coverup that allowed the perpetrator victimizing more vulnerable people using the imprimatur of the Blackhawks, the NHL, and the Stanley Cup, due process is when you get to talk to Gary Bettman. Judgment is when Bettman decides if he believes you or not.
This is absurd. This is the very absence of a controlled process. It is an informal discussion between two people with a transactional relationship, and without any room for transparency or even doubt. Much like how Bettman discussed the $2 million fine levied against the Chicago Blackhawks, which Bettman first framed as “substantial by any measure” despite it being smaller than recent penalties assessed against New Jersey ($3 million) and Arizona (the equivalent of about $5 million — twenty offenses worth $250,000 each) for salary-cap circumvention and CBA violations. Bettman himself personalized the meaning of Blackhawks fine, saying it “sends as intended a message as to how I view their organizational responsibilities.”
Again, Bettman’s voice is the most important in the room, and doubt is unwelcome. “Different context, different facts.” That’s what Bettman said while shrugging, declining to discuss either the context or the facts, with which we need not concern ourselves.
Bettman also unilaterally cleared Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Chevaldayoff of responsibility, despite Chevaldayoff’s participation in the May 23 meeting about the sexual assault committed by the team’s video coach. “I am satisfied,” Bettman said, “. . . after talking to Kevin and understanding everything that I needed to know about the situation, what was going on was beyond anything in his world that he could deal with.”
His satisfaction is the key point.
Bettman defined an exceptionally low standard of morality for Chevaldayoff and deemed that Chevaldayoff cleared it. His justification was perverse, pointing to:
To be blunt, if you’re aware of a predator continuing to place themselves into a position of power — whether or not that position of power is inside your organization or merely provided based on prior employment with your organization– you have a moral obligation to act. It is not morally permissible to do nothing. When the Blackhawks announced that Aldrich’s departure was so he could “pursue other opportunities,” that was evidence of a a coverup. When the rapist is soon coaching women’s hockey on a national level one year later and running hockey ops for a college two years later, that is evidence that the matter was mishandled.
Did Chevaldayoff not know that the rapist took over a position of immense power at a Division I school, or did Bettman just think that Chevaldayoff had no moral or ethical duty to speak up given that knowledge? That would contradict what Bettman said of his hotline solution: “If you see something that you think is wrong, you can call anonymously.. and everything is followed up on.” The hotline expects a level of moral agency from its callers that Bettman did not expect of an assistant general manager.
I’ll add that there is no room for “differing recollections” about the allegations made, as Bettman himself stipulated: “The fact is when when somebody in a position of authority is dealing with somebody who perceives themselves to be subordinate to that position of authority, it basically can’t be consensual.” On this point at least, Bettman is correct. Chevaldayoff was told about a rape happening under his watch; that is no longer up for interpretation. Yet Cheveldayoff did nothing when the rapist went on to wield power in other organizations. Bettman says that’s okay. “He had no responsibility for this. It wasn’t a question about speaking up. It’s not a question of values. . . What he did know led him to believe that it was being dealt with appropriately.”
Which might hold water if Chevaldayoff’s only responsibility were to protect the team and the league — not the community and not vulnerable people. And that, we must conclude, is what Bettman believes is his duty as well. In addition to being insular and beyond reproach, Bettman’s judgment is now both suspect and confused.
Gary Bettman has built an opaque and meaningless responsibility regime where his whims rule the day instead of fairness. Where protecting capital trumps protection of vulnerable people. He has no interest in building community unless in doing so he is also building revenue. If hockey can ever build a new culture, it cannot be done with him at the helm.
Again, fan outrage can do nothing. Not directly. Bettman’s position is secure only insofar as the owners are free of pressure from the league’s sponsors and partners.
If you would like the league’s sponsors and partners to know about how Bettman is handling the league’s culture problems, here is their contact information:
phone: (408) 996–1010
mail: Apple, One Apple Park Way, Cupertino, CA 95014
mail: Discover Financial Services P.O. Box 30943 Salt Lake City, UT 84130-0943
phone: (781) 737-3000
mail: 130 Royall St, Canton, MA 02021
mail: 209 Redwood Shores Pkwy, Redwood City, CA 94065, USA
phone: (301) 986-3880
mail: 5260 Western Ave, Chevy Chase, MD 20815
mail: 1919 Torrance Blvd Torrance, CA 90501, United States
phone: (914) 637-7300
mail: 10 Bank St, White Plains, NY 10606
mail: 1295 State Street, Springfield, MA 01111-0001
Navy Federal Credit Union
mail: 820 Follin Lane, NFCUHeadquarters Building, Lobby Level, Vienna, VA 22180
New Amsterdam Vodka
mail: 3999 West Chester Pike, Newtown Square, PA 19073
mail: 1095 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10036, USA
mail: Expedia Group, 1111 Expedia Group Way West, Seattle WA 98119
phone: 1 800-343-3548
mail: 245 Summer St, Boston, MA 02210, United States
phone: (330) 796-2121
mail: 200 Innovation Way, Akron, OH 44316
phone: (800) 255-3987
mail: 6565 Headquarters Dr, Plano, TX 75024
mail: 6300 Wilson Mills Rd, Mayfield, Ohio, United States
Procter & Gamble
mail: 1 P&G Plaza Cincinnati, OH 45202
phone: (203) 877-4281
mail: 325 Sub Way, Milford, CT 06461
phone: (949) 863-4500
mail: 1 Glen Bell Way Irvine, CA 92618
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