Editorial

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff says he had no reason to follow up on allegations of sexual harassment against a video coach 11 years ago when he was the assistant general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff says he had no reason to follow up on allegations of sexual harassment against a video coach 11 years ago when he was the assistant general manager of the Chicago Blackhawks.

Although he knew about the allegations and admits he was shocked by them, it was up to others in more senior positions to deal with the matter, he said. Mr. Cheveldayoff, who was exonerated by the NHL and the Winnipeg Jets for his role in the case, says he assumed the allegations against then-Blackhawks video coach Brent Aldrich were being investigated by senior management.

Mr. Cheveldayoff said Tuesday had he known at the time the allegations involved sexual assault (which no one in management knew in 2010 because the player in question, Kyle Beach, had not yet revealed the full scope of the allegations), he may have acted differently.

<p>JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff meets media Tuesday. </p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff meets media Tuesday.

Because the allegations were limited to sexual harassment, Mr. Cheveldayoff says it was not his place to speak up or get involved. It’s a stunning admission. It demonstrates at best a woeful lack of understanding of the seriousness of sexual harassment – where, in this case, a coach allegedly used his power over players to try to engage in unwelcome sexual activity – and at worst, indifference to it.

Mr. Cheveldayoff told investigators, who conducted an independent probe into the case for the Blackhawks earlier this year, that he learned at a May 23, 2010 meeting that Aldrich was allegedly socializing with players, making unwanted advances on them and sending them inappropriate text messages. Two players, including Mr. Beach, were specifically mentioned, Mr. Cheveldayoff said.

He believed the allegations were serious, recalled someone at the meeting saying they should be investigated and that Aldrich would be separated from the two players.

For three weeks after the May 23 meeting, Aldrich continued to travel with the team and worked directly with rostered and prospect players. It was clear no action had been taken against Aldrich, including separating him from players. It defies credulity that Mr. Cheveldayoff, or anyone else connected to the organization, could have reasonably believed the matter was being dealt with appropriately. Mr. Cheveldayoff stood next to Aldrich for a team photo when the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup on June 9.

Mr. Cheveldayoff may not have known all the details of the case, but he did have a moral obligation to find out why a coach who was allegedly sexually harassing players was still working with the team. He could have inquired, but he chose not to.

Mr. Cheveldayoff should be held accountable for his inaction. He should not be absolved simply because he ranked lower in the chain of command than others who were supposed to be investigating the matter.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff takes a moment as he speaks to media regarding his role in the Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse report at the Jets arena in Winnipeg Tuesday.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff takes a moment as he speaks to media regarding his role in the Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse report at the Jets arena in Winnipeg Tuesday.

The Jets GM apologized Tuesday for assuming the matter was being investigated, but not for his inaction. In a carefully worded statement, he said he wished he "could have been an empowered bystander," but continued to deny his inaction in 2010 was wrong.

Removing Cheveldayoff from his current position as general manager of the Winnipeg Jets would be a disproportionate response, considering he didn’t have direct control over the case. However, it’s unfortunate it appears the NHL and the Jets do not intend to reprimand or censure him in any way for his dereliction of duty.

If NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and True North Sports and Entertainment chairman Mark Chipman, who have gone to great lengths to defend Mr. Cheveldayoff, want the public to believe the league takes sexual harassment seriously, they should reconsider their position. At the moment, it appears they are more concerned with protecting the reputation of one of their senior executives than standing up for victims.