'How do we trust this organization moving forward?' Hawks fans struggle with how to feel about team
Joanne Schmitt-Berg has been a die-hard Blackhawks fan her entire life.
She recalls skating on a frozen pond in Burnham, Illinois, with her eight older siblings. She's been to countless games, including every outdoor event the Hawks have played in.
She was first in line to pay her respects at Stan Mikita's public memorial at the United Center on August 12, 2018, five days after the legend's passing.
Eight years ago, Schmitt-Berg created a "Blackhawks Cold Steel on Ice" Facebook page that began with 72 members and has since ballooned to nearly 10,000.
Decades of love ended this year, however, when Kyle Beach brought a lawsuit against the Hawks alleging sexual assault by then-video coach Brad Aldrich.
Schmitt-Berg, a victim of a sexual assault herself 40 years ago, hasn't watch a game this season. She can't wear any clothing with a Hawks logo on it.
And she was seriously considering shutting down the Facebook page, until deciding Wednesday to keep it open so it can be used, in part, to help with sexual abuse education.
"I'm wondering how do I go forward supporting this team when there's been many lies told for so many years," said the 57-year-old Schmitt-Berg, who now lives in Skokie. "How do we trust this organization moving forward?
"I'm not sure that I can at this juncture."
Others are fleeing as well, especially in the wake of a report by Jenner & Block that detailed how much senior management knew about the assault on Beach shortly after it occurred.
A mother emailed me Thursday morning, attaching a court document about her son being abused in eighth and ninth grade in Minnesota.
A buddy of mine, also abused decades ago, sent pictures of all his Hawks gear in July. He turned a shirt into a dust rag and donated the rest to Goodwill.
"My own team should have known better," he texted. "I'm crushed today. Just crushed."
Some fans may never return. Some, perhaps, will in time.
But how will the Hawks win them back?
Because it certainly won't be easy.
A message from Danny Wirtz:
The Hawks took some good steps by making GM Stan Bowman and vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac step down. They also put out a few statements, one of which apologized to Beach and spoke of "improvements within the organization."
It's not nearly enough.
Danny Wirtz needs to come out with a heartfelt video message to the fan base. Play it just before the national anthem at the next two home games Monday and Wednesday. Televise it during the pregame shows. And put it on locally on ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox.
Make a few different versions, too, so the message stays fresh.
The Hawks need a trustworthy face running the team's hockey operations. Someone who bleeds black and red. Someone who has deep ties to the franchise.
The solution is so simple and right in front of them -- Eddie Olczyk. He could become the president of hockey operations or the general manager, but there's little doubt Olczyk -- drafted by the Hawks third overall in 1984 -- would jump at the chance.
The challenge in front of him would be immense, both on and off the ice. But Olczyk knows his stuff. Surround him with experienced managers, a salary cap expert, analytics experts and a robust scouting staff, and it's a strong possibility the Hawks would rise once again.
The Hawks should take a proactive stance in reaching out to see if anyone else felt threatened, was threatened or was assaulted over the past 10-plus years. They shouldn't be so naive to believe that Brad Aldrich was the only problem. Interview former players, trainers, interns, security guards, secretaries, etc.
Once a culture like this develops, it's possible other abusers will act, knowing there will be no consequences.
Volunteer and donate:
COVID protocols will make it difficult at first, but over time Hawks players and management should volunteer at a sexual abuse crisis center. Big donations should be made as well -- and not just by the team, but by all of the players.
Finally, as suggested by a fan on Facebook, have Jonathan Toews and others film Public Service Announcements on how to get help.
Settle with Beach:
Reach out to Kyle Beach and offer him a much larger settlement than what he is asking for in the lawsuit against the Hawks. Do not let this go to court.
Down the road see if Beach would be open to being honored at a game. He may politely decline, but done correctly this could be an incredible moment for him.
Sell the team?
Some fans believe Rocky Wirtz should sell the team. This would allow new owners to come in and give the franchise a fresh start.
How fans feel now:
Less than a week has passed since the Jenner & Block report came out, so emotions are understandably raw right now. Still, only 5% of 1,000-plus respondents in my Twitter poll said they were "completely done" with the Hawks.
That's a good sign for the team, but 21% said they are taking a long break and 40% are waiting to see how the Hawks respond in the coming days, weeks and months. Thirty-four percent reamin "completely in."
"I'm embarrassed to be a Blackhawk fan right now," Ellen Ruth, a fan since the early 1980s, said in a Facebook post on Blackhawks Cold Steel on Ice. "We all deserve to hear apologies and remorse for everything that has happened. This dark cloud has put a stain on our three championships now. ...
"We were proud of our team and everyone who got us there. Now it's all like a big lie. The devotion and love I had for my team, now feels like total betrayal. It's like finding out your favorite uncle is a con man with a double life.
"We are a very wounded team that will take years to recover from this. I'm sick!"
The road to healing starts and ends with the Hawks.
We'll see if they're up to the task.
What to do?John Dietz ran a poll on Twitter to see how likely fans are to stick with the Blackhawks. Here are the results of the 619 respondents:
Completley done 4.8%
Completely in 35.5%
Taking a long break 20%
Depends on team response 39.6%