NHL Team’s Crisis Response: What To Remember

Let’s get something straight off the top: It shouldn’t take 11 years for any company to address and deal with sexual assault allegations.

But considering it did take that long for the National Hockey League’s Chicago Blackhawks to learn what happened in 2010 and, today, communicate the action taken the team is taking after full details have emerged, there are some aspects of what’s being announced that anyone who wants to be better informed about the environment surrounding crisis and litigation communications should consider.

This report summarizes the news coming out of Chicago.

There are two things the Blackhawks did that are worth highlighting. First, the team employed a law firm to conduct an independent review. This is something we are seeing more often, including multiple recent cases involving our clients. While some will criticize that if a company or other form of organization pays a law firm to conduct a review that it can’t be truly independent. Based on what we have seen up close and what appears to have happened in this case, that allegation is simply false. A law firm that is qualified to handle these types of matters employs attorneys with top-level experience who insist that clients place no restrictions on who is interviewed and stay away from the process until a report is delivered.

We have seen how such a report can be helpful not only legally, creating a record for HR decisions (as were made by the Blackhawks, who fired top executives) and also, importantly, to establish facts, however painful, for internal and external knowledge. These reviews can also lead to recommendations for and progress toward meaningful change, providing reassurance to audiences inside and outside of the organization.

Also, the Blackhawks went straight to their fans with a message right away, which was the right thing to do. This is something we have advised, in similar situations, and hope represents a trend. The message puts things into perspective for audiences and sets a tone from the company. In this case, the team let its fans know what has changed since 2010 and what management would like to see now.

It’s important to remember that we live in a different era now. Allegations of misconduct must be addressed and communicated. There is no perfect case study. But, without any hockey pun intended, there are a couple of “takeaways” from this one.