Chicago Blackhawks fire longtime athletic trainer of minor league affiliate for sexual harassment

The Chicago Blackhawks fired the longtime head athletic trainer of their AHL affiliate following an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment, the team said in a statement to ESPN.

When reached by ESPN on Sunday, the Blackhawks confirmed that Rockford IceHogs head athletic trainer D.J. Jones' employment had been terminated in November. According to sources, the person alleging sexual harassment was a member of the team's ice crew, and the allegations were from an incident that happened years ago.

"Under our new leadership, we have made it crystal clear that nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of our players and employees, and there is a zero-tolerance policy for any violation of our standards of conduct in our organization," the team said in the statement. "We have done a lot of work to ensure an environment where employees are encouraged to feel safe coming forward, even if it is about wrongdoing that occurred in the past.

"Recently, when allegations of sexual harassment in 2014 by D.J. Jones, the head athletic trainer for the Rockford IceHogs, were reported to the Blackhawks on October 27, 2021, we adhered to our new protocols and procedures, suspended Mr. Jones, conducted an in depth investigation over 5 days and, following the conclusive results, terminated Mr. Jones on November 3, 2021."

Jones was in his 16th year with the IceHogs organization. His name has been scrubbed from the team's website, and his information is no longer available on an internal database for athletic trainers. The IceHogs have promoted their assistant athletic trainer, John Walter, to the head trainer position.

Jones could not be immediately reached for comment. The person came forward with the allegations a day after the law firm Jenner & Block's report on the Blackhawks was released. In that report were the findings from a lawsuit against Chicago alleging prolonged sexual assault by the team's former video coach, Brad Aldrich, in 2010 involving Kyle Beach, a 2008 first-round pick by the Blackhawks. The franchise later reached a confidential settlement with Beach.

Jenner & Block, in its independent investigation, concluded that "nothing was done" by senior leaders to prevent the harassment of Beach, which led to resignations from longtime general manager Stan Bowman and vice president of hockey operations Al MacIsaac. The NHL also fined the Blackhawks $2 million for the organization's "inadequate internal procedures and insufficient and untimely response in the handling of matters."

In the aftermath, the Blackhawks said they were reviewing their internal operating structure and policies for reporting workplace misconduct. The organization has implemented new preventative measures, including comprehensive training and education programs for all employees.

Team owner Rocky Wirtz generated headlines last week after he lashed out at a reporter at a town hall event when asked about how the team planned to avoid power imbalances in the future. Wirtz issued an apology shortly after.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said he did not intend to discipline Wirtz, calling it a moment of "frustration."

"The most unfortunate thing about it is, it's completely inconsistent with all the work that the Blackhawks are doing," Bettman said in Las Vegas this weekend at NHL All-Star festivities. "A lot of personnel have left. [President of business operations] Jaime Faulkner and [CEO] Danny Wirtz are really running things day-to-day. They are bringing in a wellness department, they're having training, there's counseling, they know they have to do everything right to create an environment that has an open, welcoming and safe culture. And that's what they're working on.

"So, I just think it was an emotional moment born out of something that I know has weighed very heavily on Rocky and I think [at] the town hall and what he was really focused on was, how do we take all these things we're doing to move forward? And I just think this was just pent-up frustration. And he apologized promptly."