Opinion: Gary Bettman is handling Blackhawks scandal like a lawyer, not a commissioner

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At a time when the NHL needed to show empathy and humanity, to be honest about its mistakes and sincerity in its promise to fix them, Commissioner Gary Bettman was at his lawyerly best.

Dispassionate. Narrow-focused. Defensive. And utterly and completely oblivious to how the NHL and the Chicago Blackhawks failed Kyle Beach.

Bettman sees the continuing outrage over the Blackhawks' cover-up of allegations that Beach was assaulted by a former video coach in 2010 as a single incident that needs to be cleaned up rather than a systemic failure that requires a change in culture and attitudes across the entire sport.

Oh, he talked Monday about efforts the league is making – they’re opening the NHL hotline to players and personnel at other levels; he’s going to ask experts their opinion on league efforts – and said he believes all NHL teams are on notice. But pressed on specifics, or asked to show the slightest bit of understanding that this is a problem too late and too big to simply be contained, Bettman couldn’t do it.

Didn’t really try, either.

Asked why Joel Quenneville was permitted to be behind the Florida Panthers’ bench after it was revealed that, as Blackhawks coach in 2010, he said the allegations against Brad Aldrich should be shelved because he didn’t want anything derailing Chicago’s pursuit of the Stanley Cup, Bettman essentially said that Quenneville had coached 867 games since that fateful meeting so one more wouldn’t matter.

Asked why there were no ramifications for now-Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, Chicago’s assistant GM in 2010, Bettman said his responsibilities at the time were the salary cap and scouting, and that it should have been up to Cheveldayoff’s boss to pursue the allegations. Pressed on whether Cheveldayoff had a moral responsibility to raise questions when he saw Aldrich celebrating with the Blackhawks after winning the Stanley Cup, Bettman basically told the questioner to move along because there was nothing to see here.

Gary Bettman fined the Blackhawks $2 million, which he says was “substantial by any measure.” The Blackhawks are valued at a little over $1 billion.
Gary Bettman fined the Blackhawks $2 million, which he says was “substantial by any measure.” The Blackhawks are valued at a little over $1 billion.

Asked why the Blackhawks were not docked draft picks, the traditional means of discipline for serious wrongdoing in any league, Bettman claimed their $2 million fine was “substantial by any measure.” Given the Blackhawks are valued at a little over $1 billion, Bettman’s definition of “substantial” is more than a tad generous.

Asked whether he’d allow Stan Bowman, Chicago’s former general manager, and John McDonough, the team’s former president, to work in the NHL again, Bettman responded with a word salad.

KYLE BEACH SPEAKS: NHL 'let me down and they've let others down'

“Those that needed to be separated from the game have been separated from the game,” Bettman said. “If there's a point in the future, where any of them are interested in coming back, and there's a club in having them, then we'll have to evaluate that. I'll have to evaluate that at the time, taking into account all the facts and circumstances as we then know, including what may have transpired since the separation to that particular point and time.

“Nobody's been made any promises, if that’s what you're asking. Absolutely not. I'm not sure as I sit here today, how I would react at some point in the future if there was a request to come back.”

So … maybe?

And in his most shameful response, Bettman couldn’t – make that wouldn’t – promise that the NHL would provide counseling to the 16-year-old boy Aldrich was convicted of sexually assaulting in 2013.

A crime that might not have occurred had the Blackhawks done right by Beach, both legally and morally.

“I would have to know more about that circumstance,” Bettman said. “I'm more focused, because of the circumstances in front of us, on what happened in the NHL environment. I certainly wouldn't rule it out. We need to know more information.

“Having said that, making resources available, it's something that I will probably, not even knowing all the facts, want to do,” he added. “But I think I need to know more before I can make the type of blanket commitment.”

Actually no. The right answer to this question – the right answer to every question Bettman got Monday – was that the Blackhawks, and by extension the NHL, screwed up, and they’re committed to doing whatever it takes to fix a culture that places winning above a player’s safety and well-being.

Bettman contends that this culture is already changing, citing the horror and anger many players have expressed over the last week. But he must have missed Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane expressing sympathy for Bowman and the other now-departed Blackhawks executives, the stars’ feelings framed by their interactions with the men.

When it comes to preventing sexual misconduct and the atmosphere that enables it, personal feelings must be left aside. Considering someone a “good guy” does not preclude him from also being a predator. Or, in this case, an enabler.

That Kane and Toews don’t recognize that means they don’t fully understand the dynamics that allowed Aldrich to operate unchecked. It also means they won’t necessarily recognize it if it happens again, and that someone else in Beach’s position might not feel comfortable going to them for help.

It means the cycle hasn’t been stopped. Only put on hold. Any expert in sexual abuse prevention could tell Bettman that.

Lawyers can solve a lot of problems. But the NHL's current crisis isn't one of them.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman not handling Blackhawks scandal well