Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Mario Lemieux deploys signature move: Staying silent on sexual assault

The Penguins’ latest hiring controversy is squarely in line with how Mario Lemieux has conducted himself in the past.
The Penguins’ latest hiring controversy is squarely in line with how Mario Lemieux has conducted himself in the past.
Photo: Getty Images

Because hockey can’t have nice things, nor does it really deserve them: In the immediate aftermath of the news that they had locked in on a starting date for a new season and the players had turned back to the owners, a lawsuit against one of its signature teams for staying silent on sexual assault came on the scene. This is a league that still is completely balloon-handed when it comes to dealing with sexual assault, and in the Pittsburgh Penguins, it seems to have a particular home with their owner, Mario Lemieux.

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First, today’s story. A former assistant coach for the Penguins AHL affiliate in Wilkes-Barre, Jarrod Skalde, has sued the team accusing it of retaining its head coach, Clark Donatelli, whom the Penguins knew to be a serial sexual harasser and had assaulted Skalde’s wife, Erin. Skalde claims that he went to the Penguins front office, including now-Wild GM Bill Guerin, to report the assault, and Guerin told him they had to keep it quiet.

The lawsuit alleges that the Penguins were aware of myriad other inappropriate behavior that Donatelli was guilty of, and yet never punished him in any way, which could be argued provided a runway for Donatelli to become more dangerous. Donatelli resigned as the WBS Penguins head coach in June 2019, about a week after Skalde had told them about the assault of Erin. Even after his resignation, the Penguins reiterated their preference for keeping any word of Donatelli’s actions out of the public eye. The lawsuit also states that the Penguins never contacted Erin Skalde about her assault, whether to investigate or provide any measure of support.

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Skalde himself was fired from the organization a year later, and it was labeled COVID-related cuts by the Penguins.

It’s not surprising, though no less sickening, that an organization run by Mario Lemieux would do its best to turn the other way or try and stay silent about sexual assault. It’s something of a signature move for him.

Lemieux was said, by witnesses and the alleged victim herself, to be in the room when teammate Dan Quinn raped a 19-year-old girl in Minnesota. Lemieux was the owner of the Penguins when the team signed Billy Tibbetts, who had previously been convicted of raping an unconscious 15-year-old-girl, but only served time after violating his probation from that case for shooting someone with a BB gun. Here’s what Lemieux had to say about Tibbetts’ return:

I think that’s a great story. That kid faced so much adversity, did his time, came back after three and a half years. To find himself in the NHL is a great accomplishment.

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Adversity.

That Tibbetts signing was 19 years ago. The alleged rape by Quinn was 28 years ago. One would have hoped that maybe Lemieux’s views and actions would have changed in the meantime. Perhaps he wasn’t aware of any of Skalde’s accusations, though that one feels like a bit of a stretch. And given how he’s ignored sexual assault in the past, it’s hardly a surprise the team he runs would greet more stories like this with nothing more than shrugged shoulders, and eventually firing the guy who reported his wife’s assault. This is, after all, a team that in 2017 signed Casey DeSmith, who beat and spit on a woman at the University of New Hampshire.

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It should be noted that the Penguins aren’t trying to get Skalde’s lawsuit dismissed on the grounds that it’s false, but that it falls outside the statute of limitations according to Pennsylvania law, as Skalde didn’t report the assault until seven months after it took place, well outside the 180 days set out by the law. Tells you a lot.

Hockey has such a long way to go when it comes to dealing with sexual assault within its realm. It would be a boon if one of its greatest ever players and most influential figures could do, well, anything about it. But don’t hold your breath.

We can't be too careful. Two guys in an airport...talking? It's a little fishy.