Friday, September 18, 2015

Putting My Fandom on Ice: Without Exoneration of Kane, I'm Not Able to Root for Him or the Blackhawks

Little can impact one's psyche so much as something that has supplied great pleasure & pride coming to a premature end.

Likely even more jarring is when one's heroes are revealed to be tragically human and terribly, even criminally, flawed.

Especially when both threaten to occur concurrently, our natural reflex is to shroud the latter in disbelief or disregard so as to cling to the joys now facing extinction.

Like presumably every fan of the Chicago Blackhawks, whether deeply  troubled by the accusation of rape against star forward Patrick Kane or not much concerned by it (at least, theoretically, until the ongoing investigation is concluded and facts revealed), I wish this had remained a summer of unabashed revelry over the team's third Stanley Cup in six years, with nothing but anticipatory glee serving as a welcome mat to the 2015-16 NHL season.

It is not comfortably, and rather distressingly, that I have decided not to watch, follow or root for the Blackhawks so long as Kane practices and plays the team, short of his being truly "absolved of having done [anything] wrong." For it is also hard for me to fathom much wanting to watch the Blackhawks without Patrick Kane.

Sometime during the 2008-09 season, when the Hawks were again looking like a professional hockey club after failing to make the playoffs for 5 seasons (and 9 of the previous 10), I purchased a Blackhawks jersey for the first time in my life, even though I had gone to a good number of games throughout the lousy years.

Although Jonathan Toews was also already a star by then, without any hesitation I bought a #88 Kane jersey.

While my familiarity with all NHL players, and even teams, was--and largely remains--somewhat scant, the kid from Buffalo playing for my hometown Hawks seemed as reminiscent as anyone to #99.

Like Wayne Gretzky, whose brilliance even I could appreciate, Kane is a magician on the ice, as amazing for the way he handles the puck and makes passes as for his goal-scoring.

With no disrespect meant to the wonderful Toews, Marian Hossa, the now-traded Patrick Sharp or anyone else, for me, watching Blackhawks games during these glorious years has essentially been split between loving when Kane is on the ice and waiting for him to get back on it. The 3 of 4 shifts when #88 would be on the bench was a bit akin to watching a Catherine Deneuve movie when she's off-screen.

So in August of 2009, when the incident with Kane and his cousin assaulting a Buffalo cab driver came to light, along with a sense of disappointment in him--while appreciating he was just 20 years old at the time--I reflexively, and selfishly, wondered, "Is this going to be taken away from me?" and "Did I buy the wrong jersey?"

And while Kane and his cousin may have enjoyed the kind of judicial leniency often reserved for the rich and famous, I didn't burn my jersey and by the time PK scored the Stanley Cup-winning goal against the Flyers in June 2010, I screamed my head off in joy and exultation and all was forgotten and forgiven.

Abetted by a drunken episode in Madison, WI in 2012, Kane maintained his image as an avid partier, but as he remained brilliant on the ice, he seemingly matured over the years. Reveling in the 2013 and 2015 Cup victories--even as he celebrated his rambunctious past by pronouncing "I know you said I’ve been growing up, but watch out for me the next week" at June's victory rally"--I was an unabashed fan.

And let me state unequivocally that I do not know what occurred late on August 1 and early August 2, first at a Buffalo nightclub and then at Kane's Hamburg, NY home. (This Sports Illustrated article gives a good recap of what has been made public about the night's events and aspects of the investigation.)

Mr. Kane has not been arrested or charged with any crime; not only is he innocent until proven guilty (in the eyes of the law), he is a fully free man.

With my apologies for any flaws in terms of details, semantics or breaking news, it seems the Hamburg Police Department is continuing to conduct an investigation, with--as appropriate per Kane and his accuser--a high level of confidentiality and due diligence. As the SI article linked above explains, this can take awhile.

Read this article by Katie Klabusich here.
As a layman, rather than a lawman, I'm a bit puzzled by the seemingly laborious undertaking involved before deciding to arrest or clear Kane.

I get the need for investigation to ascertain if there is proper suspicion, evidence and cause to arrest him, or not, but as detailed in this fine piece by Katie Klabusich, immediately after the alleged incident...

"The alleged victim ... found her friend, left, and called a family member on her way to the hospital, where she submitted to an exam and reported the attack to law enforcement."

From what I've read--and as is well-summarized in the SI piece--along with the accuser and Patrick Kane, there are known to be four primary people investigators have (or will have) contacted to for information: a female friend of the accuser and a male friend of Kane, who seemingly accompanied them back to his house, an off-duty policeman who served as Kane's personal driver and is said to have transported the four from the bar to Kane's home, and the Buffalo bar owner who supposedly observed Kane and the women at the bar.

Between the results of the rape kit, which haven't been made public, and the accounts of the six main individuals cited above, shouldn't there be enough evidence to arrest Kane--with possible mitigating factors to his guilt, such as sexual consent, determined in a court--or to release him without further suspicion?

Click here to read article by David Haugh on
And if not, until the police or State's Attorney "absolves" Kane of any wrongdoing, doesn't the possibility of him having committed a heinous crime still very much exist?

It was announced that a Grand Jury would be convened last Tuesday, September 8, but on that day it was called off. Reports and/or rumors surfaced that attorneys for Kane and his alleged victim were working on a settlement, but that has since been denied, and rumored anew.

Then yesterday (Thursday, Sept. 17), Kane turned up at Blackhawks training camp at the University of Notre Dame, preceded by a press conference at which he, team president John McDonough and others were embarrassingly short of forthcoming.

Many better writers than I have blasted Kane, McDonough and the Hawks for a "tone deaf" press conference--including David Haugh and Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune, Barry Rozner of the Daily HeraldSean Gentille of the Sporting News, Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star--so although I too was dumbfounded, I don't feel a need for "I appreciate the question..." redundancy.

Related takes by female reporters JenLC and Melissa Isaacson are also well-worth a read.

From all this, everyone can decide how they feel about Patrick Kane and the Chicago Blackhawks. This morning, when he took the ice for a public practice at Notre Dame, Kane was heavily cheered.

I have no doubt that every Blackhawks game will be sold-out this season and Kane will be lustily cheered in every game he plays at home. (As have Kobe Bryant, Ben Roethlisberger and other stars who have been involved in similar situations.)

But not by me, unless I am convinced that he did nothing wrong. Not simply that he remains free, avoids arrest or reaches a settlement with the accuser, which I would view as an admission of guilt.

Honestly, I absolutely hope Patrick Kane is completely innocent. And I understand there have been cases involving false accusations.

But not until the investigation or a trial determines just that will I root for him or the Hawks--and given the abysmally low percentage of rape convictions (even given the low percentage of reported sexual assaults and those resulting in arrests) and the massive scourge of victim blaming and shaming, even then I will reserve the right to form my own opinion.

I believe I have resisted a rush to judgment, always try to avoid or reject knee-jerk tendencies and am not condemning Patrick Kane based on hearsay.

But I have also been given no reason to believe his accuser lied, "had it coming," gave consent simply by going to his house nor is "in it for the money."

Only Patrick Kane and the young woman know if she was raped, and even they may well disagree about what occurred. Yet the possibility that she was forced to have sex against her will seems just as realistic as the suggestions that Kane "did nothing wrong," especially when the latter is almost unavoidably abetted by fans' desire (not unlike my own) to see him perform his magic on the ice again and lead Chicago to another championship.

Given the rape culture in America, rampant misogyny exacerbated by social media and the resolve, effort, challenge, derision and humiliation involved in seeking & getting "justice" within the legal system, I would not blame the alleged victim one iota for taking a settlement payout, even given the vast ridicule haters would rain down on her rationale.

Click here for article
And make no mistake, doing so should not "absolve" Kane nor render him "innocent."

Truth be told, if Patrick Kane were just any poor kid, he almost certainly--and rightly--would have been arrested and, if the facts should corroborate the victim's accusations, be facing serious jail time.

If he were some 4th line role player for the Blackhawks, who didn't sign an $84 million contract that begins this season, he would likely have been cut or at least banned from participating while the legal process plays out.

Most people, for many valid reasons, see the Chicago Blackhawks as a classy organization with owner Rocky Wirtz and president John McDonough upstanding, virtuous leaders.

But I still recall, and rue, how Wirtz exiled reporter Susannah Collins for rather nebulous moral high-ground reasons (as I wrote about here) during the 2013 playoffs. And let us not forget that the Hawks continue to employ and honor a convicted domestic abuser in Bobby Hull, who also once said, "Hitler, for example, had some good ideas. He just went a little bit too far."

At a time when I believe the Washington Redskins team name should be excised, and in deference to the feelings of Native Americans, perhaps too the Indians, Braves and other such monikers, the Blackhawks have heretofore done a fairly good job of convincing me that their name, logo and community efforts benevolently honor the original inhabitants of our country. (I find it worth noting that original team owner Frederic McLaughlin actually named the team after the "Blackhawk Division" of the 333rd Machine Gun Battalion of the 86th Infantry Division during World War I, of which he was a commander. This battalion was nicknamed after the Sauk nation leader, Black Hawk, who fought against U.S. troops in Illinois during the Black Hawk War.)
Even in putting himself in a situation to face such awful allegations, I don't think Patrick Kane has made the Blackhawks team, franchise or those their mascot is supposedly meant to honor proud.

I do not speak for anyone but me, and am writing this mostly for my own benefit, but can only imagine what I may be feeling if I were a woman, rape victim or father of one.

Given not only Kane's ongoing freedom and lack of arrest, but legal avenues he and perhaps the NHL Players Association could take if the Hawks try to ban him at this point--as alluded to at the end of Barry Rozner's article--I really don't know what factors and constraints must figure into the Blackhawks' decision-making.

But so far it has looked bad.

Asked in Thursday press conference if he was worried about coming off as tone-deaf, McDonough bristled and replied: "I can assure you that I'm anything but tone-deaf."

Which, as Sean Gentille well-put it in his article: "That's understandable, and exactly what a tone-deaf person would say. That's the definition of tone-deafness."

Yet regardless of bad PR, perhaps the Blackhawks figure that, like most star athletes accused of wrongdoing, Kane will avoid incarceration or anything that will truly derail his spectacular career, while knowing plenty of fans will always be there to watch and cheer, regardless.

Sadly, I won't be, not even on TV.

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