What Should the Blackhawks do with Patrick Kane?

Finally, opening night of the NHL season is tomorrow.  As a Bruins fan, I’m happy to watch something other than that embarrassment of a season last year that was filled with turmoil and apparently locker room dysfunction.  But as an NHL fan, there’s a far bigger issue.

The Blackhawks raise their championship banner tomorrow night against the Rangers for the 3rd time in 6 years.  And their superstar, Patrick Kane, is in the midst of a rape case.

Even though you probably know all about Kane (especially considering he won the Conn Smythe in the year the Blackhawks beat the Bruins — damn it all), let’s point out the context here.  Kane is probably the most marketable American hockey player alive.  He plays for the best team in the league, he’s good looking, he has no problem being in front of the camera, and he’s absolutely electrifying on the ice.  Many times, I’ve told friends who don’t like hockey that if I was trying to get them into watching hockey, I’d show them a Patrick Kane highlight video.  And if you don’t think he’s the most marketable American in the league, watch this commercial from the 2014 Winter Olympics.  Notice who’s the only men’s hockey player in the commercial.

Now, the details of the case.  In the early morning hours of Sunday, August 2, Kane allegedly followed a woman into a room in his house and raped her.  The victim did what so many (incorrectly) say that all rape victims should do: She found her friend, left, called a family member on the way to the hospital, submitted to a rape kit, and reported the incident to law enforcement without waiting hours, days, weeks, or years.

There is no reason to believe that she is lying, and Kane also has not been arrested.  The accuser’s lawyer did have to withdraw from the case because of what the Erie County DA called an “elaborate hoax” by the accuser’s mother, as she said that an empty rape kit bag showed up on her doorstep.  While that details is definitely concerning and something to watch, it shouldn’t be an indictment on the accuser’s credibility, because it has no direct connection to her account of what happened or the rape kit itself, which was always in safe hands and never was the subject of any tampering.

The debate revolves around whether or not Patrick Kane should be playing.  I’ve read two very interesting opinions that Kane should be taken off the ice by Eliza Eaton-Stern of The Other Half Sports and Katie Klabusich of RH Reality Check.  Both acknowledge that the Blackhawks are in a difficult spot and that there is no perfect solution, but both say that Kane shouldn’t play for the Hawks to start the season.

i understand that thought process, but ultimately, it’s unrealistic and impossible.  Both women make the case that it’s important to believe the survivor, and they’re absolutely right.  By the same token, both women say that “innocent until proven guilty” is a legal standard and not a cultural requirement.  And they’re absolutely right again.  I do believe the survivor, despite what my opinion is on Kane playing or not.  Around 92% of rape accusers are telling the truth, and this one has done nothing to suggest that she’s lying.

Here’s where I start to disagree.  I’ve heard the argument that “If you treat Kane as innocent until proven guilty by not suspending him, then you’re saying that the victim is lying until she’s proven not to be lying, because the only way that he’s innocent is if she’s lying.”  There are two reasons that I disagree here.  First, those who do great work to try and raise awareness about rape culture are very quick to point out that rape victims often are telling the truth about what happened to them even if they’re off on some of the details, whether that’s due to alcohol, drugs they were slipped, or just sheer trauma.  So it is possible that the victim is telling the truth about Kane but Kane still didn’t do exactly what we think.  I realize that that’s a very small chance in this case, and I don’t think that’s what happened.  All I’m trying to prove is that the idea of “She’s either lying and he’s innocent or she’s telling the truth and he’s guilty of exactly what we think” isn’t necessarily true.  This isn’t an either/or, a complete binary scenario.

Secondly, even if you throw out the idea that there could be some grey area because you think that the Blackhawks have to take a stand one way or the other, it’s important to note that I am not a proponent of believing that Kane is innocent until proven guilty.  The standard that I’m using is this: Concern, but no concrete final judgment until proven guilty — or at least arrested.

Taking Kane off the ice because he’s under investigation isn’t the right call because the investigation is ongoing and because he hasn’t been arrested.  We don’t know anything, and we can’t pretend that we do, no matter how much a case like this makes our stomachs turn.  And even if you hate what I’m saying right now, there’s one final point to demonstrate that Kane can’t be suspended, and it’s by far the most important point.

As I referenced earlier, Klabusich says in her column, “I’m not on a jury, so save the “innocent until proven guilty” nonsense. That’s a legal term, not a cultural requirement.”

What she, Eaton-Stern, and so many others forget in this case is that suspending a player is absolutely a legal matter.  Suspending a player means stripping him of his right to earn a living, and any organization has to have great cause in order to do that, much less an organization that has a collective bargaining agreement with their employees.

When I see an opinion that supports any sports league exercising its power to do just about anything they want, I question whether or not the person is coming to that opinion from a narrow-minded perspective in that specific situation.  Last year, I can’t tell you how many times I heard or saw someone say or write that the NFL should suspend Ray Rice for longer than 6 games because “They’re a private enterprise; they can do whatever they want.”  Umm… no.  The one thing that I’ll say to defend Roger Goodell (I know, I’m defending Roger Goodell, wow) is that Goodell’s naysayers during the Ray Rice case often used bad pieces of evidence to hate on him.  He obviously handled the Rice case, as well as every other domestic violence incident that came before it, horrendously, but I found it interesting that the same fans who wanted Rice suspended forever and a day are some of the same fans who still rip on Goodell for losing that battle in court to Ray Rice, when a judge said that Rice should be reinstated and the the league overstepped its bounds by not reinstating him well after the 7th game of the season.  That demonstrates a pretty hypocritical and narrow-minded way of thinking on the part of the fans.

Back to the present.  I don’t see how fans can simply say “Suspend Patrick Kane even if he hasn’t been arrested” in the aftermath of all that’s happened in the past few years when sports and legality cross paths.  The NFL, the league who owns its players’ union the most, has lost battles in the cases of the Saints bounty scandal, Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and now Tom Brady.  Think about that last one especially.  If the NFL can’t suspend Brady for something that has nothing to do with the actual court system —  and that the CBA said they had the legal right do so — because the judge says they overstepped their bounds, how in the world could the NHL or Blackhawks suspend Patrick Kane when he hasn’t even been arrested?  Rice and Peterson beat their suspensions, and that was when there was a video of Rice punching out his wife and a full admission from Peterson.

When you suspend a player in sports, that is a legal matter.  While the Blackhawks and the NHL should believe the survivor and be very concerned about what happened to Kane to the point of investigating it thoroughly, they can’t take him off the ice.  At least not until he’s arrested.  In her column, Klabusich also states, “If league rules allow for a suspension, the Blackhawks should take that action. If they don’t, it’s time for the league to revisit how it handles the misconduct of its players.”  Again, I have to disagree.  Suspending a guy is a definite legal matter, and frankly, the players’ union in any league would be stupid to agree to rules that permit the league to suspend a player without being arrested and when he’s only under investigation at the moment.

But that obviously isn’t enough, and even I know it.  As much as I think the argument that athletes have to be role models is overrated, to some extent, I have to admit that it’s true.  And sports players, teams, and organizations do represent inportant societal messages.  It clearly doesn’t send a good message that a man who possibly, and maybe even likely, raped a woman is playing in front of 20,000 people in person every other night.

Therefore, the NHL and the Hawks need to take EA Sports’ lead.  EA sports made the 1000000000% correct decision to take Kane off the cover of NHL 16.  When someone like Kane is on the cover of such an important cultural item in the hockey world like NHL 16, that crosses the line from him being an employee and player to a cultural icon, role model, and prominent example of our society’s behavior.

While Kane is under investigation, he shouldn’t be the latter, only the former — at least as much as that juxtaposition is possible.  The Blackhawks and NHL should stop selling his jersey on the official team and league sites and in the official pro shop.  He also shouldn’t have a prominent role in public team events or anything like that, and I’d even take him out of any official team calendars or those 5 second clips they show in December where the guys say something like, “Hi, this is Patrick Kane.  I want to wish everyone in the Chicago area a very safe and happy holiday season.”  He should be gone from all that.

Hopefully, my solution would send the message that Kane should not be promoted or beloved culturally while such a serious investigation is ongoing.  It’s important to realize this while also realizing that the NHL or Blackhawks shouldn’t (and importantly) can’t suspend Patrick Kane, because suspending him is a legal matter and he hasn’t even been arrested.

You might disagree, and I can completely understand why.  Let me know in the comment section of the blog or on Twitter.  The only thing that I ask is that you don’t criticize me for not having the perfect solution to this ugly issue, because there is no perfect solution.  Most importantly though, let’s all hope that whatever happened, that the accuser isn’t traumatized with whatever happened for the rest of her life, and let’s hope that we get some clarity in this case.

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