Patrick Kane is a smooth-skating American hockey superstar. He won a silver medal in an appearance for the U.S. at the Olympics. He consistently scores highly for the Chicago Blackhawks, with whom he has won three Stanley Cups in the past six seasons. Kane commands a passionate fanbase, and not only because he is a force on the ice. He constantly sports a clever grin and has developed a reputation as one of the league’s biggest partiers. For many, he is a refreshing jolt of boyhood and fun in comparison to most over-managed National Hockey League (NHL) players — men who have perfected the impossibly mundane pre- and post-game interviews. Kane’s cheeky charm has translated to unwavering support from fans, both on and off the ice. Lately, however, amidst an allegation of sexual assault against Kane, his fans have crossed ethical lines by continuing to support him while framing the allegations as false.
Kane’s uncurbed public persona hasn’t always been playful and lovable. In 2009, he was accused of assaulting a cab driver who couldn’t offer sufficient change for his fare. Kane wasn’t charged with assault; pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, he only had to apologize to the driver. The recent accusations against Kane have become increasingly concerning.
No charges have been pressed in what is an ongoing, whirlwind investigation, and yet the hockey community’s response to the allegations against Kane can largely be described as dismissive.
In August, Kane was accused of rape. While few facts are available surrounding the case, it’s said that on August 1, Kane was out with two women. Both returned with him that night – chauffeured by an off-duty police officer – to his lakeside mansion south of Buffalo, New York. The following morning, one of the women went to a local medical centre and said she had been raped by Kane.
No charges have been pressed in what is an ongoing, whirlwind investigation, and yet the hockey community’s response to the allegations against Kane can largely be described as dismissive. Dismissiveness from the NHL, which enjoys the profits of one of the healthiest hockey markets; dismissiveness from the Blackhawks organization that recently re-signed Kane to an eight-year $84 million contract, and more concerningly, dismissiveness from Kane’s fans.
Support for Kane has been unwavering – at the recent Stanley Cup banner raising ceremony in Chicago, cheers for the on-ice hero were loud. He was also honoured with his team before a Chicago Bears football game and treated to a roaring applause. More notably, people of all ages continue to wear his jersey to Blackhawks games.
[Kane’s] choice of words dismisses serious allegations as a “distraction” to what supposedly matters the most – the success of the team.
There are even hints of this dismissiveness in prosecutor Frank Sedita III’s approach to the investigation. A man with aspirations of winning a seat in the New York Supreme Court, Sedita has tread very carefully in dealing with one of his region’s most admired and beloved celebrities. An evidence bag procured by the plaintiff’s mother was deemed falsified by Sedita’s team, and Sedita’s most grandiose proclamation so far has been a 45-minute press conference dedicated exclusively to calling this bag a “hoax.” With Sedita putting repeated emphasis on the word “false” in what has been his principal public presentation, many of Kane’s fans have gone on to label the entire accusation as a lie.
The first time Kane addressed the allegations publicly was during a press conference held by the Chicago Blackhawks organization. Dressed in Blackhawks apparel, Kane awkwardly read through his scripted assertion of his innocence and apologized to his fans for causing a “distraction.” This choice of attire could suggest that Kane’s fans should also be cheering for him in the judicial proceedings. Further, the choice of words dismisses serious allegations as a “distraction” to what supposedly matters the most – the success of the team.
A Kane jersey-clad woman at a Blackhawks game earlier this month told the Guardian, “I just feel that’s not how he was raised. I feel like he didn’t do it. She got up from the bed and thought ‘Payday!’” Such comments, which hurt and belittle the plaintiff’s case and are based on nothing, demonstrate how alarmingly far some fans will go to defend the pedestal on which they’ve placed a player.
Similar comments and sentiments are prominent at Blackhawks games and on social media. Many of Patrick Kane’s fans have reached their own verdict in a case involving a person and a situation about which they know very little.
Professional athletes hire public relations experts to ensure that they present a desirable image, and in Kane’s situation, the experts have clearly done this effectively. Mainstream media too often builds up a player’s character to an unrealistic, superhero level. As fans of individual athletes, we must be aware of this construct.
In such situations, we should wait out the judicial process out of respect for the plaintiff and the accused. We must assess the media’s portrayal of the situation and reflect with a critical and objective eye, understanding that our perceptions are being carefully shaped by media professionals.
Sports fans should not be involved in making someone who comes forward about sexual assault feel ashamed or isolated, nor should they form a stance of denial when they cannot reliably access the facts of a case. This is especially important when fans’ opinions have clear influence over how a prosecutor approaches the case, or ultimately what a jury rules.
So, Patrick Kane fans – please wait it out. Maybe your fandom will have to subside for a season as the case takes its course, but better to quell your ardour and try to remain ethical and respectful observers.