Commentary Violence

Patrick Kane and the Culture of Disbelief About Rape

Katie Klabusich

Right now I have to consider that this season I may be a rape survivor cheering for a team led by an accused rapist.

Practically everyone in Chicago has a Patrick Kane story.

As a former bartender who was slinging drinks in the Windy City when hockey reappeared like magic on our televisions in 2007 turning a lost generation of Chicagoans into fans of the young, exciting team featuring first-year phenom Kane and his captain, Jonathan Toews, I certainly have mine. And though I’ve always been more of a Patrick Sharp girl (I’m almost done crying about the trade), I’ve appreciated Kane’s work on the ice—delivering three championships in six seasons. I’ve also sort of appreciated him in a bizzaro feminist way for having managed his party rep without his name being automatically associated amongst service staff with misconduct allegations à la Steelers champion quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Until now.

Blackhawks fans who had planned to spend the summer celebrating the return of Lord Stanley’s Cup must instead come to terms with the news that their star 26-year-old forward is an accused rapist. As criminal defense attorney turned sports reporter and rape survivor Julie DiCaro has covered so adeptly for the Chicago Tribune, some are handling it better than others.

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“When it comes to the Kane investigation, Internet stupidity abounds,” writes DiCaro, below a list of representative examples. “And while it’s tempting to laugh off some of the comments as written by misguided juveniles with a serious case of hero worship, the problem is actually much bigger. Tweets, comments, rumors and news reports like those above are reflective of the way our society treats those who report rape.”

While local radio hosts and writers are largely handling the situation with grace and consideration for all involved, DiCaro’s words aren’t hitting home for a significant portion of the Blackhawks fan base. You couldn’t pay me enough to be a call screener for a local sports station right now.


Kane spent Saturday, August 2 at SkyBar, a popular nightclub in his hometown of Buffalo, New York, reportedly leaving around 3 a.m. with two women to continue partying at his house in nearby suburban Hamburg. Around 4 a.m., one of the women—whose name is being withheld (police say they are abiding by a gag order)—went into another room by herself; Kane reportedly followed and raped her.

The alleged victim then did what rape culture deniers demand of all sexual assault survivors: she 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. To their credit, Hamburg police appear to be taking her accusations seriously; they have searched Kane’s home and the case has been assigned to Roseanne John, head of the Special Victims Unit in the Erie County District Attorney’s Office. Research outlined in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence estimates that almost half of rape survivors who report experience “secondary victimization” by law enforcement. Being believed by enough personnel (most rape victims must tell their stories repeatedly) to prompt the search of a local celebrity’s home and the hiring of an expert SVU prosecutor before potential charges are filed shows a level of engagement and willingness to believe the victim we can’t, unfortunately, take for granted.

According to details obtained by the Buffalo News, the alleged victim even bears the marks rape apologists and perpetrators of the “stranger rape myth” expect of anyone truly not consenting to the encounter: bite marks on her shoulders and a scratch on her leg. She has behaved as a supposedly model victim, fighting back physically and then legally, risking the public ridicule that descends upon anyone who dare sully the name of a beloved athlete.

Obviously, I don’t know exactly what happened that night; I’m not privy to the ongoing police investigation or hospital reports and I haven’t had interview time with Kane’s accuser. What I do know is that statistically, I can’t expect relief for the knot in my stomach that formed when I first saw headlines of the incident. Research tells us that more than 92 percent of rape reports are credible. Considering we hardly have a contingent of rape survivors who were granted fame and fortune as a reward for accusing a well-known man of assault, I’m inclined to eschew society’s unfortunate convention and simply believe her until I see evidence she put herself through this ordeal without cause.

I’m not on a jury, so save the “innocent until proven guilty” nonsense. That’s a legal term, not a cultural requirement.

And, listen. I’ll be uncomfortably honest: like any fan of any sport (or anything, really), my heart sank when I heard that an integral member of a team I have rooted for—whose jersey hangs in my closet—was being investigated for something heinous. Also like any fan, my first impulse was to close my eyes and utter the sentence, “Please don’t let it be true.”

For anyone who’s more than just a casual sports consumer, it’s understandable to hope your team isn’t tarnished or is about to lose a player so good, a mere seven years in he’s already past the 100-point mark in his playoff career. With a contract extension through 2022-2023, Kane is poised to become the most celebrated player in team history. Permanently breaking up the Kane-Toews line would likely usher in another championship drought.

So, of course I had the thought. As hard as it is to admit, that was my first impulse. I’m human, which means my brain automatically considers how unexpected news will affect me before processing what it means for other people. Because I am a justice-oriented survivor who’s educated on the effects of rape culture and understand what it takes for someone to report, I processed all of that in pretty rapid succession—but I have to admit to myself that even I started from a self-serving mental moment of disbelief.

What I haven’t done and won’t do is participate in the toxic pastime of victim-bashing as a show of support for my bro, Kaner. Almost as though he knew it was on the way, Chicago sportswriter Tim Baffoe published an outstanding critique of “He’s my guy!” style fandom the day before a rape apology-laden hashtag caught fire. Ostensibly designed to prop up #88, the #iSupport88 thread is a predictable haven for crass name-calling, rape “jokes,” and non sequitur love for Bill Cosby and other celebrities accused of sexual assault.

In his piece, Baffoe holds nothing back, saying, “Patrick Kane is not your friend. You are not his dawg, and he is not your bro … And you need to stop with the garbage default setting of rushing to defend him. Even under the guise of “innocent until proven guilty.’”

In a tight-knit sports town like Chicago that thrives on the perception of personal connection, those are fighting words. Baffoe was just getting started:

The reflex of “Leave Kaner alone—you’re ruining his reputation!” or anything remotely putting the onus on the woman involved shows you’ve let sports fandom strip you of your humanity. Your ethics have grown so out of whack while drunk on being a fangirl or fanboy that you’ve drowned your soul. You value sports over violation of the human body, and you then become no different than, say, a defender of [child-abuse enabler] Joe Paterno.

Well done, sir.

Right now I have to consider that this season I may be a rape survivor cheering for a team led by an accused rapist. And so, for the remainder of the off-season, I’m rooting for law enforcement, the Blackhawks organization, and the National Hockey League to break from rape culture and handle the case in a way that recognizes the needs of the alleged victim as more important than the reputation of the accused.

I’m not entirely sure what the appropriate action for the Blackhawks and the NHL to take would look like. How do they balance the uncertainty of an ongoing investigation with the rapidly approaching start of training camp? As writer Allan Muir succinctly paraphrased Chicago Tribune columnist David Haugh yesterday, “Kane’s uncertain legal status puts the Hawks in an impossible position. With training camp less than six weeks away and the justice system moving at its own deliberate pace, the team may be forced to suspend the star winger.”

Do the Blackhawks wait? Do they hope the league steps in to suspend him, letting them off the hook? Would the team or the league be on solid ground legally to suspend a player before there are charges and/or a conviction, as Haugh calls for?

“In the post-Ray Rice era of professional sports, a first-class franchise such as the Hawks cannot allow a player facing serious allegations to represent it until more clarity about the case exists,” Haugh wrote. “The thing about setting a standard of excellence as high as the Hawks have is living up to it; no single player, not even a living legend, can compromise that commitment to integrity.”

I’m inclined to agree that the risk of sending Kane out on the ice despite the statistical probability that the accusations are true is more risky than suspending him and being forced to apologize later, should his accuser recant or turn out to be in the false reporting minority. And I certainly applaud the decision by EA Sports yesterday to pull Kane from their NHL 16 cover and promotional roll-out:

For people who couldn’t care less about sports, why does the handling of a rape accusation by a professional sports team or league matter? I get this question on the regular every time another high-profile athlete is accused of assault or National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell does something detestable. The answer is simple: We are a nation of sports fans and human beings do not compartmentalize our experiences. It’s not just that athletes are disproportionately revered in our society; for better or worse, they’re recognizable public figures even outside their fan bases. According to a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair Poll last year, over 100 million people had watched the Super Bowl despite 25 percent of respondents saying football “has the most jerks” out of any professional league.

People are disinclined to believe someone they know is capable of a crime like rape. Seeing someone’s face and hearing their name as often as is typical of stars and champions leads people to feel, as Baffoe pushed back on, like we know them. Even if we don’t like a player very much, it’s quite a step to go from dislike to believing someone is the evil outlier our culture tells us commits rape.

Because of this culture of disbelief, the language that’s used as the investigation continues is extremely important—as evidenced by the somewhat predictable vitriol of the #ISupport88 crowd. Those close to Kane and the team have been tight-lipped, but the statements that have been made manage to walk the line of avoiding the kind of enthusiastic support that erases or gaslights victims while not openly condemning someone who hasn’t yet been charged with a crime.

Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz briefly weighed in with firmer language than sports fans are used to hearing at an allegation stage of a potential public relations nightmare, saying, “We’re disappointed but hopeful,” Wirtz said. “Beyond that, it would not be appropriate to expound upon.”

If the team makes the move to suspend Kane preemptively, it’ll be sending a strong signal not just to players, but to fans—specifically female fans. The Blackhawks boast a 45 percent female fan base that’s well above the league average of 37 percent and is partly responsible for their ability to re-sign Kane and Toews for a combined $168 million. You can’t afford that price tag without both routinely selling every ticket in your stadium and bringing in massive merchandise sales numbers. The Blackhawks wouldn’t have as much of their team intact without us.

Simply continuing to refrain from hinting at motives on the behalf of the alleged victim or from promising to stand by the accused no matter what would be a bright spot in the very dark intersection of sports and rape culture. But Wirtz and the league owe more to both their female fans and to a city that welcomed them back with open arms after years of inaccessibility. 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.

I’m rooting for the NHL and the Blackhawks to do the right thing so I can buy a new jersey this fall and cheer without hesitation for a team I love.

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