Let me preface what I am about to say with this: I have no idea what actually happened in Hamburg, NY. I don’t know if the allegations of sexual assault levied against Chicago Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane are true. I don’t know if he will be charged, and I don’t know if this allegation will make it to court.
All of that is irrelevant to the conversation that I’m about to have with you.
In the aftermath of the Ray Rice domestic violence scandal, pro leagues began to take a hardline stance on how they discipline personnel under DV investigations. Whether or not they actually follow through (looking at you, NFL) is a totally different story; one league that actually opted to get ahead of this curve was the National Hockey League. In October 2014, the NHL suspended Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov the same day that he was arrested on domestic violence charges, despite the league having no formal domestic violence policy. Seventy-six games later, the Kings finally pulled him, but not after they were (rightly) dragged through the mud for not doing something sooner.
Voynov is still suspended, he pleaded no contest to domestic assault and is serving a 90-day jail sentence. In the aftermath of what will go down as an infamous fumble (no pun intended) by the NFL regarding Ray Rice (and Ray McDonald and Greg Hardy and the list goes on), the NHL did the right thing by stating that being involved in an investigation of that nature was both not acceptable and a suspendable offense.
With a comparable situation on their lap, the Chicago Blackhawks have the chance to do the right thing, the right way, right now.
And yes, it is comparable. In my opinion, there isn’t much difference between sexual assault, domestic violence or any other form of abuse. It is violence, mainly toward women, plain and simple. Critics will say that if blame will always be with the male party, then there is an open door–a gray area where women will trap male celebrities and athletes. But a study done by the National Center for the Prosecution of Violence Against Women states that the estimated percentages of false sexual assault reports range from around two to eight percent.
Unfortunately, this number means that yes, false reports occasionally do happen, and victim-blaming inevitably follows. The cynicism that small percentage fosters causes true allegations to be dropped or go unreported. What about the idea that one can pursue justice without harassment? And I get it, these things do happen, but to dismiss the majority because of a select few cases means that certain groups of people can try to justify these actions. There were a number of tweets as this news broke that went out saying, “I know plenty of girls that would love to have sex with Patrick Kane.” That is justifying something that (WE STILL DON’T KNOW ANYTHING) could potentially be sexual assault. And that is just flat-out wrong.
Being the subject of a rape investigation is different from being arrested outright, and I understand that, but Patrick Kane’s name isn’t being pulled out of a hat because he happened to be spending a weekend in a town outside of Buffalo. The facts of this story, so far, are that a woman alleged that Kane had sexually assaulted her, that she went to a hospital and was tested with a rape kit. The police chief of Hamburg (where the incident allegedly took place) neither confirmed nor denied an investigation. However, an NHL spokesperson told the media that they were aware of a police investigation and are following the developments. That means that there is something to this allegation, and the fact that the police are so tight-lipped means that a very real issue is at play here.
Usually it takes a few weeks for the results of a kit to come back, but the Blackhawks winger is still here, and this needs to be dealt with. As I said in my preface, I am not charging or exonerating Patrick Kane in any way. He is ‘innocent until proven guilty’ in my eyes right now, but the facts do not lie:
Patrick Kane is the subject of a rape investigation.
At a time when domestic violence and sexual assault have come to the forefront of our society’s vision, now is the time to take a hardline stance. Because, if Patrick Kane were suspended today and the investigation turned out to be nothing, then all that happens is him losing games to play. The suspensions are with pay, and, if anything, Kane would walk out onto the ice of the United Center as a tragic hero, ensnared by an ill-intentioned woman. Public and private sector jobs have the ability to suspend their employees for unprofessional conduct, and we all need to be real with ourselves. Why should professional athletes and leagues be treated any different than the majority of us would be treated in this situation?
If charges are levied and a jury finds him guilty, then the suspension is warranted, and the right winger deserves all the criticism that would come his way. By taking him out of the playing equation, the NHL and the Chicago Blackhawks would take a legitimate stance on a contentious and pervasive issue. And to those saying that a suspension would drag Kane’s golden name through the mud: he’s the subject of a rape investigation; people will be tearing him down anyway.
The point is, the Chicago Blackhawks need to succeed where the Los Angeles Kings so spectacularly failed. They, and the NHL, need to suspend Patrick Kane indefinitely from all team activities until the investigation has concluded. He doesn’t need to be kicked out of the league, he doesn’t need to be dragged through the mud or tarred and feathered in the middle of Grant Park. But he needs to be away from the team, because he does not deserve to be in the NHL right now.
Playing professionally is a privilege, not a right. To be quite frank, Kane is a player with numerous off-the-ice incidents recorded throughout his career. He was charged with assaulting a cabbie in the Buffalo area in 2009 and was accused by multiple witnesses of attempting to choke a woman at a party in Madison, Wisc.
Something has to give.
Patrick Kane isn’t the first athlete to be accused of sexual assault, and certainly won’t be the last. The NHL needs to be the first league to say that they will not tolerate this type of behavior, that violating a woman sexually is the same as causing her physical harm and that it has no place in a professional sports league. A standard needs to be set, and league commissioner Gary Bettman can be proactive even if it means sidelining their biggest star.
I’m not talking about smoking marijuana or blasting off fireworks. While those aren’t the greatest things in the world to do, they simply do not compare to committing violence against anyone else, man or woman.
I am not here to be the court of public opinion, or the judge and jury. I am simply writing to say that there is no place for behavior like this in American sports.
The story will unfold in the coming weeks and months, and this is just the beginning. But if Patrick Kane stands on the ice for the national anthem on the first night of the 2015-2016 season with a sexual assault investigation looming over his head, it will be a major loss for the Blackhawks, for the NHL, and for us.
Contact CU Independent General Assignment Editor Andrew Haubner at Andrew.Haubner@colorado.edu.