The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup again this summer, defeating the youthful Tampa Bay Lightning to win what many have called a dynasty-defining championship. As they have been in the past, the Hawks were carried by their dynamic duo of Toews and Kane. Yes, Duncan Keith playing over half of every game he appeared in helped; yes, Corey Crawford remembering his bygone Cup-winning form helped; yes, contributions from veterans Antoine Vermette, Brad Richards, and Marian Hossa helped; but, ultimately, the Hawks live and die with their two stars. The frontliners of the Chicago hockey renaissance, the Midwest’s answer to Crosby and Malkin and Getzlaf and Perry, even the poster boys of EA Sports’s NHL 16, Kane and Toews formed the beating heart of resurgent Blackhawk hockey. They were, in a word, golden. And then Patrick Kane got accused of raping a woman in his hometown of Buffalo.
Kane is no stranger to the narrowed eye of public scrutiny. He infamously beat a cabdriver for not dispensing proper change. As a younger player, Kane was seen as a hard-partying frat boy; as he matured, he purportedly moved beyond such frivolity, steadying his image and strengthening his reputation. But, this offseason, the accusation comes out that Kane allegedly raped a woman he had met at a bar. The case has become far more complicated and muddied in recent weeks. DNA tests were run on the accusing party; no markers were found in her panties or her genitals. Following this, the mother of the accuser came forward and claimed the rape kit had been tampered with, calling into question the DNA tests’ results. Most recently, the lawyer of the accuser resigned, claiming fabrication of the case against Kane. At this point, it is impossible to render an accurate account of what really happened, making any conclusion regarding Kane’s guilt or innocence injudicious. What, then, can be said?
Allow the following hypothetical: suppose Kane did rape his accuser. Suppose enough evidence is found to convict him in a court of law. What should happen? He should be penalized, stardom aside, talent aside, public following aside. But what if Kane didn’t rape his accuser, what if the claim was fabricated? Kane should then suffer no injurious effects, stardom aside, talent aside, public following aside, and the accuser should be punished. But neither of these will happen. If Kane is convicted, he will be defended by many in the following ways: “Kane has enough money and sex appeal, girls are just throwing themselves at him – he wouldn’t have to rape anyone; Patty Kane’s a good kid – that girl just wants some of his money and so is lying to get it; Kaner scored and then the girl regretted it next morning, so now he’s a rapist?” If Kane is not convicted, the ruling will be critiqued in the following ways: “Well, we see what the justice system cares about – sports, fame, and money, not real justice; Kane bought the girl and her lawyer off; like always, if you’re rich and talented enough, you can get away with anything.” The problem here is evident. The common reaction to either of our hypothetical scenarios is one that discounts entirely the non-guilty party.
The underlying problem here is one of celebrity. If Patrick Kane was the average American man, no one would care if he was convicted of rape and jailed for it. If his accuser was accusing an average American man, the legions of defenders of Patrick Kane would be greatly lessened. It is the public’s awareness of Kane that is wrongly thrusting this intensely painful and personal issue into the limelight. Assuming again the accuser’s truthfulness: she braved revealing a scarring event in her life to force a criminal to account for his wrongdoing. Assuming again Kane’s innocence: he has been wrongly vilified for something he didn’t do. Either way, some party is going to be injured, and that injury is not going to heal as easily as teeth knocked by a hockey puck or a cut dealt by a skate.
Fame is fleeting, an old adage goes. To coin a new phrase (and mix a metaphor), infamy is forever. Guilty or innocent, Patrick Kane will be remembered as someone accused of rape. Even if he is pronounced innocent by a jury of his peers, muttered remarks will be made about shady deals, enriching handshakes, and double-standards for athletes. As for his accuser, truthful or not, she will be remembered as someone who accused Patrick Kane of rape. Even if she is supported by enough evidence to convict Kane, muttered remarks will be made about irresponsible teenagers, morning-after regrets, and ruined careers. Whatever the outcome of this case, everyone involved stands to lose. And while some might remark that this is simply the price of celebrity, I would beg to differ. In certain issues – especially serious, damaging issues like rape – some privacy should be allowed, some dignity maintained, no matter who is involved. All that is being asked for, after all, is a measure of respect for two persons, neither of whom asked for the scrutiny they are currently undergoing.