On Wednesday night, Chicago Blackhawaks right wing Patrick Kane won three awards — the Ted Lindsey Award as the NHL’s outstanding player selected by fellow players, the Art Ross Trophy for being the league-leader in scoring, and the Hart Memorial Trophy, the award given to the league’s most valuable player.
He even received one first-place vote — and a handful of third-place and fifth-place votes — for the Lady Byng Trophy, an award that is supposed to go to the “player that best displays gentlemanly conduct.”
The results weren’t surprising, but they were disappointing to those who remember the fact that Kane was accused of rape last fall and the subsequent response — or lack thereof — from Kane, the Blackhawks, and the league.
“Everyone expected [Kane to win the MVP award], because so many of the people voting have been insensitive to the issue,” Zoe Hayden, the editor of The Victory Press and a fan of the NHL, told ThinkProgress. “The signal it sends is that the mainstream media members don’t care [about violence against women]. I think that’s almost worse than the league insulating him, because the media members are supposed to be the people who hold the league accountable, and who dispense information and cultural sensibilities about sports.”
Last August, a woman accused Kane of overpowering and raping her at his house in Buffalo, New York, after the two met at a bar earlier that evening. She allegedly had bite marks on her shoulders and a scratch on her leg afterwards, and immediately went to the hospital and called the police. As soon as the allegations became public, the narrative embraced by Kane’s supporters and prominent members of the sports media was that this woman was drunk, promiscuous, and asking for it.
With the investigation ongoing, Kane reported to NHL training camp in September and gave a “tone deaf” press conference, apologizing to his family, friends, and teammates for creating a “distraction” and maintaining his innocence.
Then, after a few bizarre twists and turns involving a fake rape kit led to the alleged victim’s lawyer withdrawing from the case, Kane was paraded onto Soldier Field before a Chicago Bears game with the Stanley Cup trophy, and the Blackhawks announced a Patrick Kane bobblehead night.
He didn’t just get to continue getting paid for performing his high-profile job during an ongoing sexual assault allegation, he was actively promoted and celebrated by the NHL and the Blackhawks, and never expressed concern for the woman involved or victims anywhere.
Ultimately, the district attorney decided not to press charges and the NHL declared the allegation was “unfounded,” without giving any information about the investigation that led to that conclusion.
“That statement only has one intention — to discredit and humiliate this woman,” Hayden said.
Shocking Rape Case Won’t Result In Charges Against Pro Hockey PlayerSports by CREDIT: Nam Y. Huh, AP After a three-month investigation, there will be no rape charges brought against…thinkprogress.orgDespite the clamoring from both sides of the fence, the topic of how to deal with violence against women in sports is always more cloudy than clear. The notion that allegations should immediately lead to suspensions or that convictions should equal lifetime bans are both dangerous and rife for abuse. However, it’s also true that the legal system is notoriously bad at handling cases of violence against women, and sports culture has historically propped up and even popularized rape culture.
So there needs to be a system in place where allegations are handled seriously and transparently by the police, the legal system, the media, the players, the fans, the teams, and the league. In Kane’s case, that didn’t happen. In fact, far from it.
“It’s not even an issue of whether or not he’s innocent at this point,” Hayden said. “Regardless of his innocence or his guilt, his reaction and the NHL’s reaction was deplorable. They went out of their way to discredit and ignore her. So regardless of whether or not he hurt that woman, he treated her so badly afterwards.”
Kane isn’t the only one who showed disregard for victims. After the charges were dropped, many NHL writers seamlessly transitioned the narrative into one of redemption for Kane — one writer even wrote that Kane “distances himself from allegations with point streak” back in December.
Regardless of his innocence or his guilt, his reaction and the NHL’s reaction was deplorable.
It’s easy to see how this could happen. It’s tempting to try to tie this tale up neatly with a bow — Kane was accused of a horrible crime, he wasn’t charged, and then he had the best season of his career. But that story ignores the complicated and uncomfortable context that surrounds it: The horrible crime Kane was accused of is one that 1 in 6 women in America will experience in their lifetimes, yet less than one percent of its perpetrators ever go to prison.
This isn’t to say that everyone who wrote about Kane’s hockey prowess or voted him for MVP is a rape apologist. But it does mean they are participating in a culture that has repeatedly focused on the greatness of athletes while ignoring or even outright discouraging accusations of violence against women.
Dismantling that culture is not easy, and it doesn’t happen by always following the most popular path. There is not always going to be video of a football player punching his girlfriend in an elevator or witnesses catching a college swimmer raping an unconscious woman behind a dumpster. Sometimes it comes down to believing women, or at the very least refusing to support a system that belittles allegations from the outset.
“I think people are desperate for there to be this clear-cut case of right and wrong, for there to be real black-and-white answers to these things. We want to continue to value these people. We don’t want to ask difficult questions, about the athletes or about ourselves. We want it to be clear,” Hayden said. “Women and victims and queer and trans people make these [tough choices about who to support] really often, but a lot of men don’t have to make these choices in order to survive or be happy.”
Kane deserved to win the Art Ross trophy — an award specifically given to the player who scored the most points that season. But the MVP award is something bigger. That player is the face of the league. That award is subjective. One hundred and twenty-one PHWA members — a group we can safely assume is overwhelmingly male — made the decision to provide Kane with the biggest yearly individual award in hockey.