Kane’s presence on ice sends conflicting message to fans

By Editorial Board

During the NHL offseason, Blackhawks fans were shocked when beloved left wing Brandon Saad departed in a trade to the Columbus Blue Jackets. A few weeks later, veteran forward Patrick Sharp was traded to the Dallas Stars after more than a decade in Chicago. However, the most controversial change to the team’s roster is the one the Blackhawks did not make–they kept Patrick Kane.

The star right wing is under investigation following a woman’s accusation that Kane raped her in early August at his home in Hamburg, New York. The investigation is ongoing, and Kane has not been arrested  or charged by the Hamburg Police Department. If police find sufficient evidence, prosecutors will present the case to a grand jury, which will decide whether to indict.

Few facts have surfaced since the allegations were first made in August. In a Sept. 17 news conference, Kane said, “I am confident once all the facts are brought to light, I will be [found] having done nothing wrong.” 

Four sources familiar with the case told The Buffalo News that a rape kit revealed Kane’s DNA was not present near the alleged victim’s genital area but rather on her shoulders and under her fingernails. On Aug. 12, EA Sports dropped Kane from the cover of the NHL 16 video game amid the investigation. Aside from that, Kane has faced no consequences.

Kane played in the Blackhawks’ first preseason scrimmage Sept. 18, ending any speculation the Blackhawks or the league would suspend Kane until the investigation concluded. The Blackhawks’ and the NHL’s inaction was confirmed again Oct. 7 when Kane played during the Blackhawks’ season opener. 

The team’s home game promotional schedule, released Oct. 1, includes a Kane bobblehead night on Jan. 24. Even if Kane has not been charged with any crimes, he is still under investigation for allegedly committing a felony. Announcing the giveaway before the investigation has concluded gives the impression that the team assumes there’s no chance of Kane being prosecuted

It is not the NHL’s responsibility to determine if Kane is innocent or guilty of the crime. A suspension is not a guilty verdict or a prison sentence. Some may claim a suspension hurts Kane’s image, but the damage has already been done by the extensive media coverage. Columnists and fans alike have weighed in on Kane’s innocence. If the NHL was concerned about a suspension being misconstrued as evidence of Kane’s guilt, a press conference explaining the necessity of Kane’s suspension—such as respect for sexual assault victims—could clear any misconceptions.

NHL officials have said little regarding their lack of action. On Sept. 9, Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “We’re going to have to watch the process play out and at the appropriate time, we’ll make whatever decisions have to be made.” 

Section 18-A.5 of the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement grants Bettman the power to suspend players indefinitely during criminal investigations “where the failure to suspend the player during this period would create a substantial risk of material harm to the legitimate interests and/or reputation of the League.”

NHL officials may be concerned that a noteworthy suspension would be detrimental to the league, but what truly harms the NHL’s reputation is becoming known as yet another professional sports league that is dismissive of claims against its players. In this instance, Kane is more than an employee or a professional athlete. The NHL has missed an opportunity to set a no-tolerance precedent for players. Kane’s presence on the ice during the investigation delivers a loud and dangerous message—the money Kane will bring in, the goals he will score and the wins he will lead his team to are all valued more than the alleged victim’s claims.