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How To Be A Blackhawks Fan When Your Star Player Is Accused Of Rape

By Staff in News on Aug 10, 2015 9:35PM

Patrick Kane #88 of the Chicago Blackhawks lifts the Stanley Cup trophy during the Chicago Blackhawks Stanley Cup Championship Rally (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

By Emily Brown

What does it mean to be a hockey fan?

The rape accusations against Blackhawks player Patrick Kane have brought a new urgency to the question. I think we fans should be asking ourselves what we can do as people who love this team but are opposed to victim-blaming—even as we wait for more details to emerge.

I already have some weird feelings about supporting the Blackhawks, and have for a while. The insignia that graces the ice, jerseys, promotional materials and paraphernalia is a racist caricature. For this reason, I own no Blackhawks gear. I reject the rhetoric that the image that so many call “The Indian Head” celebrates a Sauk chief. It looks nothing like the actual Chief Black Hawk. I try to speak about this to other fans. This makes some other fans mad, but for me, trying to be an anti-racist, thoughtful person and a massive hockey fan is sometimes a struggle.

It is a good thing to be critical of the things we love, not to dismiss them out-of-hand or feel guilty for loving them. We can strive to be ethical people and embrace things that are deeply flawed, even though it feels like an impossible act. But I want to push myself to think critically and thoughtfully about what I love.

Which bring me to Patrick Kane. Kane has been one of my favorite players for a long time. This has sometimes been difficult for me, a person who considers herself an intersectional feminist. He has faced accusations of doing messed-up things (wearing blackface, assaulting cab drivers, and choking a woman at a party in Madison in 2012, for starters).

For a long time, I had a healthy amount of cognitive distance around my love for Kane. I tried to separate Kane the person from Kane the hockey star. But I can't anymore. Ever since the reports came out of Buffalo, New York that Kane was accused of raping a woman after a night of partying, I haven't been able to let my love for the player overwhelm my disgust at the horrific behavior he is accused of.

It is so important that we believe people when they tell us they were raped. This is especially true when the rapist in question is a celebrity, even though mobs of people on the internet will say that the woman in question is a no-good liar. Bear in mind how difficult it is to bring about allegations against someone who is famous. This woman is facing an incredible amount of emotional pain and bullying on top of what she has already endured.

So, what can we do as Blackhawk fans? What can we do as people who love this team but are opposed to victim-blaming?

1. The first thing is to resist the urge to remain silent on this issue. In cases like this, silence only supports the status quo, and the status quo is a culture that holds the idea that it is somehow worse to be accused of rape than to be raped. The way to combat this is to talk. Talk to your friends and fellow fans about this. Raise your concerns. Call people out when they use victim-blaming language. To ignore this controversy and hope it goes away is to align yourself with a culture that supports abusers and blames victims. Silence signals to those around you, especially sexual assault survivors, that you would rather live in comfortable ignorance than face the fact that sometimes people we admire commit horrific acts.

2. Know that Kane may never face charges, even if he did commit rape. Know that many people will blame this woman for what happened, and that many more will maintain that this is a matter for the courts, that the law will take care of this and that Kane is to be held innocent until proven guilty. These people are right—legally, Kane is innocent until proven guilty. But these people will probably not want to think about how difficult it is to bring about rape charges. They will not want to reckon with the data that shows 98 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail. There is a very big chance that this will be settled out of court.

And even if Kane does face charges, goes to court and is convicted, he will likely face little to no jail time. Know that this woman will be insulted, blamed, and called a liar at every turn. Know that while someone may be held to be innocent legally, this does not mean that nothing happened. Remember how Bill Cosby was not widely believed to be a sexual predator until we heard him admit to it, despite decades of stories and dozens of survivors. And that does not mean that those of us outside the court of law need to believe in his innocence. It is important to believe survivors, no matter what happens with the investigation.

3. Don't be afraid to disengage if you need to. If the idea of watching the Hawks play with Kane on the roster makes you feel queasy, this does not make you a fair-weather fan. It may be painful to watch someone who could be a rapist get cheered on by people wearing jerseys with his name and to know that he is being paid millions of dollars for it. It may be disheartening to see that many people do not care that someone they love, someone who plays beautiful hockey, may be a sexual predator. If you need to step back and not watch games, and not cheer on the Hawks, this does not make you a bad fan.

I’m not sure yet if I will be watching games come October. I don’t know if I can support this team at this time. I don’t hold it against those who can, who stand with the team unequivocally. But if you do, I urge you to not let your support of the team bleed into supporting Kane purely out of loyalty to the Hawks. It’s okay if you believe that we will never know what happened, but don’t take that possibility as an easy way out of critically examining the culture we live in.

Emily Brown is an MFA candidate at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, where she spends way too much time looking at gifs of Corey Crawford's saves on Tumblr.