(TW: Sexual assault)
If you don’t know by now that this is who the Blackhawks have always been, I have some swampland to sell you in Florida.
Let’s back up.
In 2015, I was working for on the update desk for a local radio station, when two sources very close to the investigation of the sexual assault allegations against Patrick Kane contacted me. After an extremely thorough vetting and discussions with my boss, I began reporting some of what I learned about what was going on in Buffalo and the investigation. I stand by every bit of reporting I did during that time, even though the case was never actually charged. What it resulted in was years of torment from Blackhawks “fans,” a large group of whom are still harassing me to this day. I got death threats, rape threats, and even made national news for having to stay home from work after one very specific threat involving my workplace.
Oh, and the Hawks stopped sending me gifts at the station when they sent them to everyone else, but I stopped wanting their shitty merch way before that. Long before the Cubs minimized the allegations of abuse against Aroldis Chapman and Addison Russell, the Blackhawks were my first foray into one of “my” teams letting me down. While Kane was still under investigation, the Hawks went out of their way to push him forward in the media, sending him out in front of fans as much as possible, at a time when many felt he should have been sat down until the investigation was completed.
Looking back, what stands out to me is how many people said to me,”If there was really something to this, don’t you think the Blackhawks would do something about it?” and, “The way they’re standing behind him, they must know something we don’t.”
Turns out, that wasn’t the case.
The years went by, the allegations against Kane were forgotten. The Hawks made him the face of their franchise. I watched little girls walking around in Kane jerseys and saw the sanitization of his image. Even now, someone thought it was a good idea to ask him to weigh in on the sexual assault allegations against former video coach Brad Aldrich.
I can hear my critics now. “Here she goes again, making this all about her.” But that’s entirely the point. When teams purposefully cover up allegations of abuse and sexual assault, it affects all of us. From those on the team to those working for the team to those covering the team to the fans watching at home. Because people put so much trust in the organization to do the right thing, it affects how we see the world. And that affects victims down the line, both in and out of sports.
I’ve written before that I can draw a direct line from seeing how Anita Hill was treated by Congress during Clarence Thomas’ confirmation hearings to my failure to report my own rape just a few years later. How many victims out there were similarly influenced by the way the woman accusing Patrick Kane was doxxed and run out of her hometown by threats? Or the way media members who dared not to declare Kane “innocent” were harassed and threatened? Threats which, by the way, the Blackhawks could have shut down with a simple statement, but chose not to.
For that matter, how many young victims see that Deshaun Watson is still being coveted by NFL teams with 22 allegations of sexual misconduct against him? Or that the multiple allegations of sexual assault against Ben Roethlisberger have been effectively forgotten? Or that Antonio Brown has been vaunted by the media (and Tom Brady) after settling a sexual assault lawsuit last Spring? How many victims have seen the vicious online attacks against those who doubt the innocence of the Dodgers’ Trevor Bauer? Can we talk about the completely false narrative that has taken hold about the way the rape allegations against Kobe Bryant ended? How about the NFL having to be shamed into actually doing something about Giants’ kicker Josh Brown? Why does Andy Reid keep getting a pass on acquiring guys with domestic violence allegations against them?
The more ignorant among us can yell “stick to sports!” all they want, but this stuff matters outside the world of sports, because it’s where so many young men and women (sadly) first get their information about how to view violence against others, against the less powerful. In the absence of a criminal justice system that works for victims, we’ve outsourced consequences for sexual assault to pro sports leagues. And that’s a problem. Because, as we’ve seen from multiple incidents, of which the Blackhawks’ cover-up of the sexual assault of Kyle Beach is just the latest, not only are sports teams not equipped to handle serious matters like rape, they don’t really have much interest in doing it at all. And especially not when a Stanley Cup run or Super Bowl is on the line.
I commend Kyle Beach for his courage. And I’m glad that someone was finally able to take on a juggernaut like the Blackhawks and “win,” for lack of a better word, because others before him have failed. My heart goes out to them, and what it must have been like to see the total and complete erasure of their pain because people loved seeing that team hoist three Stanley Cups. I hope it’s easier for the next person. But let’s be brutally honest, some of the support for Stan Bowman’s ouster as Hawks’ GM has more to do with the way the Hawks are playing on the ice (badly) than anything that happened off it. If the Hawks are primed for another Cup run, I think you see a much different reaction to the Beach story.
This should be the point in the piece where I give you what I think is the answer to this dilemma, like more prosecutors who care about justice and fewer who care about their trial record. More resources for victims of violent crimes. A world that actually cares about sexual assault when it involves rich and famous men. But my ask is far more simple: Stop giving your favorite sports teams the benefit of the doubt because you like what they do on your TV screen. Next time a victim comes forward with an allegation, let’s start from a place where we assume it’s just as likely that the team is covering shit up as it is that the victim is lying.
That would at least be a good start.