On Monday, the USA Today published a piece about the Patrick Kane rape case, by longtime hockey writer Kevin Allen. This article should not have been written, let alone made it past the publication's editorial staff. Allen's article paints a picture of Kane as a hero, a righteous man who suffered through the ordeal of being accused of rape. Allen's evidence is a litany of loving quotes from men -- including a surely impartial source, Kane's agent Pat Brisson, as well as his GM Stan Bowman, Blackhawks teammates, and former USA Hockey star Mike Modano who credits Kane as "remarkable" after "all that was happening to him."
The fact that USA Today saw fit to publish something like this, which uses the rape case only as a means of painting Kane's recent scoring streak in even more heroic terms, comes as no surprise. The mainstream news coverage of the rape accusations that were levelled against the Chicago Blackhawks winger has generally been deplorable, filled with exaltation of Kane and aspersions cast on his accuser. In this climate, it was more a matter of when this article would be written, not if.
This is a predictable narrative, and it needs to stop.
Allen's premise is that Kane has overcome the setback of the rape investigation -- which apparently prevented him from skating publicly for several weeks -- with aplomb. Allen doesn't even bother to pretend to treat the accuser with respect, instead focusing entirely on how the rape case affected Kane. The issue here is not that Kane may have, in fact, raped a woman; it's that he "missed about six weeks of skating that he would normally do in the summer."
Focusing on Kane's suffering as an athlete obscures the severity of sexual assault as a systemic and societal problem. Allen's article doesn't just do this in the breach: he treats the DA's decision to not prosecute Kane as an unambiguous pronouncement of Kane's innocence. It is not. In this case, the accuser's decision to decline to cooperate with the prosecution makes a lot of sense considering the difficulty of revisiting trauma through an investigation and court case as well as the extra pressure of accusing a celebrity of rape.
Nor do the inconsistencies between DNA evidence and the accuser's testimony prove that she was lying. People who have been sexually assaulted often do not accurately recall the specifics of their violation; unambiguous proof of sexual assault that will hold up in court is very hard to come by.
Allen's adoring portrait of Kane further obscures the fact that sexual violence is a horrifyingly common crime, while statistics indicate that false accusations are rare. Instead of being honest about these realities, we are invited to sympathize with Kane, in what was "perhaps the lowest point of [his] young life." I understand that Allen is not trying to write an article on the realities of rape in the United States, but that isn't the point. He chose to write an article about sexual assault accusations, and then made a choice to treat the assault case itself as a sideshow. Treating the issue glibly, as he did, reproduces narratives that marginalize accusers.
Regardless of Kane's guilt or innocence, this is inappropriate and irresponsible. It creates a climate where survivors fear coming forward. It is alienating to fans who want sexual violence to be treated the gravity that it deserves, rather than as an opportunity for an athlete to shine. Moreover, it treats athletics as somehow more important than the reality of sexual violence. Rape accusations are not a "mentally exhausting" obstacle to be heroically overcome by star athletes. Rape accusations are not a "distraction" from hockey.
We need to demand that the NHL -- and those covering it -- take these things seriously.