The Pitt News

Guilty or not guilty, do not hold star athletes above reproach

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Patrick Kane is seen at a press conference before the start of the Chicago Blackhawks training camp on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, at the University of Notre Dame Compton Family Ice Center in South Bend, Ind. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Patrick Kane is seen at a press conference before the start of the Chicago Blackhawks training camp on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, at the University of Notre Dame Compton Family Ice Center in South Bend, Ind. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

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Patrick Kane is seen at a press conference before the start of the Chicago Blackhawks training camp on Thursday, Sept. 17, 2015, at the University of Notre Dame Compton Family Ice Center in South Bend, Ind. (Antonio Perez/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

By Stephen Caruso / Assistant Sports Editor

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One year ago, ex-NFL running back Ray Rice was all over the news.

Now, another league’s star is embroiled in an equally ugly case, with little to no media backlash.

Rice was a star athlete in the NFL, but Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks is the absolute star of the NHL.

Kane was the first overall pick in the 2007 NHL draft, a rookie of the year, a three-time Stanley Cup champion, a four-time All Star and a silver medal winner for the U.S. Olympic hockey team.

His popularity is unmatched — literally. No. 88 Kane jerseys sold the most in 2014.

That popularity has not waned following the accusation that Kane raped a woman in his New York home on Aug. 2.

The details of the case are messy so far. A DNA test found none of Kane’s DNA “from the waist down” on the accuser on Sept. 20, but did find it on her shoulders and under her fingernails.  On Sept. 23, the evidence bag labeled with the accuser’s name — which should have contained the rape kit — ended up on the alleged victim’s mother’s doorstep.

Since then, the alleged victim’s attorney, Thomas Eoannou, has dropped the case over concerns of the mother’s story about finding the bag, in light of the Erie County Police claiming to have all the evidence accounted for. But before his exit, Eoannou made an interesting point.

“Victim-bashing is atrocious,” Eoannou announced at a press conference Wednesday. “It has been absolutely devastating to my client.”

Forget the evidence tampering, though and the lack of media coverage — because, let’s face it, the NHL is squarely at the bottom of the big four sports in the United States. Even forget the lack of action by the NHL and the Blackhawks against Kane — though EA Sports did remove him from the cover of its upcoming NHL video game.

There is a bigger issue at hand. Blackhawks fans — and hockey fans in general — are defending Kane enthusiastically.

Fans greeted Kane with cheers when he took the ice at Blackhawks training camp on Sept. 18. Meanwhile, #ISupport88 has gained traction on Twitter. While it isn’t trending, a search reveals plenty of tweets using the hashtag declaring that Kane “should stay strong,” and that the accuser is a “hoe” who simply wants some of Kane’s money.

As Eoannou said in his press conference, “this is a classic example of why rape victims don’t come forward.”

With Eoannou’s dropping of the case, Twitter critics will become more vile. But this isn’t about whether the case was credible or not. This is about how we as a society respect victims and apply our empathy.

When sexual assault allegations come forth against someone, we rush to defend the accused. Plus, sports can reveal traits — machismo, arrogance, hero worship — that make it easy to blame the victim.   

How many defended Ben Roethlisberger, Kobe Bryant and Jameis Winston as the victims of “gold diggers,” just like with Kane?

A lot.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers still selected Winston with the second overall pick in the NFL draft last year, his rape allegation swept together with other minor crimes — like a citation for shoplifting crab legs — as “off the field issues.”

Even if Kane’s case joins the ranks of the falsely accused, it does not invalidate past, present or future cases against famous athletes.

As for Roethlisberger, the NFL slapped him with a four-game suspension — reduced from six by the league — to start the 2010 season. He then led his team to the Super Bowl, with commentators crafting a tale of him overcoming adversity.

We made a multi-million dollar star quarterback a victim, instead of the person claiming they were violated in an emotional, psychologic and physical manner. That’s why the survey results that Pitt just released showed that most college students who have been sexually assaulted don’t come forward because of shame or the difficulty of dealing with the emotional consequences.

It’s even worse, though, that adoring fans heap these athletes with extra praise for being accused of wrongdoing.

I’m not saying I think Kane is guilty. The case is getting more confusing as time goes on. But the accuser — and any other person who comes forward with such allegations — deserves just as much support and respect as the #ISupport88 hashtag gives Kane.

Detractors point to the Duke lacrosse case — where a woman falsely accused the team of raping her — as why we should shy away from sensationalizing rape accusations. The North Carolina courts found all three accused players innocent in the aftermath of a case that forced them to transfer to new schools and tarnished their names for life.

But their case is the exception that proves the rule. According to the Washington Post, only 2 percent of rape cases filed to police turn out to be false. 

Even if Kane’s case joins the ranks of the falsely accused, it does not invalidate past, present or future cases against famous athletes.

American culture has given athletes the ability to bounce back from anything. Roethlisberger and Bryant, on charges that ended up being settled out of court, have gotten off more or less scot-free and are on their way to their respective halls of fame.

If it turns out Kane is indeed innocent, he’ll be just fine, too. Kane is already the most popular player in the NHL, so a false accusation can’t hurt him.

But I’m not asking for sensation. I’m asking that people treat these cases with respect for both parties. A false accusation and a real sexual assault are both damaging.

We can’t throw our moral outrage behind the person who we already adore. We need to step back and realize that this is a horrible situation that the accuser doesn’t want to be in either.

It’s good to have empathy, but don’t misdirect it.

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Guilty or not guilty, do not hold star athletes above reproach