Last Wednesday on Valentine’s Day, that most holy of Hallmark holidays, the Hawks did something incredibly stupid even for them, with their tweet of Patrick Kane clad in rainbows pushing their Hockey is for Everyone night, which took place during Thursday’s game against the Ducks. (For this event, or promotion, or whatever it should be called, the Hawks hosted a women’s hockey team from a majority-Muslim country as well as sled hockey players who will compete in the Paralympics; a nod to diversity, two thumbs up, yay team.)
Sam very thoroughly analyzed why it’s total bullshit to use Kane as the face of feel-good initiatives like this, and there is a current running underneath this kind of dumbfuckery (I won’t excuse it with a term like “tone-deafness”) that demonstrates how teams, and this league in general, are seemingly impervious to change or actual morality.
You see, every time I see a man like this, a man who is strongly suspected of having violated a woman, a man who uses his popularity and fame to get out of paying for that violation, or at the very least uses them to dispel and ignore the allegation, it reminds me, and so many women like me, of how they get away with what they did—how they have the ability to act with impunity. The reason this cultural moment has been so refreshing is because these men who had been protected in entertainment, tech, and other industries are finally facing consequences for their actions. But the sports world, and the NHL in particular, remains apart.
Their impunity reminds me that there is a power structure and an economy behind it that values them more than other human beings—certainly more than someone like me. It reminds me that these men face far fewer questions, and are asked for far fewer details and answers about what happened, and instead there is an entire industry of apologists and sycophants (not to mention lawyers) at their disposal, while for the women they terrorized there is derision, dismissal, and misplaced guilt.
And it reminds of when it was me. Thrown onto a bed with wrists held down. Panic, and an inability to move that I didn’t think was possible. Wrists pressed into the mattress, why won’t my legs work? Why can’t I kick? How did he get my underwear off so fast, I haven’t even moved? I was fortunate that at the last second I felt my forearms come alive. I pushed against that weight on top of me just enough—there was a moment’s hesitation and that was all I needed. I squirmed out from under and hit the floor hard. My knees against cold wood.
It’s been 16 years, and sometimes it feels very far away. Sometimes it feels as close as my morning commute was today. And when they trot out these men as role models, as objects of affection even, in my mind’s eye I’m back on that bed. Every time I see something like a cheesy Valentine’s wallpaper with Patrick Kane’s picture that the Hawks are pushing, or Drew Doughty’s toothless mug grinning at me from an NHL ad, I see it. I see the face of the cop called to the apartment by a neighbor who heard me screaming, a cop who scolded me for dating such a monster but had helplessness in his eyes because my attacker had left, so there was nothing he could do but point out my bruises. I feel my knees on that floor, and in my ears I hear being whispered the questions everyone asks of the women, women like me: “Well what was she doing there?” I was in my own home. “She shouldn’t have been wearing that.” I was in an ankle-length skirt. “Was she drunk?” I was painfully sober.
But even if my answers were different, even if the answers from the women Kane, Doughty, or anyone else is suspected of attacking were completely different, even if I or any of them were out late at night at a bar wearing a bikini and drunk off our asses, it still doesn’t absolve the perpetrator who violates another human. If a drunk man in a banana hammock was raped late at night after leaving a bar that wouldn’t be acceptable, so why are we asking women those questions?
I know that women’s safety isn’t the crusade or the mandate of a professional sports league, nor am I saying it should be. What I am saying is that when you flaunt that type of man, you make a mockery of any attempt at inclusiveness or even basic humanity.
Patrick Kane plays hockey and the Hawks will continue to pay him to do so, as is their right. But is this what they want to be? Is this the message they want to send to women like me and, just as importantly, to men who can see all the benefits of getting away with it? Whether it’s a day that is ostensibly about love, Hallmark holiday though it may be, or a PR campaign nominally about inclusiveness (which in itself sidesteps the acknowledgment of Black History Month), holding up Patrick Kane as the cover boy goes beyond being out of touch. We all know who he is—is this who they are as well? I’m left with no other answer but that it is.