This is not going to end well

In this post, Geoffrey Winship reflects on the complex relationship we have with celebrity. What expectations do we have with regard to celebrities?  
How might this disturbing pattern—too common of late—be changed?
Do we need to re-think the culture of celebrity?
Do we need to re-think our relationships with celebrities?
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Let me begin by saying that this situation is not going to end well for anyone. I can’t see any way it possibly could. Once again, an athlete has been involved with allegations of sexual assault. This time it’s Patrick Kane, a member of the NHL’s Chicago BlackHawks. It’s all going to be played out in the media, and by media, I mean not just television and print, but by bloggers, Vloggers and all forms of social media.
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It was supposed to be a time of celebration for the Hawks—and for Kane in particular—this past weekend. His team had won the Stanley Cup yet again, and as part of the ritual, over the summer and into the Fall, each team member gets to take the cup and share it with friends and family.
The cup has been everywhere and done everything. Players have taken it to parades, ballparks, and schools. It has been taken to hospitals, cottages, and to small hockey rinks around the world. It has been taken to their hometowns: in Finland, The Czech Republic, Sweden, Russia, USA, and of course, all across Canada. People get their picture taken with the cup as it is shepherded around the world. You can follow the cup as it makes its way around the globe, on its own Twitter account; @WheresTheCup. The cup has its own handler, and protector, Philip Pritchard, @keeperofthecup, who dutifully makes sure that it is not damaged or defamed when players and their families gather for pictures, eat cereal from it, drink countless litres of fluids from it, and feel the tremendous joy that the player they knew growing up, has come home to share his success.
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This weekend, it was supposed to have been shared in Buffalo, Patrick Kane’s hometown. A local hockey hero, this would have been the third time Kane brought it home to share. Those plans ended when Kane became the subject of a police investigation involving the rape of a woman at his Buffalo home. Kane has not been charged, but the public celebrations for sharing the cup were cancelled.

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Other professional sports leagues have had high profile cases of a similar nature. In 2003, NBA’s Kobe Bryant was accused of raping a young woman, and there was a huge outcry in the papers and on television. His wife appeared next to him, in a public show of support, looking downtrodden herself, but playing her role as the supportive spouse. Fans weighed in and criticized the victim, cast doubt on the allegation, and defended Bryant ferociously as someone who was the target of an opportunistic accuser:

 .Bryant admitted to an adulterous sexual encounter with his accuser, but denied the assault allegation. The case was dropped after Bryant’s accuser refused to testify in the case. A separate civil suit was later filed against Bryant by the woman. This was settled out of court and included Bryant’s publicly apologizing to his accuser, though admitting no guilt on his part. (Wikipedia,https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kobe_Bryant_sexual_assault_case). 

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The case was dropped and Bryant moved on, but it was unpleasant for all involved. Recently hockey’s Los Angeles Kings have had cases where two of their players were accused of domestic abuse, and the team’s lack of public action speaking out against this has been a subject of increasing scrutiny.
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Which brings us back to Patrick Kane. A gifted player, with tremendous puck handling skills and a knack for scoring goals on the largest of stages, Kane has been part of the core of three Stanley Cup teams in Chicago, since 2010. Young, immature and with a history of wild drunken behaviour, he has previously been charged with—and plead guilty to—disorderly conduct, after assaulting a Buffalo cab driver during a dispute over twenty cents. How the Blackhawks will deal with this most recent incident remains to be seen. Thus far they have issued no comment, which is to be expected. The police in Buffalo have be remarkably restrained in their releases to the press, and it’s clear that they want to do this right. Kane has not been charged, but is the focus of an investigation. He is—at the very least—guilty of incredibly poor judgement and failure to provide a safe environment for a young woman.
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It’s frightening to think that in the world of social media, this person’s name will most likely inevitably be leaked and then spread over every platform from Twitter, to Facebook and beyond. Fans will weigh in and begin the horrible, predictable and disgusting practice of slut-shaming, blaming the victim for somehow contributing to her situation. Trolls will write words and phrases that they would not dare speak in public, adding further insult to injury.

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This also happens when a woman dares to criticize a man for hateful comments towards women. Witness the vitriol aimed at Megyn Kelly, when she dared to confront Donald Trump in a television debate. Not only were there direct hateful comments uttered by Trump himself, but the abuse and mysogyny that has been on display on Twitter, in the wake of the debate, has been jaw dropping. However this turns out, it is time for the support to begin on the side of the young woman. It is also necessary that we trust that the police will gather the evidence and then present the case to the proper authorities for examination.  .

The charges should not be tried in the court of public opinion, although much of the story will be disseminated in bite-sized chunks on Twitter and other social media sites; platforms not conducive to deep introspection. In the current environment of distrust of the police in America, it is a difficult proposition to ask the public to leave everything to the authorities, but we must do it. For the sake of the woman who was allegedly assaulted, and for Patrick Kane, whose involvement has not been fully determined.
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Then there is Jonathan Toews, an honourable young man with tremendous love for his team and the game. His story is inextricably linked to Kane in a way that few other pairings in professional sports can be matched. To say that when they came to Chicago the team was not doing well would be an understatement. Due to previous poor management, Chicago was often at the bottom of the league at the end of each season. This also meant that they got to choose first in the new player draft, allowing them to get first Toews, then Kane. The two would sit together in the stands discussing strategies before the game, unknown to fans; such was their anonymity in a town that had little hockey promotion and no television deal to build an audience. What Chicago needed was a plan: players, promotion, and a connection to the community. New owner Rocky Wirtz got them the TV deal and gave the players a chance to be on a winning team. Together, Kane and Toews became the face of the franchise. Winning a Stanley Cup is difficult, but the team worked hard both on the ice and off, building a relationship with the city so that the Blackhawks became the most important franchise in the city, across all sports.
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In an era of salary caps, each team must decide how much it can spend overall; which marquee players it can keep, and which players must be traded. It’s a difficult thing to do, to keep a core of players together when their value increases with each success. But team owner Rocky Wirtz has done just that. Together with General Manager Stan Bowman, they have managed not one or two, but three cups in the last six years. They’ve given up excellent players to their opponents, but have also traded well and developed their own talent. Recently signed to a reported $84M contract for both Kane and Toews, Patrick Kane was at the centre of the team. Toews, in stark contrast to Kane, is nicknamed Captain Serious, a moniker he hates but has learned to live with. A natural leader, gifted athlete, and well respected player, Toews is the Blackhawks’ talisman and captain. Kane and Toews were scheduled to be featured on the cover of EASports’ NHL15 video game, in September, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that changes soon. As recently as a month ago, there had been talk of an eventual statue of both Kane and Toews together outside of the Chicago Stadium. It has taken the effort of hundreds of people and years of patience to build a team and a reputation. In one weekend, Patrick Kane has seen that come crashing down.
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The charge against Kane is going to involve a long investigation and it will be written about by anyone with access to facts, and many without. In today’s world, anyone with a computer can share their opinion widely, and—sadly—need not even sign their name. There are real lives and reputations at stake here. By necessity, Patrick Kane is going to live this out in public, however this turns out. Both for the young woman and for Kane, it’s going to be a rough year. And it’s not going to end well. For anyone.

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