In the latest example of a professional sports league overstepping its place, purview and expertise, the NHL released a statement Wednesday, declaring that last year's sexual assault allegations against Patrick Kane were “unfounded.”
The full missive reads as follows:
The National Hockey League announced today that it has completed its independent review of the Patrick Kane matter, the final stage of which included an in-person meeting between Kane and Commissioner Gary Bettman in New York on Monday, March 7. Based on its review, including the determination made by the Erie County District Attorney not to pursue charges, the NHL has concluded that the allegations made against Kane were unfounded. The League considers the matter closed and will have no further comment.
As Deadspin has noted, the NHL went much further than it needed to here. The local district attorney’s office stopped its own investigation last November, citing a lack of conclusive proof. The media frenzy surrounding the case -- one that may or may not have included evidence tampering -- has quieted down to a hum in the four months since the DA closed up shop, and Kane was able to shift his focus back to the ice as his Chicago Blackhawks’ season picked up steam.
So why did the NHL use this diction? The “allegations made against Kane were unfounded,” it wrote -- that’s a categorical denial of the claims at hand. There’s no hedging there. There’s not a morsel of the typical PR equivocation in the word “unfounded.” It went further than the police did nearly half a year ago.
Of course, such a strongly worded statement regarding a player’s punishment (or lack thereof) is inherently reminiscent of the NFL’s 2015 Deflategate ruling. But such a comparison begs questions of scope and seriousness. The NFL got serious flack for its decision to suspend Tom Brady four games. Then it gave the courts some serious flack for suspending its suspension, which has led us to the latest round of hearings just this month. But while the NFL may think it’s a shame that Tom Brady potentially cheated his way through a playoff game, there’s nothing seriously at stake in this league-player tug-of-war over the air in 11 footballs.
In cases and questions of sexual assault or rape, however, everything is at stake.
The 2015 Kane case was truly a circus. But that circus had torn down its proverbial tents and moved on to a different town. So why, all these months later, the NHL felt the need to set it up again by blasting out an incendiary statement is a mystery.
But for a league whose season is about to kick into high gear -- with playoffs just weeks away -- maybe, just maybe, it’s hoping to whitewash our memory of the incident, substituting definitive truths for our lingering doubts, as Kane’s Blackhawks prepare to make another run at that elusive Stanley Cup.