I’ve been giving a lot of thought lately to what could make me stop rooting for the New Jersey Devils.
A bit of background: I love this team. This team actually went out and found me and brought me to the arena, in the form of a promotion that rewarded excellent report cards with free tickets. Basically, the Devils knocked on my door when I was in 6th grade and asked me to please come to a couple games, on them, because they would very much like to have a smart kid like me as a fan. I had never seen hockey before, either live or on TV, yet as an 11-year-old girl I got to treat my dad to two live NHL games. They were, of course, amazing. They were live hockey. I loved them and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Not only that, but I brought hockey to the rest of my family. I didn’t inherit my fandom but rather was a first-generation hockey lover whose father, sister and even sports-averse mother became Devils fans after I introduced them to the team. My family got to enjoy three Stanley Cups because of me. And I got to enjoy all of it because the Devils invited me – female, unathletic, awkward, pre-pubescent me – to visit their house and see if maybe I’d find them worthy of being my team.
Not to mention that I likely wouldn’t have become a sportswriter had the Devils not ignited my passion for hockey. So, yeah, it would take a lot for me to stop loving an organization that has given me so very much. I absolutely root for the logo, the brand. I root for the laundry.
But I would stop rooting for that laundry if it were draped over a bad enough human being, because for all the cliches about valuing the logo on the front of the jersey over the names on the back, the names on the back matter. The names on the back, taken together with the names of those who run the team from off the ice, are what determine what the logo on the front truly stands for.
If the Devils decided to stick a red, white and black sweater on Patrick Kane right now, I believe I would have to take a break from being their fan.
As a pure hockey move it would be brilliant: Buy an elite talent at a rock-bottom price and hope he never gets charged with the rape he’s accused of committing – hope for that not because you care whether or not he’s guilty but because if he doesn’t get charged then he likely won’t miss any games due to suspension and/or incarceration. Some GMs are doing this math – one account says at least five have reached out to Chicago to inquire whether Kane is on the trading block – and salivating over the on-ice possibilities if Kane were suddenly in the line-up.
Those GMs are right about Kane’s talent and ability to help a team win hockey games but they are wrong to consider bringing him on board right now. No mitigation, no ambiguity. They are absolutely wrong.
Even though Kane is as yet uncharged with any crime, the morality here is still straightforward. If the Hawks are looking to move him at this moment, they’re looking to move him because of the rape allegation. If he’s a bargain, he’s a bargain because there’s reason to believe he might be a rapist. Any GM taking advantage of that situation would be an openly announcing that his team welcomes the spectre of sexual violence as long as it comes packaged with an increased chance of winning the Stanley Cup. How could anyone continue to root for that logo, knowing the rot that it represents?
Despite what you’ve heard, winning is not actually everything. If a team has no soul, no degree of organizational decency, then what the hell are you rooting for? The whole point of the laundry is that it represents something larger, something you get to feel you’re a part of. I don’t want to be part of any entity that would bring in Patrick Kane right now. If the Devils were to do that, they wouldn’t be my “us” any more. They would be a “them.”
Organizational decency doesn’t mean organizational purity. Every team has things to be ashamed of, be it a player who turned out to be a terrible person or an unwritten policy of blowing off concussion protocol or a history of financial malfeasance or any of an infinite number of other sins. Not all of them are deal-breakers and most are forgivable if the organization fixes the problem, preferably also offering an apology and/or some kind of active atonement (i.e. something that costs the team money). Time can also heal: People are always coming and going in pro sports, so the villain or villains will eventually depart and be replaced by innocents who have done nothing to shame the newly clean logo.
As for the Hawks, Chicago has a chance to clean its laundry right away by showing Kane the door, or at least having him take a seat until his accuser has had her say. You can’t reasonably blame the (sort of racist, but that’s for another day) logo for Kane’s presence when that presence predated the rape accusation. If I were a Hawks fan I would be very sad right now but I wouldn’t feel the need to walk away, at least not yet.
The Predators and the Kings, on the other hand, both would have lost me this past year. Nashville knew that Mike Ribeiro was accused of sexual assault before they re-signed him and chose to go ahead anyway. LA protected Slava Voynov, going so far as to cheat to get him practice time, despite knowing he was facing charges of domestic abuse. Both teams willingly linked themselves with terrible crimes rather than risk losing out on a potential competitive edge.
(And before you start talking to me about “innocent until proven guilty,” understand that that phrase is utterly moot outside a court of law. As individuals unconstrained by the complexities and larger responsibilities of the criminal justice system we can look at the available evidence – including increasingly refined statistics about how seldom rape accusations prove false – and apply our brains to the situation. If you believe Ribeiro or Kane is a person worthy of wearing your team’s logo then either you’re OK with sexual violence or you’re calling their accusers liars. If it’s the former then you’re beyond help. If it’s the latter then I hope you have a good reason, because pure numbers say you’re far more likely wrong than right.)
The Devils would be within their rights to pursue Kane, and that’s as it should be; neither the law nor the league has intervened to alter Kane’s contract status, so that makes him fair game for trades. I am equally within my rights to decline to support any team that freely chooses to put its logo on Kane’s chest. Thirty years of fandom holds a great deal of value and meaning for me, but it doesn’t begin to stack up against my need to be able to face myself in the mirror.
I will not cheer for the laundry Patrick Kane wears on the ice. If that means I have to step away from my favorite team for a good long while, so be it.