Dirty Laundry

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.

22 thoughts on “Dirty Laundry

  1. Thank you for sharing the boundaries of your fandom. I admire your principles, how you walk the talk, and absolutely agree with your positions. We are our principles, and without them we are empty. Knowingly judgmental, i will assume that some of those you mentioned fit into the latter category of ’empty’ humans. Thank you, your words may open some people’s minds and hearts.

  2. I really hope you don’t have to give it up but its a beautiful cogent & moving explanation as to why you might. Love & Hugs AR

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. It took me a while to back away from the Pittsburgh Steelers after Ben Roethlisberger went bad. Maybe because his presence and success pre-dated the sexual assault allegations. Plural. I don’t know. I still find myself getting huffy when I read a piece about elite quarterbacks and he isn’t mentioned, then I have to remind myself. Right. He’s garbage who points up to “God” whenever he throws a touchdown, like we’re supposed to be placated by his redemption story.

    (Of course, right now there are so many reasons for me to despise the NFL that it’s become more and more easy for me to ignore football altogether. It tugs me back on occasion, but I’m trying.)

    But it’s hard to stop caring about a team, stop being a fan, cold turkey, so I hope you don’t have to do that. I hope no one does.

  4. Bravo! You stated your case well and shine a light on the greed that turns a blind eye on evil in the name of keeping a winning edge. Evil will be emboldened
    when the bully is rewarded.

  5. Well written. Principles should trump fan loyalty. Mostly sports athletes have been sold as heroes and it takes a lot for fans to see behind this illusion. So often lately I have been disappointed by the conduct of these would be heroes. Cheating, denial in the face of overwhelming evidence, and formulaic acts of contrition seem to be the norm.
    You’ve given me a lot to think about. Thank you.

  6. I like this post.
    I’ve always said sports franchises are PR and criminal behavior is the worst kind of PR there is. One of my favorite teams just brought in a guy charged with multiple DUI because he can still play. This, after they had stated they would not bring in a player who committed an assault against a female, was convicted, then paid the woman off so she wouldn’t testify at his appeal.
    When I hear “fans” of that team say signing that player was a great move, I’m more than a little embarrassed for them. Their “win at all costs” mentality speaks volumes of how they would deal with this situation in their own lives.

    • Unfortunately, the “win at all costs” approach is also a dominant behaviour for political teams and their supporters. Calling these followers fans would not be an inappropriate label in my opinion. This is one of the fundamental catalysts influencing our systems as they break down and struggle in most places across our planet. Education is the cure!

      • Politics are just a disaster. In politics, it’s difficult to see if a politician really believes what they are saying.
        For instance, in 2008, the President said he believed marriage was only between a man and woman. Then in 2011, he changed his mind. Did he really change his mind? Not saying whether it’s right or wrong; it was difficult to believe he felt that way in 2008 — it was just not politically viable at the time.

        • Whether he was sincere in changing his beliefs and position, one can never know like you wrote. I prefer to believe that people can change their minds with new information. I’ve seen that happen with people regularly. I also hunch that it would be easier to understand if people were more open and honest about what new information made them change when it happens. But openness and honesty seem to not be part of most politician’s manuals.

  7. Interesting post! I find a lot of fans are done with players, not necessarily teams, when allegations of this nature come up. It’s a very touchy subject. I personally like to see the whole process out. However, you’ve given me a new perspective on the matter.

  8. Great post! I think this really puts the accountability of a player vs the sport and it’s power in our society in the view it should be in. Case in point – Hope Solo and the US Women’s team. I love soccer, and I watched every single game of the World Cup, but it’s definitely worth discussing if Hope Solo deserved to be out on that pitch.

  9. Actually, anyone with excessive aggressive tendencies may be suffering some form of mental illness. Harvard did a study, a minor one, into big name successful people and sociopathic tendencies. The results clearly indicated a link and pattern. Sports are really no different than politics and big business when it comes to how people behave.

  10. I so agree with your assessments. Being a lover of Football and basketball in our household, the morality standards are ridiculous and too low! The fact also when the organizations sometimes attempt to do things the fans backlash against it because it affects their favorite player and their chances at winning now for the season is also frustrating. Great piece!

  11. When I was about eleven I also began to show interest in hockey, however that was in 2011, so instead of watching professional games I began to play. I agree with your point about how contrary to cliches, the names on the back of the jersey determine the worth of the name on the front. If the names representing the team show lack of worth, then the name on front won’t be worth playing for. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the world of youth girls hockey, but this is a jersey statement directly represents Little Caesars. All the players are dirty and mean and therefore the team name has grown to represent a dirty team. I disagree with your statement about how time can heal, and that fans will forget about team villains because they’re replaced. Hockey fans will always view a team in a certain way due to a bad guy or a good guy from a couple of years ago, but they don’t forget these players. You haven’t forgotten the scandals behind the Kings or Predators. Have you ever considered the possibility, if Kane does get traded to the devils, of moving your loyalty to a different team?

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