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Baffoe: Patrick Kane Is Not Your Friend

By Tim Baffoe--

(CBS) -- You don't know him on a meaningful level. Maybe he signed your kid's hat that one time. Maybe you took a picture with him at a golf outing a few years ago.

But Patrick Kane is not your friend. You are not his dawg, and he is not your bro. For all intents and purposes, he doesn't care about you, no matter how many times you've swooned at him saying something about "not being able to accomplish this without you great fans."

And you need to stop with the garbage default setting of rushing to defend him -- even under the guise of "innocent until proven guilty."

History tells us that a story like this sexual assault allegation against Kane does not end well for anyone involved. It also suggests that should an outcome conclude in favor of Kane, the rape culture we live in and unbalanced system of law enforcement and judicial process in sexual assault cases does not mean he did nothing wrong.

I want you to realize that right now and acknowledge it and give it the credence it deserves. A lack of charge, prosecution or guilty verdict over sexual assault does not mean sexual assault did not occur. It's entirely possible no wrongdoing on Kane's part went on, but "innocent until proven guilty" applies to this particular celebrity avoiding jail time. It does not exonerate him from what he and his accuser know happened between them. It does not help his frat-boy reputation, which isn't illegal but damn sure isn't palatable once is crosses the line between drunk video cult hero and this kind of accusation. And it does not make his words at the most recent Blackhawks rally any less prophetic.

Our selfish fan culture causes us to reflexively think, "Whoa, I hope Kaner comes out OK from whatever this is (and doesn't miss any playing time for the Hawks)." That reaction, of course, fails to consider the other mentioned person supposedly involved — the unnamed woman.

In Chicago, we have been largely free of our star athletes being involved in crimes against women. Ray McDonald, an embarrassing most recent example, thankfully never dressed for the Bears. Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro was never charged after an "exhaustive" investigation into a sexual assault allegation — still, his name comes up at a time like this. That lack of incidents like Kane's, though, has always made it so easy for Chicago sports fans to condemn from afar.

The reflex of "Leave Kaner alone — you're ruining his reputation!" or anything remotely putting the onus on the woman involved shows you've let sports fandom strip you of your humanity. Your ethics have grown so out of whack while drunk on being a fangirl or fanboy that you've drowned your soul. You value sports over violation of the human body, and you then become no different than, say, a defender of Joe Paterno. If Patrick Kane were not famous and a name on the local news, your consideration would be vastly different. Don't lie to yourself. Same if he just played hockey in a different sweater.

Mike Ribiero sounds like a truly awful monster, and he gains further monster status more conveniently because he plays for the rival Nashville Predators. Jokes about Ben Roethlisberger and vitriol toward Floyd Mayweather are all so comfortable because there's not much connection to those guys from over here. It's easy to be disgusted at Baltimore Ravens fans defiantly wearing Ray Rice jerseys. They don't "represent Chicago," as is comfortable to say when a team wins or an athlete does society some good.

And then you get your picture taken in front of a Bobby Hull statue. Then you don a No. 88 to "show support" for the illusion of your friend you don't have.

Now the badness is in your backyard, and regardless of what actually happened between Kane and his accuser, regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the situation is going to get worse before it gets better. And you're at a crossroads for which you must make a choice that defines you and your morals.

A human highlight reel who just hoisted the Stanley Cup and had sports fans here in Chicago at the highest of highs may have done something really terrible. He is a sports star who has embarrassed and compromised his employer — again. Only this time an alleged victim now finds herself against the almost-never sympathetic sporting world and vicious misogynistic Internet that has already begun its detestable attack on her as-of-now-anonymous self in defense of their sports hero almost-friend and their own selfishness and ignorance.

Now you, the Blackhawks fan, the Patrick Kane fan, the sports fan, must treat this as you would if the same accusations were pointed at a Vancouver Canuck, a St. Louis Cardinal, a Green Bay Packer or a random mugshot of a total stranger. You absolutely must divorce yourself of sports rooting loyalties and celebrity fandom opiates.

Don't dial the phone to male-dominated sports radio to get it off your chest how much you think talking about Kane's situation is unfair or brakes need pumping or how you feel bad for a guy who once again has put himself in a bad situation. Don't add your super bright thoughts to Facebook posts and underneath published (probably male-written — hi!) sportswriting about how you think everyone should hold out the possibility that the accuser has ulterior motives. Do not contribute to a very real rape culture in this country and particularly in sports from the high school level on up that you might not want to admit exists.

Pause instead. Instead of being a producer of hot air, choose to be a consumer of productive information. Read up on what fuels conversations like these. Actually educate yourself and listen to someone like a Julie DiCaro of this very CBS Chicago, a former attorney and victim of sexual assault.

Consider how — on the very same day the Kane news broke — a college football program still recalibrating itself after one of sports' most awful rape cases ever tweeted from its official account, "We don't need your permission." Choose to be conscious that how this affects your hockey watching isn't the important thing right now. Know that rape jokes aren't funny. Know that making light of Kane's party reputation is no longer cool. Talk to your confused kids at this crucial moment where they could become counterproductive rape culturists if you allow them.

Otherwise you're a disillusioned, inhumane hypocrite superfan — you're the worst of us. And you're choosing not only laziness, fear and willful ignorance but also to fight a troublingly quixotic cause, afraid to consider the possibility that a guy who isn't your friend also isn't a hero.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

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