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    The Female Sports Fan Conundrum

    By Anna Bailey

    In the summer of 2015 Patrick Kane, right-wing for the Chicago Blackhawks, was accused of sexual assault by a 21-year-old college student in Buffalo, New York. Earlier in the summer of 2009, Kane was arrested for assaulting a cab driver, grabbing the driver’s neck and hitting him across the face. The Chicago Blackhawks organization calls these events Kane’s “troubled past,” using it as a tool to further his accomplishments as a redemption arc; he was not suspended a single game. Last season he won the Hart Trophy as NHL’s Most Valuable Player and currently is an Alternate Captain for Team USA in the World Cup of Hockey.

    In February 2014, Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his wife were arrested under the charges of assault. TMZ later released elevator footage from the same night of Rice dragging his wife out of the elevator after knocking her unconscious. Rice was initially suspended two games by the NFL, but was later dismissed by the Baltimore Ravens after a separate domestic violence incident video was released. Many sources have said that Rice is on the verge of an NFL comeback.

    In December 2015, a 21-year-old alleged that Buffalo Sabers left-wing Evander Kane seriously injured her in the hotel room where he lives. The young woman initially described the attack as possible sexual assault. Again in June 2016, Kane was accused of assaulting three different women in a Buffalo bar. He has not been suspended a single game.

    In 1996, as a freshman quarterback at the University of Tennessee, Peyton Manning was accused of sexually harassing the Director of Health and Wellness. The University downplayed the events and he was never suspended. He won Super Bowl 50 last season, breaking the record of being the winningest quarterback in NFL history.

    Last year alone there were 44 current NFL players who had been accused of sexual or physical assault, and the NHL has never once suspended a player during a domestic violence or sexual assault investigation, these astounding facts beg the question: why would women be fans of a sport that clearly does not care for their safety?

    By not reprimanding those players, these NFL and NHL teams choose success over protecting victims. In a wonderful article written for SBNation, Paul Wheeler says that these actions are “seen as a slap in the face to female fans and victims of abuse everywhere.”  You see, most people know at least one woman who has been sexually or physically assaulted; this means that victims (and most importantly, survivors) are everywhere. Survivors are sports fans. Some survivors are Chicago Blackhawks fans, some are Baltimore Ravens fans. Some have already thrown in the towel and called it quits. They’ve backed away from the sport that gave them so much joy, because they couldn’t bear how terribly they were indirectly being treated.  

    For some of us though, we work hard on compartmentalizing.

    There was an amazing Twitter thread a couple days back talking about the repercussions of constantly negotiating with ourselves as to whether enjoying the sport is worth the silencing of victims. As female fans, we are forced to do so much more research on whether a team’s star player has been accused of assault, because once it’s talked about for a couple months, or maybe even just a few weeks, it’s suddenly swept under the rug as if something like rape or abuse just goes away. The star player is back to being praised and awarded, while the victim has to watch them every Sunday night. As female fans, we have to do so much more to show that we care about the safety of women while also enjoying the game.

    What we can do, though, is stop the silencing of these voices. We can support causes like #hockeyfightsDV. We can hold Roger Goodell accountable when he says the league will do a better job at providing resources to victims. Because if we leave, if we stop raising hell over Patrick Kane or Adrian Peterson or Ben Roethlisberger, then who’s going to be on the victims’ side?

    But it isn’t just the organizations that are pushing away women – it’s most importantly the male fans. When these conversations are brought up, there are constant reminders that there are such things as false accusations; that women are more likely to scream “rape!” at an athlete with money. But, that really isn’t true. About 60% of rapes are never reported, and out of the 40% that are reported, only 2% are considered false or baseless. It is more common for a man to be raped by another man (about 9%) than it is for a false claim to be reported. But when having these conversation with male fans, it sounds as if that 2% is almost 100%. They’ll buy their jerseys and tell you that off-ice/field/pitch antics don’t stop them from being the best ball player. It doesn’t, and it’s evident that most of the time these players are the cream of the crop, but if fans’ excuse is that this misrepresentation of women comes from the fact that the league has more knowledge about the case than us, then our problem is less about what actually happened and more about how the league is handling the allegations and cases.

    As with any domestic violence and sexual assault case, we’ll never really know what happened but it doesn’t matter because even if someone like Patrick Kane didn’t commit that heinous act, the NHL and the Blackhawks organization failed its female fans by dismissing the matter of sexual assault in the NHL as something completely irrelevant to them, which fits perfectly in the larger pattern of organizations ignoring the safety and dignity of women.  

    So, I’ll continue to watch and cheer but most importantly, I’ll do my research and support domestic violence and sexual assault initiatives, and not let those voices be silenced because that’s my duty as a female fan. I encourage you to do the same.