In the city of Chicago, there are certain things that indicate that summer is just around the corner. Whether it’s that first hint of warm air that nips at your face while sitting in the bleachers at Wrigley Field, the turning on of the beautiful Buckingham Fountain (made famous by the opening credits to Married with Children), or the inevitable construction that ties up traffic and irritates commuters on the Dan Ryan, Stevenson, or any other number of expressways or toll roads, these rites of the season are experienced every year like clockwork.

In the more recent past, however, a new tradition has started to weave its way into the fabric of the Windy City. It isn’t a positive one, nor is it in keeping with the old adage of Chicago that there are only two seasons: winter and construction. Instead, it has to do with a player who is best known in the city as the man who potted the Stanley Cup winning goal in 2010, but is known is just about every other NHL market as the dope who beat up a cab driver over 20 cents (allegedly).

That tradition has a name, and it is Patrick Kane, and it just wouldn’t feel like summer in northern Illinois if he wasn’t embroiled in some idiotic controversy.

Three summers ago it was the taxi incident in Buffalo that started us down the path of silliness. Charges were dropped in the case, and he skated away unscathed. Then it was the summer after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, and he made the rounds to Jimmy Buffett concerts and getting stuck in fire engine ladders with the holiest of hockey chalices. All of those seem to be mere warmups, however, for the latest bit of trouble that he has gotten himself into.

Patrick Kane Blackhawks
Does Kane need to be a leader in Chicago? (Warren Wimmer/Icon SMI)

The website Deadspin, known for its penchant for calling out the indiscretions of ESPN personalities like Steve Phillips and publicizing the infamous pictures that Brett Favre sent out, posted an article last week detailing the exploits of Kane as he stumbled around in a state of Cinco de Mayo-induced debauchery in Madison, Wisconsin last weekend. The article came complete with pictures, eyewitness testimony, and some pretty damning allegations that he uttered anti-Semetic insults and allegedly choked a woman at a bar.

All of these things are obviously not worthy of condoning by anyone with a modicrum of decency, and no one has dismissed them as youthful indiscretions (unlike what some in the media have done with the recent story of presidential candidate Mitt Romney cutting off the hair of a gay classmate in high school), but some have also used the incident as a reason to start speculating as to the future of the right winger in Chicago.

Steve Rosenbloom of the Chicago Tribune is known for his often controversial opinions on just about anything in the world of sports. His own bio on the website boasts of being thrown onto tables, being cursed out, and carousing with some of the biggest names in the history of Chicago sports. This colorful past led the newspaper to give him his own blog, and while he has occasionally set his sights on interesting topics in the world of hockey (a story about Adam Burish and the banning of helmets was particularly noteworthy), on Monday he turned his attention to the matter of Kane’s Wild Wisconsin Weekend.

In his article, he essentially argued that the Blackhawks’ silence on the matter is an indictment of Kane, indicating that they believe that he was guilty of all of the things that the article on Deadspin claimed that he did. In addition, he hypothesized that the incidents involving Kane have become enough of a bother that the team may actually be considering trading him.

Here’s a taste of what Rosenbloom had to say:

“See? Everyone at the Madhouse on Madison would have a reason for wanting to be rid of Kane. The reasons would be legit, too, more legit than Kane playing center.

So, maybe the Hawks’ silence isn’t because they’re hoping this goes away but because they’re fighting to see who gets the honor of making the problem child go away.

There’s a rule in hockey that resounds from the dressing room out: Your best players have to be your leaders and your leaders have to be your best players. Kane is hardly a leader. There’s no reason to trust him.

And yet, he’s still here.”

This type of conspiracy theory plays very well in a city that is more obsessed with the backup quarterback of the Chicago Bears than just about any other topic, but Rosenbloom’s arguments are so preposterously off-base that it is almost comical to even read them.

For starters, this notion that a team’s best players have to be their leaders is patently absurd. There are plenty of skilled players in the NHL who no one would dream of calling leaders, but yet they still hold tremendous value because they are highly skilled hockey players. The Blackhawks have a captain named Jonathan Toews, and his strong leadership has been lauded up and down because of the way in which he conducts himself. He is even nicknamed “Captain Serious”, for crying out loud.

In addition to Toews, the Hawks also have veteran players like Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, and Patrick Sharp who all hold sway in the locker room. That doesn’t even begin to count guys who have come and gone like John Madden and Brent Sopel who have been important components in the grand chemistry experiment that is an NHL dressing room.

All of these players are leaders, so this notion that Kane needs to be a good chap and respected in the community in order to be an asset to the Blackhawks is asinine and a true mark of someone who is grasping at straws to defend an argument that is devoid of any rationality or seriousness.

In addition, this tendency of the media to turn every story into some crazy narrative to draw attention to their coverage has become exhausting in its frequency and mind-numbing in the large leaps of logic that it requires to fully embrace. People like Rosenbloom will always have a place in the world of sports media, because they are the most gifted of scribes when it comes to the art of connecting dots that no one else is desperate enough to put together.

This type of behavior isn’t something that is going to bring about the demise of media as we know it, but it is inevitably going to cause some backlash. Even though we are in a society where there is a 24-hour news cycle, eventually we get turned off by outlandish feats of logical maneuvering, and that’s exactly what Rosenbloom is in danger of doing.

The Blackhawks’ silence on the matter is also something that is blatantly misconstrued by Rosenbloom. It is foolish to think that it is a part of some insidious plot to let the story fester and then use it as an excuse to run Kane out of town. The much more practical (albeit less sensational and less interesting to read about) reality is that the Blackhawks want to wait until all of the facts come out before they make some type of public statement on the matter.

Moreover, the Hawks are probably looking at whether law enforcement will actually pursue any of the claims made by anyone in connection with the “incidents” that the Deadspin article goes into. Unless criminal charges are forthcoming, the organization probably doesn’t feel compelled to respond to what essentially amounts to hearsay, and they’d rather just let it be some drunken jaunt that cameras happened to catch as it happened.

The notion of assailing Kane for what he does in his spare time is something that comes up often in cities where sports are as important as they are in Chicago. For quite some time now, athletes have been held up by some as role models, and some have even pushed back against that label, with Charles Barkley being one of the primary members of that club. Indeed, fans and the media often express their angst when a player for one of their teams is caught in some unsavory act, and Kane’s antics certainly fit into that category.

Rosenbloom goes in-depth in his blog post about how the Hawks are an organization that makes pretend that they have a squeaky-clean superstar in the young Kane. At only 23 years of age, Kane has already been in the spotlight for so long that it covers up just how young he actually is, and the organization has taken advantage of his youth to market him, and the results are obvious. Between the elevated television ratings, the commercials that he and Toews have made for companies like Dell and Chevrolet, it’s abundantly clear just how important he is as a member of the tandem that the team uses to market itself. As such, he is held to a high standard of behavior, and he has frequently fallen short of that bar.

There is an interesting dichotomy in instances like this when there are some on the intellectual battlefield who will defend to the death the notion that overexposure of athletes and celebrities is a stain on our culture, and there are those who say that it simply comes with the territory.  That it isn’t some deplorable reality, but rather a matter of fact one. Somewhere in between these two schools of thought is the proper perspective in which to take what has happened with Kane over the course of his career.

Yes, Kane’s private behavior is always going to end up dragged out into the public spotlight. It’s the bargain with the devil that he has made in exchange for all the fame and fortune that comes with being one of Chicago’s most popular athletes. The exposure that has given him fame has also taken away any claim to a right to privacy that he can possibly dig up, and the Deadspin controversy is just one more example of that.

There is no such thing as an anonymous existence for Kane, but is it really necessary for the media to run with the story each and every time he does something stupid? Yes, he did bring this on himself with the choice he has made to live in the public spotlight, but does that give the media carte blanche to hammer him at every opportunity?

To an extent, yes they should, especially if he has done something potentially criminal in nature. Apart from that, however, the media needs to tone things down a bit. This act of putting Kane up on a pedestal just to knock him down has gotten incredibly tiresome, and that isn’t all that far of a stretch to think. In a culture obsessed with scandals (hell, it launched the “careers” of Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian to be shown in a sex tape, for God’s sake), it is a guaranteed click-generator to post pictures online of people behaving badly. Even though it’s stupid and wrong, it will never go away.

What needs to go away is this sanctimonious notion that Kane — or any other athlete for that matter — needs to live a saintly existence because of the value that he holds to a team and its image. The Blackhawks aren’t paying Patrick Kane to be a choir boy. They are paying him to play hockey and help them win championships, and to a lesser extent to sell the brand in advertisements. What he does in his off the clock hours should be his own business, and that becomes even more important to realize as the level of “holier than thou” rubbish that the media as a whole tends to spew goes up.

The notion of trading Kane has been around ever since Jeremy Roenick brought it up in suggesting the Hawks deal him back to his native Buffalo in exchange for goaltender Ryan Miller. It was preposterous then, and it still is to this day. Kane is worth more to the Hawks than they would be liable to get for him on the open market, and the fact of the matter is that he is a darn good hockey player. Despite only scoring one goal in 13 playoff games since winning the Stanley Cup, Kane still helps out in other ways, and trying to dismiss him based on a statistic like that is foolish.  Rosenbloom ought to know better than that.

Getting back to the root of everything, it is this notion of athletes being role models that must once again shoulder the blame in these circumstances. The sooner the media gets off the bandwagon of athlete worship, and the sooner fans demand that they do, the better. Athletes like Babe Ruth and politicians like John F. Kennedy weren’t judged based on their personal choices. They were judged based on the prodigious length of their home runs and the high-minded ideals that they instilled into the American character, respectively.

Kane, and all other athletes, needs to be evaluated not by the stupid drunken antics they engage in when their team isn’t in season, but rather by what they bring to their respective fields of play. If the off-the-ice stuff comes to have an impact on what he is doing on the ice, then by all means bring it up. If not, let the kid be and save the pious posturing for something more worthy of your time and ink.

  • Well said! Also, David Haugh of the Chicago Tribune investigated some of the claims (beyond simply verifying he wasn’t arrested, something no other media outlet bothered to do) and found no evidence to support them.

  • Thanks a lot for coming by Overtime Karen, and taking the time to comment – I hope we’ll see you back.

  • David O’Connor

    Very impressive, Jim. I really enjoyed reading this. Great read.

    • Jim Neveau

      Thanks David. Glad to see folks reading!

  • Can we stop blaming the media alone though as the “fans” also want these “stories” which is why sites like Deadspin publish this stuff.

    It is more “give the customer what they want” which is why places like TMZ are seen as “journalism” in today’s world.

    I can’t explain why but for some reason in the world today there are too many people who enjoy seeing the celebs fall on their faces. I understand your frustration and applaud your efforts but lets not forget that it is the reader/customer who can end this trash journalism by not reading or watching it.

    • Jim Neveau

      That is a very interesting point of view on the subject, and I think there is definitely something to be said for it. I’m not sure where the line is between the media’s responsibility to be less into sensationalism and the public’s appetite for it. Perhaps that is a topic for another column. Thanks for commenting!