Patrick Kane is finally, fully in the clear.
Or is he?
Seven months after allegations of his committing a sexual assault in his suburban Buffalo home did not result in legal charges being brought against him, the Chicago Blackhawks superstar has been cleared by the NHL after its investigation concluded that those allegations were "unfounded."
In a perfect world, the 27-year-old winger would now be able to leave this ugly episode behind. But that might not be an option anymore for the NHL's most polarizing figure ... at least judging by the vitriol that has dominated social media since the league released its findings on Wednesday afternoon.
A quick look at SI's own accounts in the wake of our current cover story by S.L. Price about Kane's MVP-caliber season on the ice while he tries to regain control of his troubled personal life off it (principals in the incident were asked to comment about what happened on the night in question and during the investigation; some, such as Kane, the accuser and her attorney, declined to respond even after repeated requests by SI)—reveals a seething residual anger.
The accusations made against Kane were horrific, to be sure, and magnified by recent cases of domestic violence in other sports, particularly the NFL. Serious issues were immediately raised: the bedrock legal principle of presumption of innocence until proven guilty vs. respect for the accuser and her right to be taken seriously; the impact of fame, wealth and reputation on a criminal investigation; and overarching concerns about the treatment of women in and around the game of hockey.
Sides were quickly drawn. On one, there were people who believed that Kane, given his checkered past of partying and his minor run-in with the law after a 2009 incident with a cab driver, was surely guilty of something, if not the very worst. On the other were those who believed his accuser was a mere gold-digger. Any attempt to point out that there was a serious gray area in the incident was met with accusations of dismissing the alleged victim outright, if not shaming her, and whitewashing the superstar.
Somewhere in the middle were those who believed that Kane deserved to carry on with his life until legal circumstances dictated otherwise, and those who were concerned that the NHL would clumsily handle this serious matter the way the NFL mishandled the Ray Rice and Greg Hardy cases. That second group (myself included), who thought it was best for the league and the Blackhawks to take a cautious approach and send Kane home until the matter was resolved, were branded as having convicted him without trial or evidence.
Of course Patrick Kane is innocent. Make sure all you dummies, that convicted him 3 minutes after you heard the allegations, apologize.— John Ryan (@johnrbubba) March 9, 2016
Neither side budged as the investigation unfolded, even though there were concerns about the accuser’s veracity.
In announcing his decision back in November not to prosecute Kane, Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita III described the woman's sexual assault claim as being "rife with reasonable doubt." He also said the physical and forensic evidence "tend to contradict" her allegation that a rape took place.
That was the conclusion of experienced investigators with first-hand access to the parties involved and all pertinent evidence.
But it wasn't enough to sway those who are determined to believe that Kane is guilty. And if that didn't do it, neither will the league's announcement. If anything, this latest development has only stirred up the flames of resentment, with arguments over the meaning of the word "unfounded" clashing with the gloating of Kane's supporters who are demanding apologies even from those who did not leap to his immediate defense.
Both sides then are helping to perpetuate the toxic environment surrounding the player. The question now is how long it will linger. And can Kane ever go back to being just another NHL superstar?
It's hard to say. The league has never seen anything quite like this before. There have been players cast as villains for off-ice issues in the past—Dany Heatley and the 2003 vehicular homicide of teammate Dan Snyder comes to mind. But Heatley, who dealt with the effects for the rest of his career, pleaded guilty to a crime and was ultimately forgiven by Snyder's family. Kane wasn't even charged.
It's fair to wonder if resentment over his personal and team success is fueling the controversy to some degree. If, instead of leading the league in scoring, a season defined by on-ice struggles might be viewed as penance, or justice, of some kind.
Or maybe lines have been drawn that can't be undrawn. Much of the controversy and passions have been stirred by how often women are treated unfairly when they try to pursue justice against someone who has sexually violated them, especially a celebrity who has ardent supporters.
Kane can only help himself by continuing to comport himself well on and especially off the ice. We'll likely never know exactly what happened on that night in August 2015. When it comes to Kane's image, people are likely to go on feeling and believing exactly what they want to feel and believe.
The numbers game
• Forward Alex Galchenyuk is now the first Canadien to have three straight multi-goal games since Brian Savage (Oct. 25-28, 1995), and the first with five such outings during an eight-game span since the legendary Jean Béliveau (Feb. 28 to March 15, 1959).
• Jaromir Jagr’s 127 multi-goal games have tied Islanders Hall of Famer Mike Bossy for ninth on the NHL's all time list, and his 20 seasons of scoring 50 or points put him in a pantheon with Ron Francis (22), Gordie Howe (22), Ray Bourque (20) and Mark Messier (20).
• Dylan Larkin is now the first Red Wings rookie to score 20 goals in a season since Henrik Zetterberg in 2002-03.
• Dave Stubbs looks back at the 1924 opening of hockey's greatest cathedral, the Montreal Forum.
• While other players relaxed at the cottage last summer, Dan Boyle picked up a side gig as a roadie for Faith No More.
• The NHL avoids bad teams when staging its signature outdoor events, but they gave one to the Maple Leafs anyway. Here's why that decision won't backfire.
• A Stanley Cup-winning coach is leaving his European team with an eye on returning to the NHL next season.
• Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask is not digging the NHL's new overtime format.
• The memory of a murdered teammate drives this college hockey team as it heads to the NCAA tournament.