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Unrequited Love: When sports don't love you back

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The Blackhawks have one of the biggest female fan bases in the league, but as it stands they're failing to respect them.

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

I had to have a very difficult conversation with my cousin recently. She's a women's studies university student. She's bright, talented, beautiful, witty, charming and funny. She's also a Chicago Blackhawks fan.

Our conversations are mostly good-natured banter, centering around hockey. We poke jabs at one another's favourite teams and players, and congratulate one another on fantasy league successes. It's usually light-hearted, and always in good fun. It was hard to hear that she was struggling with the news that Patrick Kane is the subject of a rape investigation. What's more, she was struggling with the fact that the franchise that she loves so much doesn't seem to care.

The Blackhawks boast one of the largest female fan bases in the league, with 45% of their fans being women; 8% higher than the league average of 37%. Blackhawks' president John McDonough said that their female fans were a "very, very important demographic" at the Bloomberg Chicago Sports Forum last fall. So why is it that my cousin (and so many other Blackhawks fans) are left feeling betrayed by the team they love?

Perhaps it's because the franchise is standing by Kane despite the fact that he allegedly sexually assaulted someone. Perhaps it's because they called a press conference, and then allowed Kane to refuse to answer any questions that weren't pertaining to hockey. Perhaps it's because time and time again, the NHL, the NFL and professional sports as a whole continue to ignore rape culture.

As our friend over at Stanley Cup of ChowderSarah Connors, pointed out, "if [a] hypothetical NHL player "allegedly" stabbed someone, I'd bet dollars to donuts they'd be suspended w/o pay immediately." So why wasn't Kane? I suspect the fact that he was second in scoring on a team that won its third Stanley Cup in six years last season has something to do with it. This would probably be a very different conversation if Kane's name was synonymous with 'fourth-line grinder'.

We don't know what happened that summer night. We may never know. The only people that know whether or not Kane is innocent are Patrick Kane and the woman he allegedly assaulted. Whether or not Kane's DNA was present is not as black-and-white as suggested by those who believe that the answers will be found in the rape kit. "The absence of DNA and semen, in itself, does not prove that there was no rape," attorney Florina Altshiler told The Buffalo News. Not to mention the fact that the accuser's lawyer claims that the rape kit was left on her mother's doorstep, which would suggest evidence-tampering, making the rape kit essentially inadmissible in court. 

In fact, the charges could be dropped, or he could be found innocent, and we may still never know whether or not he actually assaulted that woman. Only two out of every 100 rapes in the United States lead to a conviction, and only 32% of sexual assaults are even reported (via RAINN.org).

There is an entire generation of kids looking up to their favourite athletes, looking for cues on how to behave. Would their idolatry be best reserved for people like Malala Yousafzai? Probably. But the fact remains that these athletes are role models, and that kids look up to them. They are paid to not only perform well on the ice, but off the ice as well. The expectation is that they will be exemplary members of society. That's why it's so hard to accept when they fall short.

Why are you reading a social commentary piece about the Blackhawks on a Habs site?

Because I'm a hockey fan first, and a Habs fan second.

Because I have a hard time loving a sport that doesn't seem to care about women.

Because this isn't the first case, nor will it be the last.

Because it's not okay that nearly one in five women have been sexually assaulted.

Because less than a year ago, I shared my story of being sexually assaulted.

Because my cousin looks up to me, and I have no clue what to say to her.

Because the presumption of innocent until proven guilty doesn't sit well with me. It assumes that the accuser is lying. Patrick Kane is not simply an innocent member of society. He is an accused rapist, and that is an extremely serious allegation, one that shouldn't be taken lightly.

No matter how this particular case ends up, I'd like to point out that no one - not you, not I, nor anyone else - has the right to tell a rape survivor (alleged, in this case) how to handle the situation and herself.

If she decides to settle the case out of court, to not pursue further legal action, or to take it as far as she can, it's none of our business. Just because a rape victim decides not to sit in a court room and relive the most traumatic experience of her life doesn't make her any less of a sexual assault survivor.

When I was raped, I didn't go to the police. Maybe I should have, but previous experiences dictated that they wouldn't help me. Women don't ask to be raped, and it isn't up to anyone but the victim to decide how best to handle the situation. Sexual assault survivors need love and support, not judgment.

The message being sent by the Blackhawks and the NHL is clear:

To young boys: it's okay to treat girls badly. As long as you're white, rich and powerful, you can find a way to sweep it all under the rug. The only consequences you'll have to face for your actions is some brief negative PR.

To young girls: you don't matter. We will gladly take your money, but we won't make any effort to be inclusive, nor will we make any effort to make you feel safe and heard.

Is Patrick Kane innocent until proven guilty? In the eyes of the law, absolutely. In the court of public opinion, however, the damage has been done. My cousin, a die-hard Blackhawks fan, is grappling with cheering for a team that doesn't love her as much as she loves them. I suspect she isn't alone, and there's only so much abuse 45% of your fan base is willing to take, Blackhawks.

Your move.