CHICAGO — We look for athletes to be role models for children. At least we’d like for their coaches to be. Sometimes – lots of times recently – many of them fail in the way they physically treat women.
Few of these men are punished very much, many none at all, other than having their names dragged through the gutters of the media. Which of course amounts to cruel if not unusual punishment before guilt has been determined. Aware of that perception, the media hesitates to push hard when a sports hero is under the glare of police scrutiny.
Patrick Kane, the best player of the Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks, is under investigation for possibly raping a young woman at his lakefront home near Buffalo, N.Y. But you don’t read much about it in the Chicago papers or hear much discussion on radio or TV or in the sports bars.
You’re not even reading speculation on what the Blackhawks would be if Kane is barred from playing in the next hockey season.
Speaking with Chicagoans, I don’t sense much interest in this most sensitive of subjects, other than men and women alike saying “it’s sad.”
A much more popular topic in the north-side taverns is the Cubbies, playing their best ball in four decades but still looking at long odds for a World Series. They have little chance of catching baseball’s best team, the St. Louis Cardinals, who rule their division.
So if they’re going to overcome the eternal Billy Goat Curse or whatever, they need to win a wild-card playoff game — probably against the very strong Pittsburgh Pirates. And then they would have to win a best-of-7, probably against the Cardinals.
Naturally everyone in Wrigleyville thinks the wild-card play-in should be extended to a best-of-5 series, or at least a best-of-3. But in other cities – even South Chicago — the feeling persists that winning the division in a 162-game season should stand for something.
As for Kane, the evidence against him is disturbing. His accuser had bite marks on her shoulders and a scratch on her leg after visiting the player at his home. She was accompanied by a friend who might testify that she heard a woman screaming from behind Kane’s bedroom door.
Even so, reporters close to the story expect that Kane will skate, so to speak.
Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita has political considerations that make it unlikely he will seek indictment. Sedita, a Democrat, is likely to run for the New York Supreme Court this fall, and Kane, who was born in Buffalo, is highly popular in his home state.
Sedita boasts of having a 98 percent conviction rate. He doesn’t prosecute unless a conviction is all but certain.
This attitude is troubling. We see it everywhere: district attorneys being judged like football coaches whose only duty is to win.
Shouldn’t we be looking for justice, not just a high winning percentage? We’ve seen too many times when aggressions of high-profile athletes are unpunished or underpunished, because they’re difficult to bring down.
Champion boxer Floyd Mayweather was convicted of battery against a woman and was arrested for more than a half dozen other violent offenses. What price has he paid? He’s the perfect Hollywood villain, earning more millions than if he’d never gotten into trouble.
NFL star Greg Hardy is convicted of assaulting a woman — there’s damning audio, but fortunately for him, no video. So after his accuser decides not to contest his appeal, he’s free as an iceberg. And almost as dangerous.
On Monday, Florida State’s star running back, Dalvin Cook, was exonerated after being accused of punching a woman outside a bar. The jury apparently accepted his defense that he and she were both drunk. She admitted to being “buzzed” on a margarita and a tequila sunrise but argued, in vain, that she wasn’t too drunk to know she’d been hit by a football player.
But last week did produce a conviction of another college football player, Sam Ukwuachu, for raping an 18-year-old female Baylor student in October 2013. Ukwuachu, a Freshman All-America at Boise State, was ineligible to play for Baylor because of transfer rules but was set to play the 2014 season had it not been for his arrest.
He was sentenced to six months in county jail, plus community service and 10 years probation.
At the risk of sounding like Nancy Grace, this seems light to me. Then again, by standards of celebrated athletes, this penalty is draconian.
The Ukwuachu verdict taints Baylor coach Art Briles. He offered the pass-rushing defensive end a scholarship after Boise State dismissed him when his girlfriend accused him of assaulting her.
Chris Petersen, who at the time was coach at Boise State, said he “thoroughly apprised Coach Briles of the circumstances surrounding Sam’s disciplinary record and dismissal.”
Briles insists neither Petersen nor anyone else told him about the alleged assault. He claims Petersen, now coaching the Washington Huskies, had encouraged Ukwuachu to transfer to Baylor to be “closer to his home.”
Even if that’s true, shouldn’t Briles have done some due diligence before offering this kid a scholarship?
I’m just wondering how this goes down at the country’s most distinguished Baptist university, the Notre Dame of protestants.
So now the war on domestic violence shifts to hockey. Kane could be in the same sort of limbo as Slava Voynov, the LA Kings defenseman suspended indefinitely, with pay, after being arrested last October for allegedly punching, kicking and choking his wife before pushing her into a TV set.
I hesitate to say America needs a larger percentage of its population behind bars. But does Voynov deserve a year of paid vacation? Domestic violence is, with the possible exception of cops shooting unarmed citizens, the issue of the day. And our sporting celebrities, if entirely unintended, are bringing attention to it. Which may be the only good to come out of these altercations.