Baffoe: Discussing Patrick Kane’s Streak Should Be Uncomfortable, Not Difficult

By Tim Baffoe–

(CBS) Here’s how not to do a headline and a tweet.

Granted, that could be the work of some tone-deaf editor and/or social media person, but the piece suggests otherwise.

“What started out as perhaps the lowest point of Patrick Kane’s young life has now turned into the best season of his NHL career,” it reads.

That’s a first sentence you write in a piece about a guy beating cancer. An allusion to a sexual assault accusation? Not so much.

“Last fall, the Chicago Blackhawks star was the subject of a police investigation stemming from allegations of sexual assault,” it says. “Today, he is in the midst of scoring at least one point in 26 consecutive games, the longest streak in the NHL since 1992.”

These two statements shouldn’t be juxtaposed unless you’re about to examine the former as seriously as the latter. USA Today writer Kevin Allen didn’t do that, and while his article isn’t a full-on redemption piece, there certainly is an air about it that not only minimizes Kane’s offseason but adds it to the point streak conversation about as ham-fisted as possible.

Here’s also how not to do a headline and a tweet.

Why why why why why are you asking this? The only reason to do so is if your thesis is then that such a potential face of a sport is emblematic of our collective complicated, often insensitive considerations of our entertainment.

But as you might guess, that isn’t the thesis that answered Kristi Loucks’s question.

“He is not the squeaky clean image that the NHL would like to parade out to the masses, but the question remains does he need to be?” she writes.

Besides this suggestive question being awful on multiple levels, it’s preceded by a breezy tangential reference to Kane’s off-ice issues while the rest of the piece patently ignores those issues in favor of begging the question that everything’s fine now. It’s as though this possible “face of the game” wasn’t literally removed as the face of its most popular video game.

“Kane may not be the face the NHL wants, but he is perhaps exactly what the NHL needs,” Loucks writes.

I mean … how? What the … seriously? Did anyone read that sentence twice or aloud before clicking “publish”?

Why is this so hard?

Kane’s points streak is nothing short of amazing. In a sports-in-vacuum observation, it’s one of the most impressive accomplishments at any game’s highest level in this century.

And it’s totally possible and totally OK to appreciate it as such. It’s also quite possible to do so without pratfalling into an insensitive approach toward something that, contrary to Internet comment section belief, is a much more serious and layered issue than hockey goals. Hating the streak and all it stands for (like Bobby Hull clapping it up in this good ol’ boys environment) is also acceptable, if you’re so inclined.

Discussing this streak in any sort of pragmatic way sucks. But if you want to talk about Kane’s streak and strip it of reference to the ugly backdrop, do it. It’s a sports story, foremost, and nobody whose job it is to report should be held to constantly mentioning that which isn’t the game story or an influence on the game story.

For the most part, the local Blackhawks beat writers have handled that pretty dang gracefully while — without meaning to put words in their mouths — having to grit their teeth and treat this as strictly the incredible sports story that it is in a spot that’s likely uncomfortable for them. Despite the soul-sucking life of the beat, it’s evident that there’s still a bit of humanity to most of them.

If you want to have one foot in the hockey and the other in the obvious acknowledgment that THE story of the NHL season is unavoidably tied to THE story of the NHL offseason, that can be done tactfully, too. You can write about the tough reconciliation between Kane’s streak, it as boon to the league, and it as open sore of the NHL’s women problem. Talking or writing about it as “sports man overcomes,” though, shows you’re out of touch and not yet well-read enough to tackle the uncomfortable intersection of sports and a garbage culture that too often greases its wheels.

It shouldn’t be headlined “Streaking Patrick Kane on top after rough patch.” It shouldn’t contain, “Kane was embroiled in the most troubling of accusations, a rape investigation that seemed to threaten everything.” (The emphasis is mine.)

“There may yet be a civil suit. We may never really know what did or didn’t happen. But it all seems so distant now.”

It’s only distant if you let it be. As writers and talkers of hockey, there’s an obligation to not do that, whether so blatantly as in that Herb Gould article or in casual language dismissive of a pattern of an athlete’s behavior or dismissive of what’s comparatively more serious. All three of the pieces I’ve quoted here were published the same day, as was an attempt to tug heartstrings featuring human trash Mike Ribeiro.

C’mon, let’s be better.

Discussing a story like this should be uncomfortable — for all of us. That means writers, talkers, rabid fans, casual observers and anyone who gives the slightest damn about sports. We’ve failed as an advanced species otherwise. If we lose the discomfort, if we begin to see the elephant in the room as feng shui, it’s not entertainment anymore. It’s no longer novelty then.

The streak is going to end at some point. The awkwardness, that pang of conscience, won’t — or shouldn’t. If it has for you, that’s unfortunate and probably something you need to examine internally. But at least do those of us still capable of being bothered by possibly sketchy people doing really entertaining things a favor and check the willful ignorance or inconsideration.

Particularly in front of an audience that so badly wants — maybe unconsciously but still counterproductively — to only feel good about sports stories that often cast shadows that are much less than good.

Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.

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