By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Mentioning Joe Paterno in last Friday’s column on reflexively defending Blackhawks star Patrick Kane amid rape allegations brought back some familiar friends — the creepy blind Joebots who spend their days waiting to pick up the fecal odor of the name of their dead football daddy and then swarm to that turd.
The movement of the Penn State cultists is largely dead, history gradually solidifying them as fools and a benchmark for when sports rooting goes wrong. Still, I was haunted by their ghost these past few days.
More than once I found myself typing the same responses to Kane defenders that I had done in the past with people who wished Paterno could replace the father who never loved them. I really didn’t think we would get here as a supposedly advanced sporting folk in a large city. The Kane response hasn’t quite reached Happy Valley levels of delusion and in an unscientific swabbing of the icky inner cheek of social media, the number of people responding on the logical side is at about a dead heat with the loyalists.
The responsible suppression of information by law enforcement involved, though, combined with complete silence from Kane and his representatives fosters an environment for speculation. And when you add typical fan fear of confronting its Santa Claus complex — the raging against the possibility that a hero is fictional and the shot to the ego for believing in his perfection — there’s a whole bunch of panicky defensiveness in response to anything not slanted as pro-Kaner.
By no means do I take for granted that — as very secondary to a criminal investigation of sexual assault and the automatic awfulness that entails in particular for the accuser — it absolutely sucks that a guy you’ve rooted for is involved in something quite bad. To immediately compartmentalize your fan brain and your rational brain isn’t easy and takes much of the same conditioning that turns us into fans in the first place, only in reverse. Holy hell did I try to shout down any Sammy Sosa steroid critics back in the day.
Maybe reminding you that Kane isn’t your friend doesn’t open your eyes. Maybe a survivor of rape explaining how you shouldn’t talk about the story doesn’t register with you. Maybe hearing that between just 2 percent and 8 percent of sexual assault accusations are false, that reporting sexual assaults is low in number, that just 37 percent of accusations get prosecuted or that only 18 percent of prosecutions result in conviction doesn’t give you pause (and maybe makes you scramble to find different stats to help your cause). Or maybe asking simply that you read up more on rape culture and how you talk about this situation can contribute to it doesn’t break through the laziness of preferring to feel good rather than be smarter.
But maybe this will: At this stage of this situation, you’re forming the cult of Patrick Kane. In doing so, you’re no better than the Penn State Kool-Aid drinkers you may have mocked in the past, and you have a conscious choice to make starting now.
If you want to hide behind some bastardization of “innocent until proven guilty,” you’re a cultist. And all cultists in this situation are rape culturists. You’re equating a court of law, where that certainly applies to everyone, with the court of public opinion. And the latter is a court where the accuser gets her personal life magnified and dissected by a culture that has to find a way to justify an alleged assault. Presuming an accused sexual assaulter’s innocence also inherently presumes the accuser is lying — and for almost no other crimes do we respond in such a way.
Besides The Buffalo News giving voice to a slut-shamer or columnists in Chicago writing about how bad this is for Kane, there are online publications in this town jumping at the chance to gossip about this woman and push and push toward making it that much easier to damage her life more than what made her go to the police has. As the quest to save the reputation of Joe Paterno had its Internet knights giving out personal info of victims, so goes the Kane story for the enterprising inhumane capitalizing on the panic. And if you’re clicking those places and nodding all cow-eyed, you are a cultist.
If you act on the instinct to email or tweet to reporters covering this story as though your thoughts will influence them whatsoever, you’re a cultist. The same goes for calling or texting 670 The Score shows to lament how Big Media is conspiring to ruin Kane’s life. Ditto for contacting a columnist like me to criticize my “reporting” without understanding that I don’t report here, as a column and an article are two different things, ye who also expertly cite the demise of journalism. I can hold up tweets and emails from Kane defenders and Paterno defenders, and other than those two names, you wouldn’t know the difference.
If you’re going to have a Blackhawks or Nittany Lion or Kane or Paterno online avatar and expect stable people to take you seriously, you’re a cultist. And if you want to hedge your remarks with “I don’t even like the guy” or “I’m not a fan, but …” you’re still in the cult.
If you are quick to say “Duke lacrosse” or “Rolling Stone story,” you’re not understanding that those are unfortunate outliers. They are exceptions, not the rule. But they have given supposed legitimacy to men’s rights scum, rape apologists and sports fan cultists.
If you fall back on “Let’s wait for all the facts,” you are very much a cultist. First of all, the lack of factual information out there doesn’t disqualify writing and talking about this story. If anything, it allows for a more productive discussion about rape culture that cultists don’t want to have because it would require self-reflection. But “waiting for all the facts” and “if he’s then guilty, fine” are cop-outs, prolonging a confrontation with your cult member status. And it’s not facts you want anyway — it’s anything that legitimizes the cult status. Look at any Paterno apologist who refuses to acknowledge “facts” like his court testimony about child rape.
And if you’re sincerely using a hashtag like “#isupport88”? Hoo boy, are you the ultimate detestable cultist.
If you put hockey or Nittany Lion football above the alleged violation of the human body and psyche, you’re a cultist. If discussions of sexual assault and the talk and behavior that foster it are an affront to what you misbelieve is masculinity, you’re a cultist. If you believe Stanley Cups or NCAA win records or YouTube highlights or donating money to charities and causes deserve equal consideration with accused wrongdoing, you’re a cultist.
This isn’t a college campus or vocal alumni who can’t let go of peaking at age 19. You get to make a choice here. Don’t become a new benchmark for sports rooting gone terribly wrong.
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.