By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) That the Chicago Blackhawks’ press conference on Thursday had all the panache of a Scientology audit has been well-established. The team has been hammered locally, nationally and abroad for the uncharacteristic mishandling of the whole PR show. From the profoundly dumb idea to let Patrick Kane speak amid a sexual assault investigation without actually answering the very questions that all the media were gathered to get answered to team president John McDonough touting the organization’s achievements at the most wrong of times, the team’s approach couldn’t have been more awkward.
But this is the deal the Hawks made with the devil a while ago. Employ one of the NHL’s greatest talents — without whom two-and-soon-to-be-three championship banners don’t hang from the United Center rafters — in exchange for bearing a constant risk of getting an unsavory phone call.
There’s no doubt that risk is one any team takes 10 times out of 10, and the Hawks don’t deserve some sort of shaming for not leashing Kane after the cab driver incident in 2009 or his summer as Deadspin’s poster child for awful drunk white people with money and privilege. His behavior was hardly lectured about or even top of mind while the team was hoisting Stanley Cups — and in some fan circles it was celebrated, justified or playfully mocked (raises hand).
This time around, the early morning phone call isn’t something any franchise can insure against, nor is sexual assault intrinsic to a guy wanting to live the college lifestyle off of the ice.
But the reason the Faustian tale endures is because the immediate benefit so obviously outweighs the eventual price.
Now the Blackhawks get to pay what is becoming an unfortunately more common sports reality of rostering overgrown boys from backgrounds that never let them grow up. The devil doesn’t forget to collect.
And Thursday’s presser is an example of that reaping.
It was one of North America’s most respected franchises being reduced to a gelatinous mess, akin to the Baltimore Ravens and Ray Rice, even after having weeks to prepare to speak and making a calculated-yet-jaw-dropping script. It was having Kane read a statement with all the sincerity of a high schooler made to apologize to the student body for cherry bombing a toilet. It was the mandate of answering hockey-only questions when there were no pressing ones — nor should there have been — to be asked. It was making Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook jump on the grenade and look terrible against their own volition. And like Kane, they did so by insultingly prefacing non-answers with faux-appreciation for reporters asking pertinent questions.
After all the usually-savvy heads from the Hawks came together to best minimize this fiasco that had only inflated over these last few weeks because of so much radio silence, the team essentially — even if inadvertently — gave the finger to media, rational fans and anyone begging for a sports organization to just once not handle a case like this as though it were covered in Vaseline and hair clippings.
It’s almost as if going full-on insensitive-defending-him mode would have been better if for nothing more than its terrible honesty and praise from “innocent until proven guilty” farty Internet constitutional scholars. At least that would convey what they’re thinking to everyone’s faces — “Uncomfortable as we are about all this, Patrick Kane the hockey commodity is at the moment a net business positive to us.” Instead it felt like they were about to wheel out a war veteran next to Jim Cornelison.
And that’s part of the difficult trade-off for years of celebrating Kane. This is what even the oft-respectable Blackhawks sign up for.
Maybe the glass is half-full. Maybe people see how a situation like this can even flummox an august organization like the Hawks, forcing them to stammer in the spotlight and getting people to think a lot harder about the gray area between their fan brain and their humanity. Maybe a few people noticed Kane’s teammates, when asked if he can still be a leader, had profoundly vacant looks, with only Keith’s brief affirmation speaking volumes.
Maybe that’s way too idealistic.
Likely this embarrassment, sour and salty as it is right now for McDonough and Co., is largely fleeting. Perhaps this case is the same as it ever was, and the star gets to show up at training camp amid a serious outstanding legal issue, scores some goals, hits some dingers or throws some touchdowns. The star wins favor from an imperfect legal process, and the immediate benefit still outweighs the price. Via the good grace of time and indifference, the devil doesn’t win in the end of this Faustian tale either.
Or does he?
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.