By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) On Tuesday night the Chicago Blackhawks released the following statement:
“About a week ago, we told Garret Ross, a name many of our fans didn’t recognize at the time, that he couldn’t play hockey for us for a while until the non-consensual-dissemination-of-sexual-images charge he was publicly facing went away. We hate having our name attached to players’ legal stuff. Today, March 29, we found out the police in this state were no longer pursuing charges against Steve, er. Chad, I mean, Garrett. Garrett, right? Two Ts or one? Garret. Why the police dismissed all charges against him we will not entertain. Merely that they’re dropped is good enough for us, and now it’s back to hockey, hockey, hockey. By official decree, Ross Garret is hereby reinstated with the Rockford IceHogs, where we hope he seeks ‘revenge’ on the ice. Don’t ask us about this anymore, as we believe sex crimes are finite situations. And don’t you dare ask young Ross. Good day, and Hail Hydra.”
OK, that isn’t the actual statement, but it might as well be. Here’s the real one:
“On March 23, 2016, the Chicago Blackhawks suspended Garret Ross after learning of a legal proceeding against him, and stated at that time that the suspension was indefinite pending the outcome of the legal process. We learned today, March 29, that the legal process concluded in Illinois with the dismissal of all charges against Garret. As a result, Garret Ross is reinstated with the IceHogs, effective immediately. We will have no further comment on the matter.”
Basically the same thing.
This, of course, comes after the team expects us to believe that it just found out about the mess last week despite Ross turning himself in to police on Feb. 4 (and expecting to eventually be able to travel to Canada for road games without informing his employer?) after the original complaint was filed in September 2015.
The original explanation for Ross missing games recently was “personal reasons.”
But let’s not be ignorant of the progress made by the Blackhawks, right? A six-day suspension, they whacked Ross with. Four huge minor league games were ripped from his expiring, probably-not-renewed contract. It’s a message that will send shockwaves across the hockey world that continues to be perceived by many — especially women — as being incapable of empathy. The NHL now knows such behavior won’t be tolerated during the news cycle period that would involve team embarrassment.
“We are not the problem,” writer Jen Lute Costella told Pension Plan Puppets in its piece on the continuing issues with the NHL’s dismissal of women last week. “It’s the guys that are carrying this stuff out that are the problem. And all of these institutionalized understandings of the world that all of these guys bring with them, and their leagues bring with them, and their teams bring with them, say these women are lesser than you and they don’t belong in our sport.
“It’s always framed as ‘this woman came in and caused this problem,’ well no, this problem already existed and somebody actually spoke up about it. When women speak up about this stuff, a lot of the people who don’t see these things as being all that wrong, they just don’t see the women as being on equal footing to them in the first place and that they’re just out to get attention.”
What’s so difficult about this, Blackhawks? Why must you go out of your way to be as cold as possible on these matters? As I watch a “One Goal” commercial in which players make a wish come true for a person with a disability or coach Joel Quenneville runs a floor hockey game at a retirement community, I realize the “One Goal” slogan has become increasingly eerily myopic.
Sure, all sports franchises to an extent are juggernaut companies on a constant march toward winning and profit, devoid of feeling. But yours has a very recent history of multiple public blemishes on your shiny sweaters — whether it be involving a player, female personnel or a TV relationship — that by now one would think you’d have polished your PR a little better.
Let’s strip the Ross incident of its humanity for the sake of argument here, because begging you to consider people who have allegedly been wronged, embarrassed or victimized is a language this organization doesn’t seem to want to learn to speak. Let’s then not try to consider that someone’s privacy and presumed safety and comfort in her own body was probably violated by a member of your company.
Unconsidering all that, what net positive does keeping Ross around get you? A former fifth-round pick, he’s a free agent at season’s end, and it’s probably safe to guess that his seven goals and 13 assists in 59 games this year don’t make him a fixture of future plans.
Yet you’re doing your robotic cut-and-dry “respect the legal process, which is very wise and good when it comes to sex crimes” BS on a minor league borderline factor. The rest of us have put two and two together and realize that wrong on Ross’ part was almost certainly committed, and you know he most likely did this inhumane thing but got off (for now) on a geographical technicality. And still you have to go out of your way to be the crappy moral entity whose product so many of us have come to be conflicted with consuming.
And do you know for certain that authorities in Michigan, where Ross allegedly disseminated sexual images of someone without her consent, won’t pursue charges against him? Because if that happens, what then of your cool, apathetic statement?
DeKalb authorities dropping the ball by charging Ross with the unchargeable brings no absolution here, yet you keeping him around for 10 measly regular-seasons games and a sputtering playoff appearance would suggest so — or at least that inconsequential hockey trumps consequential violating of another person’s sense of self and ownership of one’s body.
Kicking Ross to the curb with his expiring contract would get little to no pushback from fans, and it would send the tiniest of messages that you’re kind of learning to pretend to care about how your sports intersects with the treatment of women. But keeping him around takes the tone-deaf message you’ve sent multiple times now and puts it back in front of the loudspeaker blaring propaganda over the work camp.
Remember, you had a woman TV reporter fired for nothing close to illegal. Hey, at least this time when a guy was accused of a sex crime you went hard and suspended him from hockey activities (for six days).
And you presumably consider that progress. Now back to the playoff push.
Or at least our collective attention on it. The one goal.
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.