Back in August, NHL All-Star Patrick Kane was accused of rape by a woman he met on a night out in the small town of Hamburg, New York. News of the resulting sexual-assault case against the Chicago Blackhawks forward has dominated hockey’s preseason, and it took a bizarre turn on Thursday, when the lawyer for the woman accusing Kane of rape quit following what’s being called an elaborate hoax.
Grand jury proceedings have been delayed, and evidence from the accuser’s rape kit, leaked to the press, have led to plenty of premature speculation about what actually happened. Twists and turns aside, the case has pulled the NHL into what’s become an ongoing controversy over how pro sports leagues handle domestic violence and sexual assault. Here’s the backstory to the Kane case:
Is Patrick Kane a big deal? Yes. Consider this: The Buffalo native joined the Blackhawks as the first overall pick in the 2007 draft, and the team has won three Stanley Cups in the last six years. When the United States earned the silver medal in the 2010 Winter Olympics, Kane, now 26, was the youngest player on the squad.
What’s the case against him? On the night of August 1, Kane allegedly invited two women to his lakefront mansion in Hamburg after meeting them at Skybar, a popular Buffalo nightclub. An off-duty Buffalo police officer who had been hired as a driver by Kane took the three and Kane’s friend to the mansion in the early morning of August 2. (The officer, Lieutenant Thomas English, told the Buffalo News that he hadn’t seen improper behavior at the bar and left after he dropped the group off at Kane’s house.)
The 21-year-old alleged victim told investigators that after the group made it to Kane’s house, “she went by herself into another room, where Kane followed her, overpowered her and raped her,” according to the Buffalo News. The accuser and her friend reportedly left the house and called a relative after the alleged incident. She then went to a local hospital for an examination, and the police were called. No charges have been filed against Kane. At a press conference on September 17, Kane apologized for the distraction and said he was confident of “having done nothing wrong.”
What’s the “hoax” controversy? For more than a month, Erie County authorities have been investigating the allegations against Kane. Last Sunday, in an apparent leak to the press, the Buffalo News and the Chicago Sun-Times reported that DNA tests of the accuser’s rape kit “showed no trace of Kane’s DNA was found in the woman’s genital area or on her undergarments.” Kane’s lawyer, Paul Cambria, later told the Chicago Tribune that the rape kit results had been shared with both him and the accuser’s attorney weeks earlier. (The tests also found traces of Kane’s DNA under the accuser’s fingernails and on her shoulders.)
The case took a bizarre twist this past week, when the accuser’s lawyer, Thomas Eoannou, told reporters the accuser’s mother found a “rape kit evidence bag” at her front door. At a press conference, he said the bag had once contained a rape kit and raised concerns that the evidence had been tampered with. Eoannou called for an investigation into how the kit landed at the mother’s front door.
On Thursday night, Eoannou walked back the claims he made the night before and told reporters he would step away from his client’s case. After hearing the mother’s explanation of how she obtained an evidence bag, Eoannou said, “I lack confidence in the story that was told to me.”
Then, on Friday, Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III pushed back on claims that evidence had been tampered with, telling reporters, “We believe that a person, the complainant’s mother, has engaged in an elaborate hoax.”
Sedita explained that hours after the alleged incident at Kane’s house, the accuser traveled to her mother’s house to change her clothing. She and her mother returned to the hospital to undergo a sexual-assault exam. When the examiner found out the accuser had changed her top, a nurse asked the mother to go home and put it in a sealed bag bearing the hospital’s label, the victim’s name, and her date of birth. Sedita said at the press conference that the mother hadn’t told the police that the hospital bag had been left at her house. Instead, when investigators stopped by the house to pick up the top, they placed it in their own evidence bag instead of the bag the mother had been given at the hospital. (The accuser’s mother denies the whole situation was a hoax.)
So the “rape kit evidence bag” on the mother’s front steps turned out to be a hospital bag all along. The kit never left the forensics lab. (Sedita showed surveillance video supporting that.) Roland Cercone, another lawyer for the accuser, wrote in a letter to the Chicago Tribune on Saturday that the accuser’s mother would cooperate with investigators in an inquiry into the bag, calling the whole situation a “mess.”
Grand jury proceedings have been delayed. Sports law expert Michael McCann told SI.com that the most recent events lower the likelihood Kane will get charged and raise the possibility of a settlement between the two camps. (Kane’s attorney denies any such talks are taking place.) Or the DA’s office could close the case without a grand jury hearing and without charges.
“The question in my mind isn’t when this case goes to a grand jury…it’s if this case goes to a grand jury,” Sedita said.
How has the NHL responded to the accusations? Following the mess created by the rape kit controversy, a handful of sportswriters have written that it’s finally time for the NHL and the Blackhawks to suspend Kane with pay while the investigation is underway. There’s some precedence for this in the NHL: A year ago, the league suspended Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov pending a domestic-violence investigation by the league itself. (Voynov eventually pleaded no contest and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. This month, he decided to leave the NHL and return to Russia.)
But no sanctions have been brought against Kane, who is currently training with the Blackhawks as the season approaches. In fact, last week, flanked by the Blackhawks’ president, general manager, and coach, Kane read a prepared statement, calling the case a “distraction” and saying he’s “confident once all facts come to light I will be absolved.” And Wednesday, NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told reporters he doesn’t “think today’s developments really have any direct impact on Kane’s status from the league’s standpoint.”
How does this case fit in with other recent accusations against pro athletes? The allegations against Kane come amid growing backlash across pro sports over the way leagues and teams handle accusations of violence against women. The NFL faced harsh criticism last year when then-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was suspended for just two games following his offseason arrest for assaulting his fiancée. After public outcry and the release of video footage of the assault, the Ravens released Rice.
In the post-Rice era, some leagues appear to have taken a more proactive stance against domestic violence. In March, NASCAR suspended (and then reinstated under indefinite probation) Kurt Busch on the basis of domestic-violence allegations; less than a month ago, the Cleveland Browns indefinitely suspended offensive line coach Andy Moeller after an alleged assault against a woman in his home.
But the NHL has so far backed away from any change. In an interview last October, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said the league doesn’t need to formalize a new policy because “our players know what’s right and wrong,” adding that there are mechanisms in place “to hopefully not get to that point.”
Still, according to some hockey writers, the Kane case is the NHL’s opportunity to redefine its stance on domestic-violence allegations against players.
“[A]llowing Kane to attend [training] camp sends a message to the accuser that she does not matter,” wrote five hockey journalists for SB Nation. “If the NHL wants to repair its relationship with female fans, the league needs to send the message that sexual assault allegations will be handled seriously and properly, regardless of who you are or how many Stanley Cup rings you have.”