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It’s not every postgame celebration that ends with a chant mocking an accused rapist.
Oregon football players ended their College Football Playoff semifinal trouncing of Florida State last January by doing the tomahawk chop and chanting “NOOOO MEANS NOOOOO,” referencing then Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. He was accused of sexual assault by a former female student in 2013, but was never charged nor arrested; a student code of conduct hearing in December cleared him of any wrongdoing.
(After the accusation, stories of how police coddled Seminoles players that ran afoul of the law were legion.)
As Yahoo’s Graham Watson noted, it was neither the time nor the place for the chant, and the Oregon players were admonished. Christine Brennan of USA Today, however, wrote that “we should be pleased that they actually know the meaning and impact of the ‘no means no,’ phrase, and in their own way, shined a light on a famous man accused of rape.”
That’s been my struggle with the recent chants from New York Islanders fans and Philadelphia Flyers fans focused on Patrick Kane of the Chicago Blackhawks, who’s been accused of sexually assaulting a woman in his Buffalo area home last summer but hasn’t been charged nor arrested. I’m not sure if the spotlight given to the charges and the phrase outweigh how they potentially sell them short.
Last week, Islanders fans chanted “no means no!” during their home game against the Hawks. Kane said he didn’t hear the chants.
On Wednesday, Flyers fans chanted “she said no!” when Kane touched the puck during their victory over the Blackhawks.
Part of me agrees with Brennan: These chants keep this scandal in the public eye at a time when the Blackhawks have swept it under the rug so vigorously that the broom’s caught fire. And fans that feel they need to do so have as much right to file that vocal protest as the Blackhawks fans had a right to welcome Kane back with passionate cheers during training camp.
But there are probably better ways to go about that than turning a protest of Kane into “Crosby Sucks” with more provocative verbiage.
It trivializes the phrases. It belittles what any survivor of sexual assault goes through, in the sense that there’s no meaning behind what’s being chanted. It has nothing to do with the gravity of the alleged crime; it’s cheap heat against a visiting player.
Times have changed. This isn’t 1979 at Madison Square Garden, where New York Rangers fans lustfully chanted “Beat Your Wife, Potvin, Beat Your Wife!” in reference to the spousal abuse allegations made against New York Islanders star Denis Potvin during a particularly prickly divorce. Over 35 years later, we expect more from fan behavior as we expect more from player behavior.
When it comes to Kane, the allegations shouldn’t be off the table for rival fans. I just wish they’d do something with a little more meaning behind it than turning powerful phrases into singsong chirps.
Bring a sign to the game with a rape crisis hotline number next to Kane’s picture, for example. Do something that uses this moment as a way to create awareness and do something proactive, while still keeping the spotlight on the player in question. Do something that shows you’re not just propagating something somber into something meaningless.
There are always points to be earned for creativity. Ask Oregon.
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