Now that the District Attorney has announced that he will not ask a grand jury to review the allegations against Patrick Kane, it has to be acknowledged that the Chicago Blackhawks' handling of the matter turned out to be a textbook example of excellent crisis management. There may have been some luck, and it wasn't perfect, but things have played out about as well as possible considering the seriousness of the allegations.
The team faced great criticism for both allowing Kane to attend training camp, and for a "tone deaf" press conference at the start of camp. There is no denying the one mistake was to try to hold a "business as usual" press conference while Patrick Kane had just spent several minutes repeating "I appreciate the question" while not answering any questions.
In the long run, that awkwardness was a minor embarrassment and annoyance. It remains to be seen whether team president John McDonough or GM Stan Bowman will try to move Kane or somehow make him pay for putting them and the team's reputation on the line. But considering the DA's public statement that strongly supported Kane's denial of any wrongdoing, it is hard to say Kane did anything wrong here. Of course, if he doesn't take the accuser home this never would have happened at all, but no one can say he is at all to blame for being the subject of a false accusation.
The Hawks surely knew they would take some lumps for a few days after the press conference, but they figured it was better to get it all out of the way then. They let Kane speak to the media, and then did so again the next day, which I think was some brilliant crisis management. At the time, Kane had not appeared in public since the incident. By having him speak at a press conference twice in early September, the novelty of seeing him and hearing from him was over. It was painful to watch, but it was a pain the Hawks preferred to have take place in September and during pre-season.
The media attention for it was certainly high, but probably less so than it would have been during the season or this week. While some people will remember the September press conferences as awkward and uninformative, few fans remember or care about any of that now. And I suspect that is exactly as the Hawks' front office hoped and expected.
There was certainly a great deal of risk taken on by the Hawks in allowing Kane to return to the team. Had the case gone to a grand jury, and had he been charged, and perhaps even convicted of rape, it would have looked awful for the team. I have little doubt, though, that the team's legal counsel must have had some information from Kane's lawyer about the DNA reports and other details that supported Kane's innocence.
There is no playbook for how any team should handle a major crisis about a player. It's a complicated calculus that takes into account a ton of factors, including the player's value, timing, extent of the allegations, the known evidence (including video or witnesses), the expected public reaction, and more. The team decides from there. No one is so naive to think the Hawks would have allowed a lesser player the same treatment, but then again a lesser player also would not have faced as a great a media scrutiny as Kane did.
Ultimately, the Hawks certainly took some heat early on but I think that is mostly expressed by some journalists and does not really reflect the views of a very high percentage of fans of the team, fans of Kane, and fans of hockey in general. In the long term, a bad situation has played out nearly perfectly from the standpoint of the team.
However, it is fair to say that the Hawks could have avoided much of the negative publicity and maybe even have generated some positive reactions had they suspended Kane all along. While that course of action might have been safer from a PR standpoint, I think the way things have played out have proven the Hawks' strategy to have been a highly successful one.
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Filed under: Patrick Kane