An actual victory.

Photographer: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

NHL Should Bench Patrick Kane

Kavitha A. Davidson is a former Bloomberg View columnist.
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The Patrick Kane rape investigation continues to get uglier. Even before the latest bizarre development, we were well past the time for the NHL to intervene and take the Chicago Blackhawks star off the ice.

On Wednesday, the accuser's lawyer told reporters that an evidence bag that once contained the woman's rape kit had been tampered with, opened and left in her mother's doorway. On Friday, the Erie County district attorney's office said this was an "elaborate hoax" by the mother. Whatever the truth, it all came after a convenient leak to the Buffalo News indicated that none of Kane's DNA was found on the woman from the waist down, though it was found under her fingernails and on her shoulders. The police department in Hamburg, New York, said in a statement that all evidence had been accounted for. 

Accusations of evidence tampering are consistent with a case that has been messy from the start, with investigators and the local news media seeming to go out of their way to cast the accuser in a negative light. In August, just days after police launched their investigation, the Buffalo News ran an article in which they interviewed the owner of the bar where Kane and the woman met. The owner said he saw a woman "hanging all over" Kane and "being very forward, very flirtatious with him" before going home with him and some friends. It sadly bears repeating that a woman flirting with someone, even a famous athlete, in no way signals consent. And that's actually moot in this case: It was later revealed that the woman the owner saw was a friend of the accuser, who accompanied her back to Kane's. 

Coverage of the rape kit has been no better. The Niagara Falls Reporter went with this headline: "DNA Tests on Kane's Accuser Come Up Positive for Others, Not Kane." The article noted that while Kane's DNA was absent, "DNA evidence of at least one person and possibly one or two more in her genital area" was found. The presence of evidence from other men, dubiously worded here as it is, has no bearing on whether Kane raped this woman. Including such a detail -- in the story's headline and lead paragraph -- seems intended solely to discredit her to a public already quick to label her a "cleat-chaser." 

But a lack of DNA below the accuser's waist doesn't necessarily mean a rape didn't occur. As victims' advocates and legal experts will tell you, some rapists have been known to use condoms, to avoid disease or cut down on the genetic evidence. But try to tell that to the folks at the Hockey Writers Web site, who were downright celebratory over the news:  "DNA Test Could Mean Victory for Patrick Kane."

The treatment Kane's accuser has endured in the press and social media show you why, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, only 34 percent of rape victims report their assault to the police. It's by far the most underreported violent crime in the U.S. It's also why you should be wary of people who snap to paint accusers of athletes as opportunistic liars. Our justice system makes it too hard for two-thirds of victims to tell the truth about being raped -- why would it be any easier on the handful of false accusers?

As such, it's time for the NHL to step in and suspend Kane, with pay, while the investigation continues, to spare us this all-too-familiar spectacle. Spare the Blackhawks from having to show a shred of good judgment. Spare Blackhawks fans choosing to stand by their man even though they know nothing more of Kane's innocence than the rest of us. Spare Kane himself having to stumble through questions his team won't even answer, as in last week's disastrous press conference, when the team announced it would invite him to training camp. Spare sportswriters from having to pretend that the biggest story happening in the NHL right now has anything to do with hockey.

There's plenty of precedent for the league to intervene. The NHL indefinitely suspended Los Angeles Kings defenseman Slava Voynov last October as it investigated domestic violence charges against him. It wasn't until January that the team suspended him, too, but it wasn't for hitting a woman -- it was for getting injured outside of hockey activities. (Which conveniently saved the Kings Voynov's $4.2 million salary-cap hit.) Critics may note that Kane's case is different because he hasn't been formally charged with a crime. True, but as the investigation continues to get messier, it's in everybody's best interest to take him out of skates until things are resolved.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has the power to do this under the collective bargaining agreement, which states that he may suspend a player whose conduct "is detrimental to or against the welfare of the League or the game of hockey." In two weeks, when the Blackhawks take the ice opening night in Chicago, it'd be a shame for hockey if the Stanley Cup banner is raised amid the questions surrounding No. 88.

Following the Voynov ordeal, both the Kings and the league have promised to do better when it comes to addressing violence against women. The NHL holds some seminars each year to educate its players, but these have proven wholly inadequate. We'd all have a lot more faith in the league's education effort if it would take Kane off the ice. And it would signal to players, fans, the media and victims that an effort to smear a woman accusing an athlete doesn't always work.

(Updates with Erie County district attorney's statement on evidence bag in second paragraph of an article originally published Sept. 24.)

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Kavitha A. Davidson at kdavidson19@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.net