USA TODAY US Edition
New view in Buffalo
Revitalized city not willing to let native Patrick Kane’s legal woes become its own,
As the once-booming industrial economy of New York’s second-largest city disintegrated and its population fled to the South and West over the last several decades, every bit of bad news with even the flimsiest local connection wormed its way into the region’s collective psyche.
Buffalo served as a punch line for Johnny Carson long after the historic blizzard of 1977 melted away. The Buffalo Bills provided the next generation of late-night comedians with fresh fodder by losing four consecutive Super Bowls in the early 1990s, as did the team’s most famous player, O.J. Simpson, who transitioned to infamy shortly thereafter. Timo- thy McVeigh, who confessed to and was ultimately executed for the 1995 bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City, was from nearby Pendleton, N.Y. Six local men were convicted of attending a terrorist training camp weeks before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. And all along the Bills and NHL’s Sabres kept losing, often in excruciating fashion.
So far, though, the sexual-assault investigation involving Buffalo native Patrick Kane, who helped lead the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups in the past six years and played for the USA in the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics, has not had the same impact locally.
“I don’t think we’re embracing that negativity as much as we would have a few years ago, when we might have said, ‘ Here we go again, another Buffalo icon blowing up on us,’ ” said Frank Thomas Croisdale, a lifelong Buffalo sports fan who spearheaded a fundraising effort after a story in
The Buffalo News last year chronicled the physical, emotional and financial struggles of former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley.
The difference stems from a sense of revitalization in Buffalo, Croisdale said. He cited development along the city’s long-dormant waterfront, anchored by new construction adjacent to the Sabres’ home arena, as well as a burgeoning medical research area north of downtown and Elon Musk’s massive solar-panel plant, scheduled for completion in 2016.
“It’s the first time we feel so good in the other direction that we’re able to step away from this one and say, ‘OK, he grew up here, but he doesn’t play here, and we’re not going to embrace this as much as we might have other negative things in the past,’ ” Croisdale said.
Prosecutors set to begin presenting evidence regarding the allegation against Kane postponed the grand jury hearing last Tuesday. However, Kane’s attorney, Paul Cambria, told the Chicago
Tribune on Thursday that the proceedings had been rescheduled.
Until last month, Kane was known locally as the most successful hockey player to emerge from the Buffalo area, having scored at least 20 goals in each of his eight NHL seasons, clinching the 2010 Stanley Cup with an overtime goal against the Philadelphia Flyers and leading the Blackhawks in goals and points during last spring ’s title run.
Aug. 1, Kane was at a rooftop bar in downtown Buffalo, where he was scheduled to appear at a public party with the Stanley Cup the following weekend. He left with two women, driven by an off-duty Buffalo police officer to his lakefront home in Hamburg, south of the city.
Early the next day, one of the women told police she had been sexually assaulted by Kane and went to a local hospital for exami- nation, according to multiple news media outlets.
Aug. 6, the News reported police had searched Kane’s home, with Hamburg police confirming an ongoing sexual-assault investigation. A News story published Aug. 9 included quotes from the bar owner, who talked about the aggressive behavior of a young woman in Kane’s group at the bar, though he acknowledged not knowing if she was the accuser.
The story drew criticism from victims’ advocates and on social media, with Kane supporters treating it as calling the accuser’s motives into question.
“When articles are written that are very victim-blaming, the social media conversation gets out of control,” said Jessica Pirro, chief executive officer for Crisis Services, an advocacy organization serving victims of sexual assault. “We don’t want to cause harm for survivors. It’s really difficult for people to come forward. There are people sexually assaulted and children sexually abused every day, and they’re watching this play out on social media.”
Alan Bedenko, a local attorney and writer for The Public, a weekly newspaper in Buffalo, was one of the most prominent voices against what he considered victim-blaming in coverage by the
News and served as a lightning rod for reaction to the case on Facebook and Twitter.
“I was pleasantly surprised by how enlightened many hockey fans, especially in Buffalo, seemed to be about the whole thing,” Bedenko said. “There’s a small minority of diehard Kane fans who see the whole thing as being some sort of manufactured witch hunt or someone is out to get money. But they’ve been very, very vocal and completely unreasonable.”
While Erie County district attorney Frank Sedita and Kane’s attorney, Cambria, have declined to discuss the case, the latter did get involved in the comments thread under one of Bedenko’s Facebook posts, saying, “Don’t prejudge either side,” and, “Keep an open mind.”
Bedenko noted most of the Kane supporters he encountered online identified, through their comments and usernames, as Blackhawks fans supporting one of their stars, rather than Buffalonians defending a local hero.
That could be because of Kane’s sporting distance from his hometown. He left the area to play midget hockey in Detroit at 14 and was drafted by the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League before joining the Blackhawks at 18 for the 2007-08 season.
Kane also has a checkered office reputation.
After a night of partying in August 2009, then-20-year-old Kane and his cousin were charged with punching a Buffalo cab driver during a 5 a.m. argument over 20 cents in change.
Indicted on misdemeanor charges of assault, theft of services and harassment, Kane and his cousin avoided jail time by pleading guilty to disorderly conduct and apologizing.
The following June, after reaching legal drinking age and helping Chicago win what would be the first of its three Stanley Cups in six seasons, Kane appeared intoxicated during the team’s victory celebration, toasting the cab drivers of Buffalo while addressing the crowd.
In May 2012, photographs of Kane’s exploits in Madison, Wis., provided viral fodder for Deadspin.com as well as reportedly drawing a rebuke from Blackhawks management.
“He was ours long before he was Chicago’s,” Croisdale said. “When he was taken at the top of the draft and went on to have success, there was a great sense of pride here. But now I think it’s more like, ‘Let’s not remind people he’s from Buffalo. He’s Chicago’s embarrassment, not ours.’ ”
The Blackhawks are scheduled to open training camp Friday but have not commented on whether Kane will be there. He is entering the first year of an eight-year, $84 million contract extension and, depending on the result of the investigation, could be subject to a suspension by the NHL.
But should the case end with an out-of-court settlement, the outcome should not be viewed as proof of guilt or innocence, said Pirro, the victims’ rights activist.
“In certain situations, a settlement may be because they are admitting they did the crime — but can a high-profile defendant get a fair trial?” Pirro said. “Some perpetrators may not get a fair process, and for a victim it’s a grueling experience to live through what they experienced over and over. A settlement doesn’t take away the violation they felt or the trauma they experienced.
“Sometimes, these things play out that way because you’re trying to find a way to justice for both sides.”
“I think it’s more like, ‘Let’s not remind people he’s from Buffalo. He’s Chicago’s embarrassment, not ours.’ ”
Frank Thomas Croisdale, longtime Buffalo sports fan “There’s a small minority of diehard Kane fans who see the whole thing as being some sort of manufactured witch hunt or someone is out to get money.” Alan Bedenko, local attorney and writer for The Public in Buffalo “When articles are written that are very victim-blaming, the social media conversation gets out of control.”
Jessica Pirro, chief executive officer for Crisis Services, an advocacy organization serving victims of sexual assault