As a journalist, I can’t accept your Hart Trophy ballot justification, largely because it’s ridiculous.

Zoë Hayden
6 min readJun 24, 2016

Let’s get one thing clear, first. This doesn’t have anything to do with Patrick Kane’s guilt or innocence in a court of law. As we all know, there were no charges, no substantive evidence. The Twitter lawyers are always out in full force after an athlete is accused of domestic violence or sexual assault, and they were in my mentions today after I spoke with Lindsay Gibbs at ThinkProgress about the way that journalists responded to last summer’s rape accusation by giving Patrick Kane the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. They really seem to think that the court is the ultimate arbiter of how people should write about Kane.

I’m sure we all wish that the court system in the United States accurately and consistently delivered justice. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have to ask questions about what’s right and what’s wrong, or confront and write about complicated social problems, or in fact be responsible for any of our own opinions. Because right and wrong would be spelled out in the letter of the law, and defined in the facts before the court.

If you’ve made it to adulthood on this planet Earth, however, it takes a particularly robust willful naïveté to behave as if the legal system is able to bear these burdens. Even in a system that works well, facts and laws cannot be relied upon to fully guide our consciences. They don’t tell the whole story, and even in cases where a violation of someone’s body and safety is filmed in high definition, someone will be willing to put a spin on it. Quite fortunately, we live in a world where our every waking moment isn’t on film, but that means there’s always someone out there, trying to tell you that what you don’t have documented in triplicate may not have actually happened, and that what you do have documented can’t be seen in appropriate context. Rape victims, in fact, know this better than perhaps anyone.

The courts are not our consciences or our realties because they simply cannot present all the information that exists about a subject matter. They are restricted to laws and facts, and yet there is so much more information out there that is relevant when making a moral judgment call, a decision of the heart, or, let’s say, a professional determination as a journalist. Freedom of the press only works because it’s separate from the courts, because it has the flexible ability to contextualize, question, and examine what the courts consider to be facts. Courts exist to uphold the rule of law. Journalists and writers exist to distribute information, truthful information, but also context. A good journalist knows that they aren’t the law. A good journalist doesn’t make decisions, then, to benefit the courts or the status quo. They make decisions to benefit their readership. They ought to write the truth, both in terms of fact and in terms of the ethical and fair representation of their subject matter.

Which is why it’s so god damn ridiculous and laughable that Travis Hughes of SBNation NHL insists that he was obligated as a journalist to give Patrick Kane a vote for the Hart Trophy because not doing so would be tantamount to actually calling him a rapist. This is a patently absurd opinion:

I, too, have my personal opinions about Patrick Kane and his conduct off the ice. But when acting in my capacity as a journalist, I don’t have the freedom to call him a rapist — regardless of what I believe. There are laws against it.

That same judgment has to carry over to how I cover him, Hart Trophy voting included. By placing Kane elsewhere on my ballot, or by removing him from it completely, I’m basically saying that I believe he’s guilty of rape. There would be no other reason for me to leave him off my ballot other than because I am convinced of his guilt.

The most obvious reason that this is such a ridiculous thing to say is that it seems to imply that Mr. Hughes could be committing libel by leaving Kane off of his Hart ballot. The two things have nothing to do with each other, and nobody has to explain their ballot to anybody, certainly not by referring to somebody as a rapist. There’s no law that says that you have to vote for anybody in a professional sports league awards ballot for any reason. This justification, logically, fails to hold any water in any way. It’s aggressively and overwhelmingly nonsensical.

And from a philosophical perspective, or ethical perspective, it really doesn’t hold up for me either. It displays a preposterously outsized amount of faith in the sanctity of an NHL awards ballot — that somehow, these awards must be held to a higher standard than the personal opinions of the members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association, which is in fact what the awards ballot is meant to show. There is no higher power dictating the terms of what is and what is not a valid Hart Trophy vote. You are allowed to vote for whomever you like. That’s the point of having a write-in ballot. It is literally the way that the award is supposed to work.

So, then, Mr. Hughes insists a necessity in voting for Kane, that not doing so, as a journalist, would be to ignore the facts of his achievements on the ice. That he deserves the award and to deny him a vote for this award would be somehow factually inaccurate (remember, tantamount to a rape accusation, apparently — and you know, there are laws against libel, or something).

This is simply not true. You can vote with your conscience. You can decide whether Patrick Kane deserves to be the most prominent face in the entire sport. You can decide whether his on-ice achievements are so fantastic, in fact, that they eclipse any opinions that you might have about his character. In fact, you did just that, and for some unknown reason, many are proud of this, as if it shows some kind of greater and unimpeachable adherence to the truth.

It doesn’t, though. It simply prioritizes one type of truth over another. You picked the thing you know — that hey, Patrick Kane’s regular season stats were pretty great — over the thing you don’t know. You don’t know if he sexually assaulted someone. If he did? It certainly doesn’t matter to you.

You also claim that you know how sexual assault affects victims and how unlikely it is that a beloved celebrity will ever face consequences if they do harm somebody. You claim that you know how difficult it is to bring charges against someone for sexual assault, even when that person isn’t famous. But I’m not sure that you have even slightly pulled back the curtain and looked at what that actually means for a person who is dealing with trauma. No one is going to believe them. Well, you certainly can’t — you’re a journalist after all.

And you think that this award is solely for the benefit of Patrick Kane. It’s not. The vote that you make reaffirms the NHL’s chosen narrative that a sexual assault accusation is just step one in a redemption story arc. It isn’t about Patrick Kane, or any other celebrity who was accused of sexual or domestic violence and ultimately not charged. They are going to be fine and their lives are plenty rich, storied, and comfortable with or without an MVP trophy voted on by a panel of journalists. The benefit of this award is so inconsequential to a guy like Patrick Kane.

The harm that it does is so much greater than the truth you allege that it speaks to. The boldfaced defense of this as “just an on-ice award” compartmentalizes and depersonalizes. It makes it very clear to both abusers and victims who professional sports, and therefore mainstream society, will protect and care about. Many others have said this. You don’t need me to say it. I’m not even sure if that particular caveat is even getting through to anyone anymore.

The point is: you aren’t working with a pure and undeniable truth. You’re just working with the truth you’re most comfortable with. This is called cowardice, and it won’t be the first, or the last, time that we see it.