Safety in fan communities

Given that I’m a writer, you might be expecting a post with this title to be about speculative fiction fandom.  It isn’t, or not directly.*

It’s about hockey, and the very troubling rape allegation that surfaced recently in regards to Patrick Kane, #88, star winger on the Chicago Blackhawks.

When professional athletes are accused of serious crimes, their fans don’t always take it well.  There’s a chorus of innocent until proven guilty and but he’s such a great guy, he signed my kid’s jersey one time and sometimes some pretty gross backlash against the victims of the alleged crimes.

As a female sports fan–heck, as a decent-person sports fan, here is what I want to hear from other fans when something like this goes down.  I want to hear, first and foremost, that you hope the victim is okay and being treated well.  I want to hear concern for her, belief in her.

I don’t want your first thought to be for the alleged criminal.  He’s a rich, highly privileged person who will almost certainly be fairly treated, well-represented and supported with excellent legal advice, and even if found guilty, may keep his prestigious job and his millions in salary.

I don’t want your first thought to be for the franchise either.  Your team will win again, with or without their star player.  And if they don’t–even if this kicks off a century of early playoff exits or bankruptcy or whatever–that is still incredibly unimportant when placed against the wellbeing of a rape victim.

I want to hear that you care about women.  I want to see you remember that the community you’re in, the community of fans, includes plenty of women, and that all of us deserve to feel like our heroes wouldn’t hurt us.  I want our heroes to be nice people who visit sick kids, donate to good causes and love animals.  And on the rare occasion when someone does something terrible, I want to know you understand that no amount of clutch goals can make up for that.

Rape accusations are rarely false, and rapists often walk free.  It’s possible, and likely, that Patrick Kane will not be convicted; it’s possible he won’t even be charged.  Neither of those things means he is actually innocent.  Maybe, somehow, he is completely innocent; but he isn’t who I am worried about right now.

I’m worried about the young woman who had to go to the hospital in the middle of the night.  I’m worried about the safety of other women who encounter the wrong athlete at the wrong time, who might be even less likely to see or even seek justice because of their attacker’s fame and power.  And I’m worried–less, but still–about female hockey fans who won’t be able to watch a game or a highlight reel for a while without feeling ambivalent, maybe afraid–not only of the men we want to admire, but of the other fans in the room, who might not be there for us when it matters most.

I’m glad to see some people, like Tim Baffoe, responding to this situation with intelligent commentary.  I feel like we often need reminders that our fan relationships are one-sided: that we can love a public persona, a performance, a creation, without being truly loved or respected in return, and without knowing for sure the truth of what we admire.

Whatever happens next, I hope the woman in this case is getting all the help and support she needs.  And unless or until something changes, I won’t feel comfortable sitting next to the guys who think it’s cool to wear their #88 jerseys right now.

*I don’t actually identify as a fan in SFF: I love the genre, I love many of its works and many of its creators, but I didn’t grow up in fandom per se.  I didn’t even know the word until recently.  And the love I feel is different from the love fans feel: a statement I couldn’t make with authority until I found myself becoming a fan of something else (hockey!).

I love literature.  It’s my career and my intellectual home, and I approach it almost always with a spirit of critical thinking, wanting to understand how to make my own writing better.  Hockey is the only thing I consider myself a fan of: I love it with a simple, obsessive yet passive enthusiasm.  I don’t want to do it, I just want to know all the things about it, and watch it whenever I can, and read blogs about it and stuff.  Maybe this doesn’t dovetail with your experience of being a fan, or being a creator, or both.  I have no intention of critiquing or invalidating anyone else’s experience or identity.  But I would feel weird calling myself a member of SFF fandom when my experience has always been mediated and distanced by my sense of myself as a writer.

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