If you follow sporting news at all, specifically hockey, then you’ve surely heard of the NHL’s current scandal. Patrick Kane, the star right wing for the Chicago Blackhawks, has been accused of and is being investigated for rape in his home state of New York. The investigation continues revealing more details, and the media firestorm continues to grow. Kane is in the midst of a very serious situation, but his PR team and the Chicago Blackhawks have been handling the matter well.
There’s been a great deal of victim shaming in recent rape cases, such as the allegations against Bill Cosby, and this case is no different. Blaming the victim and saying that “she wants a payout” or “she’s looking for her 15 minutes of fame” as many are saying is terrible, and it’s not the culture we should be promoting. The Buffalo News even went as far as to run victim-blaming comments by a bar owner in their newspaper.
However, on the other hand outlets are assuming or leaning toward Kane’s guilt from the get-go.
Particularly in Chicago, media outlets are already blaming Kane for his alleged actions, with outlets such as Sports Mockery citing mistakes from his past as “evidence”. On Wednesday, EA Sports chose to remove Kane from the cover of the video game NHL 2016, leaving only Captain Jonathan Toews in the photo. This may be a smart move in the long run, as Kane could ultimately be found guilty. However, it’s a big assumption as he has yet to be charged.
That’s also the root of the problem: he hasn’t been charged, making this move controversial and putting both his PR team and the teams of companies involved with Kane in a difficult spot. As consumers we’re free to make up our own minds on his guilt or innocence, but companies have even more on the line. They have the “innocent until proven guilty” standard to consider, but they also must protect their reputations. The issue is being further complicated by two things: media outlets scrambling to release articles on the latest “details” culled from rumors, and that the police have yet to make concrete decisions or an arrest in the investigation.
As PR pros, news outlets constantly striving to be the first to put out the news is something we often deal with. While unfortunate, speculation on breaking news and scandals is becoming more and more common. With the rise in online media, stories break in real-time, and false information is often put out before it’s able to be fact-checked. Many news outlets will also run opinionated pieces with no regard for the damage that these reports can cause. Working in public relations and dealing with these stories is part of being on the “cleanup crew” when a client makes a mistake. When addressing a crisis, you have to be concerned about not only what you say, but also how you say it and how quickly you respond.
In many cases, we can take some tips from the Chicago Blackhawks.
They released a statement that read: “we are aware of the matter and are in the process of gathering information. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.” Similar to what Subway was able to do with Jared, the Blackhawks have decided to learn the full story before cutting ties with one of their largest stars. This is important, especially with an issue as sensitive as sexual assault, and a player with the star status of Patrick Kane. If Kane is convicted, the team and the NHL will be forced to deal with the issue accordingly. If he is not, although they will still have what many may label an “accused rapist” on the team, they will not have punished or terminated someone found to be innocent.
Even with the cards stacked against them, the Blackhawks organization has set themselves up in the best way possible. Regardless of how the investigation ends, they’ve made a respectable choice that will do the least damage possible to their brand. The statement released is simple, it addresses the issue, and most importantly it doesn’t speculate either way. Addressing the situation while it is occurring is just as important as assuring the public that you are taking action. In the case of a crisis or scandal consumers are increasingly looking to the company for information, and what you say is more important now than ever.
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