Winnipeg Jets winger Evander Kane has been a target of criticism from some Winnipeg fans, but not all of it relates to his on-ice performance.
When the Atlanta Thrashers moved last summer to Winnipeg and were reborn as the Jets, one of the advantages cited for the players was they would enjoy playing in a city which truly cared about hockey.
One disadvantage that wasn’t mentioned, however, was the players would find their lives under considerably more scrutiny in Winnipeg than they faced in Atlanta.
Such is what Jets promising young left wing Evander Kane has discovered this season.
-Kane’s business manager last fall approached local restaurants and bars suggesting that, for a fee, the young forward would announce via Twitter he and his Jets teammates were at that establishment in order to draw fans, even if they weren’t really there.
-A rumor emerged last fall claiming Kane had skipped out on paying a restaurant bill, or had skipped on several restaurant bills, depending on the source of the rumor. That prompted a fan to recently attend a Jets game with a sign imploring him to stop walking out on his restaurant bills.
-Earlier this season, there were rumors Kane was unhappy playing in Winnipeg and had requested a trade, which he and Jets management denied.
-When Kane was sidelined by a concussion, a rumor made the rounds claiming it was the result of a fight in a Winnipeg bar, than from game action.
-An “I Hate Evander Kane” page has sprung up on Facebook, while Kane has taken down his own Facebook page, as well as ceased commenting on his Twitter account, in the wake of the personal attacks and unsubstantiated gossip.
The three agree agree Kane’s immaturity and cocky attitude has made him a lightning rod for criticism, rubbing some Winnipeg fans the wrong way.
Taylor, however, called Kane a “big city, 21st Century athlete in a small town that has never warmed to athletes who a) need to be paid for just about everything they do and b) carry themselves as bigger, richer and more important than other members of the community”.
Being a young, rich, cocky, talented athlete playing in hockey’s smallest market appears to makes Kane stand out more than it would in the bigger markets, or the more obscure.
Taylor doesn’t condone the actions of the gossipmongers, but went on to suggest Kane’s immaturity was bringing the abuse upon himself.
‘But for a kid who wanted a trade early in the season, has responded with improved play to two benchings and has been the most explosive offensive force on a team that can’t score, this just might be another wake-up call.
Because when you’ve pissed off a fan base that wants to love you as much as their own family members, you’re probably doing something wrong.’
Lawless and Friesen, however, believe Kane, despite his immaturity, doesn’t deserve to be the subject of malicious, baseless gossip, suggesting this reflects poorly upon Winnipeg hockey fans, which could result in the city getting a reputation as less than “player-friendly”.
It’s certainly understandable how some fans would be rubbed the wrong way by the story about Kane’s business manager seeking cash for his endorsement, but that certainly isn’t justification for the hatred toward him. At worse, it can be suggested he got bad business advice.
The rumors about Kane skipping out on restaurant tabs and getting his concussion from a barroom fight were reported by Lawless and Friesen to be false, but that hasn’t quelled the growing dislike for Kane. Its even been suggested the fact the Jets investigated the stories about Kane as some bizarro-world justification the rumors were fact.
It’s one thing to be critical of Kane’s performance, or even to suggest he has no right to be acting cocky if he’s not playing well. He’s a pro athlete, and that sort of criticism comes with the territory. It’s another to spread malicious, unsubstantiated gossip.
Given today’s technology, where cellphones record indiscretions which quickly become featured on social media (or in the case of the Vancouver riot, headline news), one would think there would be some record of Kane skipping out on restaurant tabs (a criminal offense) or getting his bell rung in a bar fight. No such evidence exists.
It’s seems when folks want to believe the worst in someone, it doesn’t matter if there’s lack of evidence to support the gossip. Word of mouth, based on hearing from someone who knows someone, seems to suffice.
Winnipeg has a justified reputation as a friendly, die-hard hockey town. Most Jets fans don’t appear to be buying into these baseless smears about Kane, even if his attitude or play draws criticism from some.
It would be a shame, however, to see this become an example of the ugly flip side of being a hockey player in Winnipeg, where your life becomes a fishbowl existence, and every foible – real and imagined – is blown out of proportion.
Winnipeg’s location and size could make it a difficult sell for the Jets to entice top free agent talent. Management will obviously point to the fan support and small town feel as selling features, especially the latter to players with young families.
The last thing the Jets need is for the city to garner a bad reputation over how the fans treat their players, especially when it comes to their personal lives. Remember, players also talk among themselves throughout the league, and there are probably some cities they view less favorably than others.
Hopefully, this situation with Kane will be a “one-off”, something which disappears as he matures, and as Winnipeg fans become more accustomed to having cocky young hockey stars in their midst again.