-- There was no family sit-down needed, no speech to remind my children of the difference between right and wrong. At ages 20 and 17, my daughter and son are not babies anymore.
Sadly, being sports fans in their lifetimes has only reinforced why, as passionate as their love is for their favorite Chicago teams, it makes sense to be dispassionate when it comes to the athletes who play for them.
Whatever initial infatuation they had eight years ago when a curly-haired blond kid joined the Chicago Blackhawks and transformed the franchise, their sports education developed in much the same way they learned a foreign language or geometry.
They may have once wanted Patrick Kane's jersey and marveled at his talents. But Thursday, my son spoke of "the cab driver story," referring to Kane 's altercation with a Buffalo taxi driver in 2009 before the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup title, as if it was from a school textbook.
And my daughter heard the stories of Kane's admitted alcohol-fueled escapades in Madison, Wisconsin, in 2012, when she started school there a year later.
They still talk about it. Especially recently, amid Kane's latest and most serious situation. He is accused of sexually assaulting a woman in August at his offseason home in Hamburg, New York, a person familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press. Kane has not been charged, and a grand jury hearing has reportedly been rescheduled for later this month.
Amid all this, Kane was still invited by the Blackhawks to training camp this week at Notre Dame. The team trotted him out before the media Thursday afternoon, when he mostly repeated his thanks for questions he said he could not answer.
Kane denied any wrongdoing, saying "I am confident once all the facts are brought to light I will be absolved of having done [anything] wrong."
Hawks president John McDonough said the team would re-evaluate Kane's status with the organization if he was indicted of any charges. But if the organization was trying to distance itself from the ugliness, it did a poor job when it brought Kane to camp and then put him before the media with nothing to say.
At one point, McDonough was actually asked if he was "tone deaf" as he used words like "Camelot" to describe an organization that, even with three Stanley Cups in six seasons, can hardly afford to be arrogant.
As Kane awkwardly repeated the same non-answer to the questions he was asked Thursday, I flashed back to the days when I hyped up Kane to my kids, the perfect new, young hero to latch onto during an otherwise dull time in Chicago sports. With Rocky Wirtz assuming control of the team and putting home games on TV, the kids latched on. So did their friends.
But that was 2007. On Thursday, one of my son's friends listened to Kane's news conference on the radio driving home from school.
"My whole room is filled with Kane stuff," he said, mentioning his replica jersey with Kane's name on it. "I thought at first I wanted to throw it out, but the picture is so murky, I really don't know what to think. The fact that he said, 'I did nothing wrong,' makes it more complicated."
I asked my son how he felt about Kane. We've talked a little about the case as developments occurred throughout the summer, but I realized I never asked him how he felt about a player I know he admired.
"I've learned to separate how I feel about him on the ice with off the ice," my son said flatly. "If he's not around, the team will most likely do worse. But it's such a sensitive issue, you can't stick up for him. No matter how much you want the team to win, you can't somehow hope the victim is lying ...
"You can't favor him just because it's good for hockey, and you shouldn't because he has had other incidents happen."
I thought about the message I had sent to my kids over the years, that if they had listened to me about any other assault case, they would surely give the victim the benefit of the doubt. And if they listened to me waxing poetic about standing with Kane's parents in the bedroom of his boyhood home for a story I wrote his rookie season, how they might not.
But any murkiness I might have had was swiftly wiped out after my conversation with my daughter. She asked why, if Kane was being investigated, he was not suspended. She talked about how, in our society, the victim so often has the burden of defending herself against an onslaught of doubt.
"'He-said-she-said' is who didn't take out the garbage," my daughter said, annoyed with the inherent suggestion in the expression so often used when discussing sexual assault cases. "'He-said-she-said' is not sexual assault. ...
"It's a case of power. Not only man against woman, which is historically a struggle in our society, but money against no money and fame against no fame."
That the Blackhawks were holding camp at Notre Dame was not lost on my daughter. A girl from our Chicago suburb took her life in 2010 after she alleged she was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player.
I thought I was disillusioned after hearing my son's friend tick off all the names of athletes involved in domestic abuse and sexual assault cases during his lifetime. "I do not think they have ever been immortalized to me as complete heroes," he said.
But my daughter's wary assertion was the kicker.
I don't know Patrick Kane any better than any sportswriter really gets to know any athlete. But I did come to a realization on Thursday after his news conference: After all these years of thinking I was the teacher, my kids had it figured out by themselves all along.