Penguins’ White House decision means Crosby can’t ‘stick to sports’ – Sportsnet.ca

Good analysis:

The president’s call for the release of NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice caused widespread backlash across the league this weekend. According to the Chicago Tribune, more than 200 players took a knee or sat on the bench while the anthem was played. Three teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, remained in their locker-rooms for the anthem. (Steelers offensive lineman, Alejandro Villanueva, an Army veteran, stood at the mouth of the players’ tunnel for the anthem by himself, though he has said that was due to a mistake.)

The president also disinvited the Golden State Warriors from visiting the White House as NBA champions, because the team’s star player, Steph Curry, said he wouldn’t attend — causing further backlash from NBA stars, like LeBron James and many others.

Curry says Trump’s comments just cement Warriors stance on White House visit

In the midst of it all, the Pittsburgh Penguins released a statement saying that they would, indeed, be attending the White House in celebration of the team’s Stanley Cup victory. That decision — not to mention the timing of the announcement — resulted in an outpouring of both criticism of and support for the Penguins.

When he was asked for his thoughts on visiting the White House by reporters after an exhibition game on Sunday, Crosby faced a polarizing question — whether he realized it or not.

“I support it,” the Penguins captain said. “It’s a great honour for us to be invited there.”

Despite Crosby’s honest efforts to be inoffensive, there was simply no way around it this time. He was going to offend one side or the other regardless.

And in that moment, Crosby made a statement about what he, his team and, yes, the NHL stand for.

Because in Trump’s America, sports and politics are inextricably linked. They’ve been mashed together like two mounds of Play-Doh in the hands of a toddler. And so Crosby was handed a discoloured pile of highly political mush, courtesy both of the president and of his own team’s decision to make an announcement about going to the White House.

This is the kind of discomfort that neither Crosby nor the NHL is used to.

Hockey is the least diverse of the major North American pro sports leagues. It is a sport that is by and large dominated by white people. And it is a sport that, for the most part, only the affluent can afford to play.

For those reasons, the NHL has less connection to the issues that are at the forefront in leagues like the NFL and the NBA. The majority of NHL players don’t face the systemic racism that their counterparts do. And so, in all its whiteness, the NHL doesn’t carry the social conscience that other leagues do. In fact, it deliberately tries not to.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has expressed his preference that players remain apolitical when representing the league. Meanwhile, Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, has encouraged the players in the league to use their platforms to express their views.

The NFL, NBA and WNBA all have players who have long used their platform to protest the systemic racism that people of colour face in the United States. Some prominent baseball players, like Adam Jones, have also spoken out against racism. Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell also knelt during the anthem on the weekend.

Although hotly debated, these protests have all been peaceful, respectful and eloquently explained by those who take part or support those who do. But the NHL has slipped through the controversy relatively unchallenged. Questions of race are left to black players such as P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds.

Still, hockey hasn’t been completely devoid of opinion. In recent years, several players in the NHL have shared their views about politics and social issues. Tim Thomas refused to meet with President Barack Obama when the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Earlier this year, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri was critical of President Trump’s ban on people entering the United States from specific Muslim-majority countries. Mika Zibanejad of the New York Rangers spoke about the difficulty the ban created for his family still living in Iran. This weekend, Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler slammed the president on Twitter for his comments regarding protesting athletes.

Source: Penguins’ White House decision means Crosby can’t ‘stick to sports’ – Sportsnet.ca

Robyn Urback’s take, after correctly calling out those using intemperate language criticizing Crosby:

Personally, I would have liked to see Crosby turn down the invite for any number of reasons: Trump’s attacks on athletes, women, immigrants, the U.S. Constitution and a normal news cycle, or for appearing to declare war on North Korea over Twitter. Take your pick.

I suspect Crosby assumed, rather adorably, that accepting the White House invitation was the less political of his two options. And after theexcoriation Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas received for skipping his team’s White House visit in 2012, it’s not hard to see why he might think that.

Two wrong choices

But in 2017, there is no such thing as an apolitical move. Crosby was damned either way. He’d either be a Trump sympathizer by accepting the invitation, or a rogue liberal by turning it down.

Ideally, there would be room for some nuance, but we seem to exist in a climate now where there’s this impulse to characterize everyone — athletes, actors, co-workers, etc. — as either “with us” or “against us,” which is absolutely being encouraged by the guy in the White House.

Indeed, separating people into “good” and “bad” is straight from the Trump playbook, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to play along. We don’t have to see an athlete who visits the White House or chooses to stand during the national anthem as a de facto Trump sympathizer; perhaps he disagrees with Colin Kaepernick’s method of protest, or fears being seen as anti-American, or maybe he just wants to try to stay out of it, to the extent that’s possible.

There is an argument to be made, however, that someone who does nothing in the face of injustice is himself guilty of perpetuating that injustice. It’s a fair point, which is why Crosby doesn’t exactly deserve a high-five for shrugging off the president’s bizarre views on the free speech rights of athletes.

But it’s unrealistic to expect every prominent figure in the world to declare his or her position on this presidency. Some people just aren’t built for it (which, granted, speaks to an extraordinary level of privilege, since some people have to be political, whether they want to or not). Hockey players are not exactly known for their thoughtful takes on social justice.

In any case, Crosby is not the enemy. If there is an enemy here, it’s his indifference, which won’t be challenged by sending him a tweet calling him a moral leper.

You don’t change minds by dividing people into camps and declaring as enemies those with whom you disagree. And you don’t change minds by yelling at strangers on the internet.

Change happens when those with whom we disagree are seen as potential allies, not hopeless adversaries. Crosby could be an ally. Or else he’ll just be a pretty good hockey player.

 

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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