So let me get this straight. The NHL, or at least Gary Bettman, thinks it’s important that players respect the anthem, but not that they play for anthem. Well, unless there’s some profit it in it for the owners. So much so, that they were willing to try to use attending the 2018 Winter Olympics as a way to extort concessions out of the players.
Yeah, trying to use players’ patriotism and desire to represent their country against them is not disrespectful at all.
The fact is, Bettman’s words on this, as on so many things, ring hollow. On issue after issue after issue, the only thing that the NHL has shown it respects is the almighty dollar. And there is no reason to believe this any different.
Here’s what Bettman had to say on the topic back in May:
Bettman is always willing to attribute the NHL’s position on an issue to his interpretation of what the fans think or want. And hey, that’s his prerogative. I mean, he’s the Commissioner, after all. But coincidentally enough, the fans always seem to agree with the NHL in a way that benefits the league financially. Go figure.
In reality, however, I’m not so sure that fans would agree. When it comes to being able to assess the benefits of a decision, it appears that who benefits affects how quantifiable that decision is:
But more on that topic next time.
For now, let’s stick to the issue at hand, which is whether political expression has any place in the world of professional sports in general, and the NHL in particular.
That the Pittsburgh Penguins chose to issue a statement confirming that they would accept to visit the Trump White House smack in the middle of the current controversy is in itself a political act.
For all the attempts to frame this as an apolitical activity, and simply a show of respect for the institution and a respect for tradition, the fact remains that America remains a very divided nation, politically, and there is no room for a middle ground. At least not any more.
The league, Penguins, and even Sidney Crosby, can claim they are staying out of this, but just by visiting the White House they will be used as political props by Trump. In fact, he’s started already:
Please to inform that the Champion Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL will be joining me at the White House for Ceremony. Great team!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Even just staying quiet about this would have been a less political move than issuing a statement confirming that they will attend.
As for respecting tradition, let’s be clear here. The Stanley Cup Champion has only been visiting the White House since 1991. If the NHL was truly respectful of tradition, they would have kept the division names that honoured some of the greats that built the league, instead of the ludicrous mishmash of geographical names that have barely any relation to the actual location of the teams within them. But again, more on that another time.
And it’s not just the league or the Penguins organization that have, ironically, tried to take the knee on this one.
The Penguins players and coaching staff have trotted out the same line about not taking a stance, but respecting the right of “others” to do so.
Gee, that must be nice. Wonder what the organization from ownership all the way down to the players have in common that allows them the luxury of doing this:
In essence, the prevailing attitude among the very white, very privileged people that make up the vast majority of NHL players, coaches, and management is, “I’m good bro, but you go ahead.”
Not only is this putting the burden of demanding change to injustices in American (and let’s be clear, Canadian) society on those with the least power to affect change, but in the context of hockey culture, which already tries its best to stamp the exhibition of any kind of “personality” from its players, this attitude makes it even harder for players to take a stand.
Nevertheless, some players have spoken up and shown that they understand the real issues at stake here, which have nothing to do with the anthem or the flag. They actually raise the issue of societal injustices and the need to address them. In fact, it turns out that you actually can decline to protest during the anthem without having to cop out:
Some thoughts…excuse the length! pic.twitter.com/YUNMgjaAgn
— Joel Ward (@JRandalWard42) September 28, 2017
That is in stark contrast to platitudes about respecting the institution, or honouring tradition, or recognizing the rights of others to protest.
All that being said, I do want to end on one further point. Why, exactly, do we play the national anthems before sporting events other than providing an yet another opportunity for celebrity has-beens to humiliate themselves? What do anthems have to do with anything that is happening out on the ice, when it’s not an international competition?
And it turns out that maybe I’m not alone in wondering this:
With the controversy surrounding anthems at sporting events,would you be in favour of teams not playing them before a game?
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) September 24, 2017
So if Gary Bettman really is taking the lead on this from what the fans expect when they come to a game, maybe he should rethink his whole strategy:
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