THE PROBLEM WITH MIXING SPORTS AND POLITICS.
On Wednesday in Washington, D. C., Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sat silently next to Donald Trump while the leader of the free world mused that it’s “frankly disgusting that the press is able to write whatever it wants.” “People should look into it,” Trump warned, hours after he suggested on Twitter that “fake news” purveyors ought to be at risk of losing their broadcast licences.
Well, what else could Trudeau do? In the early days of Trump, some Canadians indulged an adolescent fantasy in which our brave, handsome democrat would stand atop the anti-Trump barricades. We seem to have grown up now. Team Trudeau is determined to ingratiate itself with Team Trump, and rightly so. Its job is to protect Canada’s interests. So our proudly feminist prime minister will keep appearing in happy- happy photo ops with an admitted groper of women, thus quite explicitly “normalizing” ( in modern parlance) the president’s past and present behaviour. You could say it puts the lie to everything Trudeau claims to believe in, but surely his chances he could influence Trump in any positive, meaningful way would be vanishingly small regardless.
They must be greater, though, than the chances the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins could alter the trajectory of Trump’s presidency by not accepting their invitation to the White House. Yet scorn has poured in ever since the team announced it would make the trip, and it continued during and after the team’s Tuesday visit. “We respect the office of the White House,” team captain Sidney Crosby carefully told the Pittsburgh Post- Gazette. He insisted it wasn’t “about politics.” People scoffed, sneered and rolled their eyes.
“Trump’ s presidency will have bearing on all of us. Therefore the responsibility to speak out against it falls to all of us,” a Toronto Star columnist argued. All of us except our head of government, apparently.
The Trudeau-Penguins analogy is admittedly inexact. But I’ve been shopping it around town, and most of the counter- arguments boil down to this: Trudeau taking a stand would have realworld consequences, and the Penguins taking a stand wouldn’t. I’m not sure that’s true: In visiting the White House but making no mention of it on social media, the Penguins seemed to be deliberately walking a fine line. But if it’s true, then surely that’s because skipping the visit wouldn’t accomplish anything. If a gesture is empty, who cares if it’s made?
If protests against police violence were going to arrive on any pro sport’s playing surface, it makes perfect sense it would be the NFL’s. Roughly 95 per cent of the players are American, roughly two-thirds are black, and a good number of them have come from disadvantaged backgrounds. (A Sports Illustrated census of the Denver Broncos found 50 per cent of the roster claimed loweror lower- middle- class backgrounds.) That’s precisely the nexus of race and class where the phenomenon is felt most disproportionately and viscerally.
No other league’s player demographics come close to that nexus, not even the NBA’s, and least of all the NHL’s: the players are almost all white, they play a sport that costs a fortune to play and, perhaps most notably, only around a quarter of the players are American. The majority are guests in the countries they play in, and are thus quite understandably disinclined to do anything during the national anthem except stand at attention. The biggest single cohort of NHL hockey players is still Canadians, who have marinated their entire lives in a culture that is deeply suspicious of flash, controversy and individuality both on and off the ice.
There’s something off-putting about asking someone like Crosby to address a controversy that has nothing to do with him, centred around a national anthem that isn’t his, and then tearing apart his responses. “People have ( a) right to not go, too,” Crosby sort of pleaded with the Post- Gazette. “Nobody’s saying they have to go. As a group, we decided to go.” Is that so bad? Did people really expect him to extemporize for 15 minutes about the fractious history of race relations in his native Cole Harbour, N.S.?
Even more off- putting was the dismayed reaction among some fans and observers to P. K. Subban’s vow never to kneel during the anthem. Subban proactively took that position, to be fair — he wasn’t cornered by a reporter. And it’s fine for other players to question his logic, as some have. But here’s the league’s most electrifying, charismatic player being criticized for declining a role others had unaccountably assigned to him. That’s basically his hockey career in a nutshell. For heaven’s sake, let’s not extend that unfortunate phenomenon to politics.
I ask nothing of any athlete except athleticism and decent human behaviour. I don’t need him to think like me. I don’t need him to be on the right side of a history he has nothing to do with. Sports is far more than a fun diversion, but from a fan’s perspective that’s what it ought to be at its root, as opposed to the tedious morality play so much of the media want it to be. If you’re upset about people accepting Trump’s White House invitations and emboldening his agenda, you ought to lay off the hockey players and focus on his fellow politicians.
Team captain Sidney Crosby, top right, and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins met U. S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.