CUP

THE PROB­LEM WITH MIX­ING SPORTS AND POL­I­TICS.

National Post (Latest Edition) - - FRONT PAGE - Chris Selley

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.

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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