Photo Credit: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports

Athletes didn’t drag politics into sport – it was already there

The Pittsburgh Penguins found themselves in an untenable position this week.

The 2017 Stanley Cup champions had a choice to make. They could tour the White House and meet the President of the United States, as previous winners have done, thereby enraging his many vocal detractors. Alternatively, they could skip the event, provoking the same anger at the other end of the political spectrum.

The choice faced by the Pens takes place within a larger debate about the place of politics within sports. Should professional athletes and sports teams use their formidable platforms to argue for political causes, or should they “stay in their lane” and stick to sports?

It’s a bad question, because it starts from a false assumption: that sports are inherently apolitical, and that athletes with particular views are bringing politics into sport. The reality is that the NHL and other professional leagues have long invited politics into their games, and that becomes apparent when we look at the recent flashpoints.

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The visit to the White House is an obvious example. It’s a lot of things: a tradition, a status symbol for the league, a perk for the winning team and so on. Above all of those, it’s a publicity exercise. In exchange for the press that comes with visiting the President, the Stanley Cup champion agrees to act as a prop for whomever that happens to be at the moment.

The Pens did their best to downplay that truth in their public statement, which all but screamed that it wasn’t about politics; they were only doing it because it’s one of those things you do. That stance was immediately contradicted by the current President, who seized on the statement to reaffirm his legitimacy:

When that legitimacy is under attack — as it is for Donald Trump, as it was with Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton — just showing up is a political stance. That’s why Trump was so quick to seize on Pittsburgh’s announcement.

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Teams and athletes aren’t bringing politics into sport when they decide to go, or not go, to the White House. Anything they do is political, and the situation is the fault of the league and past champions who were so eager to sign up for a photo opportunity with a politician.

The tradition is longer, and the politics less obvious, but the dynamic is similar when the national anthem is played prior to a sporting event.

There was a time the anthem wasn’t routinely played prior to sporting events. Rather, it became a pre-game tradition in wartime, with World War II generally acknowledged as the point where it became a staple. It never went away after that, and the specific rituals around it became a particular flashpoint during the Vietnam War — where it was used explicitly by the NFL as a way of showing support for that military effort.

The professional sports establishment has often used pregame ritual as a way of making political points — both of the genuine and paid variety. It is less than two years ago that an American senate report came out detailing a marketing campaign by the military which paid sports teams for militaristic and patriotic displays.

Professional sports leagues have long recognized their events as opportunities to make political statements, both out of firm belief and cynical self-interest. Sport isn’t some apolitical zone suddenly thrown into chaos by radical players dragging their beliefs and causes into the mix. Instead, it’s a political venue in which individual players are realizing they don’t have to go along with the status quo preferred by their teams or leagues.

Recipe for Disaster

Don’t believe me? As a thought exercise, imagine a world where pro sports teams didn’t visit the White House, one without pregame rituals featuring flags and anthems. There’s no opportunity within such a sport for an athlete to make political statements. He could still talk to reporters or hold events advocating for his particular cause, but those things would happen outside of the actual games.

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The point here is not to advocate for that change. It’s simply to say that sporting events are already inherently political. If people really don’t want to hear what athletes think about politics, the simplest solution is probably to stop putting them in politicized situations and expecting them to just go along with them.

***Note that this article is posted across the Nation Network and that comments are an open forum***

  • Edsez

    it’s not that people really don’t want to hear what athletes think about politics … they just don’t want them expressing contrary opinions

    the trumps of this world are quick to highlight and promote athletes which support them

  • Poutine Gravy

    It strikes me as odd that in a society where we encourage all eligible voters to participate in democracy, we then criticize those who try to speak out, usually because we don’t agree with them.

    • Scott_12

      Many people follow this blog for the opinions of the writers. The facts are available in many places, and while the Nation Network does a great job of digging into those facts, analyzing all of the statistics etc, what the Nation Network provides that makes it most engaging is thoughtful contributors who interpret those facts and inject their own thoughts and opinions. It’s then up to us as readers to think critically about what they have said and form own opinions.

      Ari writing about the politics of sport and “injecting [her] own political bias” is no different than another writer stating that a particular player should or shouldn’t play on a particular line. Both are relevant to the common interest of those reading the blog (hockey) and both are open to be agreed with or rejected. I for one welcome commentary on the politics of hockey and find it underrepresented across the board in sports media.

      • cberg

        No matter the topic, there is a vast difference between presenting the facts and your views of those facts, versus presenting your views as facts. Stick to the former and we have no problem. Present the latter and you have biased propagandization which is divisive and uncalled for.

    • Al Rain

      WW, are you against the injection of political ideas, or against the injection of political ideas with which you disagree? Because reading some of your posts yesterday one might be left with the impression that it was the latter. Just saying.

  • Burnward

    When a society needs athletes to be leaders in social change, that society is broken.

    We have to remember that they didn’t ask for the responsibility and it isn’t fair to expect it.

    Every single white person, especially males has to look in the mirror and accept the reality that we have failed our fellow humans by creating an environment where a racist, misogynist and uninformed buffoon has taken the most powerful position on earth.

    Until we all vote for change and do better as brothers and sisters each day, I’m not expecting kids who play a game to lead the way.

    • Killer Marmot

      Every single white person, especially males has to look in the mirror and accept the reality that we have failed our fellow humans by creating an environment where a racist, misogynist and uninformed buffoon has taken the most powerful position on earth.

      I consider Trump a bit of an uniformed buffoon myself, but I see no evidence that he is racist. and I’m tired of the R-bomb being dropped on everyone people disagree with. What reason do you think he’s racist — very specifically?

          • Al Rain

            Oh brother. Ok, here you go:
            1) Top advisors and cabinet picks are racist, have history of suppressing black votes (see Sessions, Bannon, Mnuchin, etc)
            2) Created travel ban targeting Muslims
            3) Was sued twice for refusing to rent apartments to black people
            4) Refused to condemn white supremacists and KKK who advocated for him
            5) Began the birther movement with no evidence
            6) Encouraged the mob anger that led to the wrongful imprisonment of the Central Park Five. Demanded their execution. Stands by everything to this day.
            7) Condoned the beating of a BLM protester
            8) Denied responsibility for 900 hate incidents in the 10 days following the election
            9) Pardoning of Joe Arpaio
            10) Launched his campaign by calling Mexicans rapists

            I could go on, but why? If you’re giving this man the “benefit of the doubt” at this point then you’re deluded.

          • Killer Marmot

            Yes, this particular post was about the particular charge that Trump’s father was a klansman. I don’t try to address every issue in a single post.

          • Me

            So are you denying the video evidence that he called Mexicans (as a group) rapists? Was that gratuitous smearing?

            Come on! The list of evidence Al Rain posted is overwhelming, you’re going to have to refute every single point if you want to make your case, not just an outlier.

          • Killer Marmot

            Here’s the exact quote:

            “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. … They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people,”

            Is claiming that a high proportion of Mexican immigrants are criminals racist? I wouldn’t say so, especially as he says that Mexico is not sending its best. He might be factually wrong, but that’s a different issue.

          • Killer Marmot


            Come on! The list of evidence Al Rain posted is overwhelming, you’re going to have to refute every single point if you want to make your case, not just an outlier.

            We both know I haven’t the resources to do so, since it takes paragraphs to refute a single point.

            But the fact that even some of the points can be easily refuted means the entire list is questionable.

          • That's My Point

            And to think that “CROOKED HILLARY” whose husband was impeached was a better option? USA has 323 million people and these were the two BEST candidates for President? Therein lies the problem; FIX the SYSTEM.

          • PandaBearJelly

            Man, if you don’t think trump is racist, you yourself are probably a little bit racist. Yes, the quote about Mexicans being rapists is racist. Implying that the majority of illegal immigrants are “rapists” or “killers” is simply false. The majority are just people looking for a better life, likely trying to support their families. Saying “and some, I assume, are good people” doesn’t make up for what he said. That’s no different then saying “the indigenous people of Canada are all criminals, drug addicts and rapists… but some might be ok… I have a good friend who is native.”

          • ScottyPrime

            Marmot, if you give yourself the latitude to tune it out, you’re obviously not going to hear all the racism that flows out of him and his administration. But unless you’re willingly avoiding coming into contact with it, it’s very difficult to not see.

            -It took intense cajoling on the part of his staff for Trump to even throw out a mild condemnation of the Nazi rally in Charlottesville, but he was more than happy to hold a RALLY and throw out unequivocal condemnation towards black athletes for kneeling during an anthem ceremony that the NFL didn’t even start participating in until a few years ago.

            – He has TWICE been sued by the Justice Department for racial profiling in choosing renters.

            -He launched a travel ban specifically targeting Muslims from countries that both A) have literally no history of being threats to America, during the War on Terror or before and B) are not currently important trade partners.

            – He publicly belittled the ruling of not one, not two, but FOUR senior judges because they were “Mexican”. That was his reason for them not being qualified.

            -He has repeatedly struggled with whether or not he should condemn the overtly white nationalist groups who support him. Their support alone should be enough to suggest he himself is racist, but that he seems to kinda like these guys makes it hard not to believe.

            -He literally advocated for the crowd to physically assault BLM protesters at his rallies, on at least two occasions. He hasn’t done that for any other type of protester, despite their being many.

            -He advocates that Obama was not born in the US, and indeed has carried that campaign despite years of conclusive evidence that he is wrong. Trump has never suggested any of America’s white presidents are foreign, despite many having foreign branches to their families and a general wealth of white people all over the world.

            – He publicly attacked a Gold Star family that didn’t support him based exclusively on their ethnicity. When it was pointed out he was being incredibly foolish, he doubled down on the race card.

            – He advocated for a pair of men who pointlessly assaulted a homeless man simply because he was latino. Trump described the men as “loving their country” and being “passionate”. Most would use words like “thugs” and “criminals”.

            – He literally shared several anti-semitic memes. In one case, he copied it straight from a white supremacists groups page.

            And there are indeed many more, from him demanding his accountants not be black, to his meddling with the Central Park Five case, to his choices for cabinet and party affiliates. It takes a tremendous amount of cognitive dissonance for someone to decide that there is “no evidence” of him being racist.

          • Killer Marmot


            First, no more personal remarks.

            Second., it’s an impressive sounding list, but much of it does not stand up to scrutiny. For example, Trump suggesting that Obama was not born in the U.S. were totally screwy (and irrelevant, as Obama would still be a “natural born citizen”), but there is no reason to think that it was racist. Saying that Trump has never said that any white presidents are foreign is just silly, as they were not the current sitting president. Obama was.

            You are wrong, however, in saying he “advocates”. Trump has since admitted he was wrong, and that Obama was born in the U.S.

            You’re other points also don’t stand up to scrutiny. I don’t have time for a point-by-point rebuttal, but as an example, Islam is not a race.

      • oilerjed

        You can usually judge someone by whom they associate with. Trump has surrounded himself with people with white supremacist ideological views (openly) and as a president has gone out of his way to promote the tensions of racial divide in a country that is based on racial suppression. Have you ever heard Trump come out and openly speak against the white supremacists that are major donators to his election run?

      • mac

        He’s been a known racist for decades, trying to keep minorities out of his buildings. And don’t forget that he sees no difference between neo nazis and protesters.

        • Killer Marmot

          And don’t forget that he sees no difference between neo nazis and protesters.

          Some of the protesters in Charlottesville were Antifa, overtly violent Marxists. Is that what you are referring to?

          • mac

            They’re anti f ascists. They exist in opposition to f ascists. The neo nazis etc show up with weapons and guns to intimidate people. If they don’t do that, antifa disappears because it has no reason to exist.

            Like, literally one side showed up to support statues of people who fought for slavery and marched with racist chants. And people show up to fight against that. In WW II we called them The Allies.

            (*weird spaces added because I think some words trigger the site to block the comment)

          • Killer Marmot

            There are a couple of problems with the Antifa.

            First, assaulting someone is wrong, yes even if they are white nationalists.

            Second, the Antifa’s definition of fascism is rather loose. Someone in a MAGA hat will do just fine. Even a classic liberal holding up a sign supporting free speech seems to qualify. The Antifa are Marxists, and just about anyone to the right of Bernie Sanders looks to them to be fascist.

            Yes, we were allied with Russia in WW II, but Stalin was still a murderous despot for all that.

          • mac

            Can’t say I’m a fan of antifa.

            Doesn’t change that Trump sees no difference between racists and their protesters, and tries to lay blame on “both sides” for someone running over 20 protesters.

          • Killer Marmot

            I read Trump’s remarks after Charlottesberg. He should have explicitly denounced white nationalists right from the start.

            But claiming that he saw no difference between protestors and white nationalists does not stand up to scrutiny. He said there was blame on “both sides”, which is not the same. It was also factually correct, given the actions of the Antifa, although perhaps not politically astute.

          • mac

            Dude come on

            Look at it this way

            When a neo nazi runs over 20 protesters (not even antifa) at a rally centered around statues of people who fought for slavery, marching with racist chants, trump blames both sides. Then later says he needed more information. When else does ever wait for more information before going on weird rants?

            When a black guy protests racist police violence during the anthem, trump criticizes only him.

            You can hide behind “well there were some antifa there” but the pattern of racism and apologism is blatantly obvious.

          • Killer Marmot

            Depends what you’re talking about. Responsibility for running over those people rests with the person specifically and white supremacist in general. Responsibility for the riot and destruction of property rests with both sides.

    • Arminius

      Every single white person especially males has to accept that we have failed our fellow humans? Speak for yourself..you really buy into all that hey? That’s unfortunate

      • crofton

        I think it was said in the sense of “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem” So yeah, any white male that hasn’t acted in ANY way to combat racism has failed our fellow humans. But you need to take that statement farther……any person of any color that hasn’t acted or spoken up against racism have failed their fellow humans

        • Marcellus Wallace

          So every Muslim that has not spoken out against Muslim terrorists should be considered to be one?
          Bottom line, there is a lot of blame to go around. If you dig deep into anyone’s past, you will find what you want to find. Using MSNBC, Huff Post, CNN etc as your resource lends no credence to your argument as they spend 24/7 looking for it and twisting it.
          As for the comment about who you associate with, Obama’s Rev Wright, Bill Mayers (sp?) and others could be called out but the MSM ignores that. Left wing politician lining up to align with BLM after they called for the death of cops (“What do we want? Dead cops! When do we want it…) also ignored by the MSM.
          Bottom line, Trump is a buffoon, disgrace whatever you want to call him and add the R word to make it stick. Obama had his comparably bad past relationships, Clinton is on a whole other level of corrupt and depends where your beliefs fall, you will decide who to listen to and what to tune out.
          Best not to disrespect the flag, those who fought for our countries or those who buy your jersey and pay your salary while living in your life of privilege in pro sports

          • truthseeker

            no…you’re not reading properly. He never said any white person who doesn’t stand up to racism is a racist. Read it again.

            geezus…is your comprehension that bad?

    • mac

      The website is blocking me from writing something more substantive, but if you remove white evangelicals from the vote, the rest of the white people would have elected Clinton.

      There are multiple distinct white subcultures in the USA.

      Trying to make people feel shame for what past people did will backfire. “Hope and change” won for Obama, not “be ashamed”

  • OriginalPouzar

    A Willis sighting on ON?

    I watch sports for sports – couldn’t care less who takes a knee, who stands, who locks arms, who goes to the white house, who doesn’t etc.

    I wish this wasn’t the issue of the day in sports but it is. As long as it doesn’t take away from the games that are played, I’m going to continue to be ambivalent.

    Not ambivalent to the over-arching issue, that is important, but ambivalent to its place in sporting events and its relation to actions/non-actions of the athletes, managers, coaches, owners.

    Speak out, don’t speak out, take a stand, don’t take a stand – all of these actions and inactions are the rights of every person involved and I’m fine with whatever an individual person or team does or does not do..


    • camdog

      I take it you don’t watch the Olympics good on you! The ratings for some sports are non existent during non Olympic events. People don’t generally watch Olympics for sport so much as they do to show support for one’s country.

      • OriginalPouzar

        I absolutely love the Olympics!!!! Love them!!!!!

        I watch sports that I generally don’t get the opportunity to watch and cheer for the athletes from my country.

        I’m not sure what that has to do with my post regarding not really caring if athletes protest, don’t protest, take action in that regard or don’t take action – they have the right to do or not do what they want and I’m fine with all of it.

        I will look past all that to the games and the events (Olympics).

        • camdog

          If you are just cheering for an athlete because they are from your country and then don’t watch the sport for 4 years you are you are watching the sport for political reasons as much as for sport reasons.

          • Southboy

            Or could it be that the Olympics are the best of the best, facing off against each other and has far better coverage than some javeline event in croatia, where you dont have the coverage or the best. Why does everything always have to be one way, why cant it be both? That is what divides

  • camdog

    Remember when Tim Thomas refused to honour another weak president? End result was his career was done. Pro athletes are generally used as pawns by their countries ruling elite. The Olympics being the best example of this.

    • truthseeker

      what I remember about that was all the worthless anti PC backlash people who are the same ones now saying it’s wrong for the warriors to not go to the white house.

      Nothing worse in this universe than the angry (usually white) male anti PC backlash morons.

  • LittleSoldierSkates

    Imagine a cat that isnt yours dragging a dead rat no one wants to the doorstep, stinking up the joint and expecting praise. That’s you. This garbage is the absolute LAST thing the NHL needs.

  • Killer Marmot

    Players must be free to exercise their politics on their own time.

    But when wearing their uniform out on the ice, they’re on company time. The organization has the right to specify how they will behave. Some clubs will allow the players latitude, but if some clubs do not, well I’m fine with that too.

    • Scott_12

      They are paid to play hockey (or football, basketball etc.). They are not paid to go to the White House, stand for the anthem etc. Of course players are not able to protest during play, and the clubs should not allow that. The whole point of the article is that if players are to not exercise their politics they can’t be put into political situations. As long as they are, they must have the right to make their own statements as they see fit. Also, why would we NOT want people to be able to protest the killing of innocent black people? That IS what this is about after all.

          • Killer Marmot

            I don’t think visiting the president is political coercion, or if it is then it’s very mild. It’s recognized to be an honorary occasion, not a political endorsement. When the Penguins visited the White House last year, did anyone ask “Why is Crosby supporting the Democrats?”

          • supra steve

            You admit that you “consider Trump a bit of an uniformed buffoon”, yet you are just going to go ahead and defend this buffoon to the death, aren’t you? Have a good day.

          • Killer Marmot

            Only against the charge of racism.

            Why would I defend a man I would never vote for (if I were American)? First, because I am not convinced he is racist. But also because I believe that misplaced charges of racism are warping our political system, preventing us from candidly addressing real problems. It has a become a massive witch hunt, the new McCarthyism.

            And I think many Americans agree with me. The Democratic Party is in dire straits these days. They’ve lost the presidency, the senate majority, the house majority, and the majority of state governerships. The Republicans are running the country. What have the Dems done wrong? They have become steeped in identity politics.

            This is not healthy. I have this quaint idea that a healthy opposition is a good thing, and the Dems are emasculating themselves.

  • Rusty

    Nice column JW. I personally wish we could do away with the anthems before games. Not because im opposed to any particular country but because i thinks its kind of silly to sing the anthems before EVERY game. Imagine your at a hockey game and the team plays its emotionally charged intro and the players come out and skate a few laps while the lights turn back on, then they drop the puck.

    As for peaceful protests during an anthem, both sides are wrong. You cant conduct a protest during the national anthem of the united states, for any reason, and not expect your message to get diluted, twisted or misinterpreted. Especially in country such as the Untied states where that ceremony means different things to different people. And on the other side, if you think protesting peacefully and respectfully during an anthem is the worst thing then you’ve forgotten, the first amendment, who the President currently is, and racial injustice. Dial it back a bit.

    This will get bigger every week. its not going away.

    • ChrisMorr

      It is true that the Premier League does not play anthems before games, a decision that makes sense to me after all you are supporting your team not your nation. However, to back up the author’s point the premier league has also had issues with politics in the game. For years they have been grappling with whether teams should display a remembrance day poppy on their shirts around Nov 11. It is for sure a political symbol as it is supposed to commemorate those who sacrificed in all conflicts the British (and commonwealth – thanks Canada!) Armies have been involved in, however most people associate it with just WW1 and 2. The issue is that the army has been involved in plenty of conflicts that some disagree strongly with not least in Northern Ireland. Again no right or wrong answer here, but confirms the point politics is in our sport whether we like it or not. Good article on this here: https://sports.vice.com/en_ca/article/3d9xpk/should-footballers-be-forced-to-wear-a-poppy

      • It’s a fair point, however if a footballer accepts employment in a country where the clubs where poppies around remembrance day, he’s obviously accepting that part of the uniform for that period of time. The poppy itself isn’t inherently political. Other than the poppy for 2 weeks out of the season, you don’t see a lot of nonsensical patriotic grandstanding. what baffles me about this whole kneeling during the anthem thing is how many people playing professional sports after having a free college education feel like their country is against them. I don’t know what it’s like to be a black man in America, but I have to say it doesn’t seem like there is an absence of opportunities for them to have successful lives. I don’t doubt that racism is alive and well there, but I’d be surprised if defining the country the way some would have us believe.

  • Fan the Flames

    Athletes are citizens which gives them the right to express their views, protest or refuse to attend a function if the oppose the President . They must also accept that others will oppose their position when they choose to protest on a national stage like the playing of the anthem. What is unfortunate is President Trump has turned The business of government into reality tv.

  • TruthHurts98

    I for one enjoy sports and don’t watch the political news. It’s bloody depressing and it’s all the same regurgitated BS in my opinion. None of us will agree with each other on many things, however as fans of a team we cheer wholeheartedly for the team we love. I hope the Oilers are invited to the Wh next year and the year after that. Then no matter what the political view is, we can all agree on one thing: being a Stanley Cup champion is far more exciting then arguing about politics! I’m picking the Oilers to win it this year and they have as good a shot at the Cup as any other contending team. Connor is our president in Oil Country:)

    • Scott_12

      Those actively oppressed by current political regimes never have the freedom to tune it out and only care about sports. That’s the point. That’s why these protests are happening, to try to wake the privileged people up to the oppression of the people around them.

      • oilerjed

        well said, its easy for those who are not subjected to oppression to say that it is no big deal.

        On another note, Truthhurts98 mentioned that the Oilers would go to the Whitehouse if they won. Do Canadian teams get invited as well? It has been so long I honestly can’t remember. It is possible that this current tradition wasn’t happening when the Canadians last won in 93.

        • oilerjed

          Did some research and oddly enough it was the Pittsburg Penguins in ’91 who were the first NHL team invited to the Whitehouse. The BlueJays were there in ’92. Couldnt find any mention of the Canadians in ’93 though./

  • oilerjed

    Whether people want athletes expressing their political beliefs or not, it’s important to remember that sports athletes are also people and citizens who pay taxes and must be afforded the same rights as everyone else. How we feel about them bringing their beliefs into our escape is beside the point and it is a wee bit hypocritical for us to expect otherwise.

  • Jordan88

    I won’t comment on Pittsburgh’s unenviable position they had been put in to either accept or decline the invite. However I will say the current social/political climate in the states is downright scary there is a massive chasm between political ideologies and I think things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

    I hope Trump is removed, I am not speaking as a liberal but as someone with a social conscience who abhors racism, bigotry, and people who try to enforce their will in a totalitarian manner. The blind faith of Trump supporters is downright scary, the campaign against journalism is scary, the fact that he denies Russian tampering after every intelligence agency has confirmed it happened is scary.

    But most of all what is the most awful thing, is the people he forgot in Puerto Rico. The NFL should never have been talked about this weekend, he should never have been in Alabama he should have been spearheading helping a territory in dire need.

    It would be pretty awesome to see an NHL team mention the situation in Puerto Rico to draw attention to it, even if its just pre-season.

    • cberg

      Your one line I can fully agree with is your second line. Yes, the US is, as are many other nations around the world, having some serious issues and things are not getting better. Beyond that, e.g. your second paragraph, perhaps you should get out more, broaden your reading away from the MSM talking heads and get a better understanding of today’s reality before becoming terrified of pretty much everything the MSM is feeding the public. Oh, and BTW Trump is visiting Puerto Rico next week and help is already happening.

  • Nation Dan

    Wow Willis. Well put.

    I am pretty solidly convinced the White House put pressure on the Pens to say yes or no.

    The Penguins aren’t so tone deaf… can’t be. Had to have been given an ultimatum.

  • Oatmeal

    At least when the Oilers win it this year we won’t need to discuss them going to the White House right? I would imagine they would be visiting the Prime Minister.

  • beloch

    The Penguins had two options:

    1. Go see Trump, as is tradition.
    2. Don’t go see Trump, and break with tradition.

    As you say, people are going to be upset with you no matter which option you choose, but which is the bigger political statement? They’ve tried to make the case that they were just going through the motions. This is somewhat possible to do with option 1, but how about option 2? Not so much. Snubbing a sitting president, no matter how little public support he has, is a *huge* statement in and of itself. Also, NHL fans in the U.S. appear to be somewhat skewed towards being Republicans.

    Making the smaller statement, and making the statement that plays better to the demographics of your fans (if you assume Republicans actually still like Trump) means the Penguins made the choice that was less likely to screw their business. It’s a bit cowardly, but it is logical. I can see why they did it.

    As for the anthem ruckus… I’m a born Canadian. It’s just a freakin’ song. You can stand on your head and spin in circles while blowing bubbles for all I care. Want to respect our veterans? Volunteer to visit them in senior homes, hospitals, or wherever they may be. Service is a far better way of showing respect than impersonating a plank during a song. The same goes for supporting racial equality and the demilitarization of police. You can kneel if you want to make a gesture, but actions speak a whole lot louder. Players can stand or kneel as they see fit, but I respect those that get out and *do* something a whole lot more.

  • Burnabybob

    Good article. The default arguments I always hear is that “I agree with his right to protest. I just don’t like how he’s doing it.” Or “Athletes shouldn’t be political.”

    The truth is that people don’t want to be reminded of problems like police brutality, especially the NFL’s predominantly white male fan base. They think that black athletes should be “grateful” for everything society has “given” them. And they feel entitled to enjoy the entertainment provided by black athletes, without thinking about the disturbing persistence of racism. If black athletes saluted the flag and wore “bless our troops” armbands during every game, there would be no controversy. It’s pretty gross when you think about it.

    • truthseeker

      Exactly. People are only against athletes speaking out when it’s something those people disagree with.

      Which is instant proof that they are not people who believe in freedom even though they will swear up and down that they do.

      They are authoritarians, but they are too cowardly to just admit it. Especially to themselves.

  • Break The Canuck's Curse

    One of the reason people watch sports and entertainment in general is for escapism. They want to be able to shut off the garbage of politics, business and world issues for a couple hours to have a little fun.

    If the entertainment industry continues to shove the world down the throat of the paying public when they are looking for escapism, they will just look somewhere else for that escape…..like video games.

    The entertainment industry is walking on dangerous ground when it refuses to stick to its primary job.

    It is not that their customers do respect that they have an opinion, it is just that they want to shut it all off for at least and hour or two

    • Killer Marmot

      Sports and other entertainment are free to leverage their popularity to advance political causes. But the customers are also free to turn away.

      I had no problems with The Dixie Chicks making political statements — I think their concerns were legitimate — but they complained too hard when much of their fan base evaporated.


    A lot of liberals think they’re much more open and accepting than they are, when in reality they not willing to listen to the other side of the story. Just immediately write it off as racism. I understand some white people feel a little under attack; we’re supposed to feel white guilt, for something that we as individuals had nothing to do with. But Trump is not the answer. I stand with the athletes protesting all the way. It doesn’t take a genius to see who’s wrong. Trump has another tantrum like a 6 year old over a peaceful protest by athletes but is silent when people march through the street waving nazi flags? Who in their right mind can defend that? This guy is doing whatever he can to please the far right… because they’re the most loyal. He’s finally relevant again and now he’ll have all of them buying all his products. He’s a business man. He doesn’t care about the USA, he cares about making money. No matter what he does from here on, his followers will never ever blame him. They’ll just point the finger at someone else. If he resigns he’ll say “I was treated more unfairly than anyone ever and I can’t do this anymore” and the far right will lose their minds. They’re dumb and loyal and he’s got them in his pocket. One more thing – I hate how many people think that there’s only two sides; you either support Trump or you’re a tree hugging Trudeau supporter. There’s ABSOLUTELY no inbetween. Uhhhg…

  • hockey1099

    The Olympics is all about politics. Hell a huge portion of the Cold War was fought through sport. I don’t agree with Willis about hockey often but he got this right even if he is only pointing out the obvious:

  • The mistake we all make is confusing politics with policy or issues of the day when, more often than not, it’s about tribalism. Humans are tribal animals, and we act out our tribal impulses through our advocacy for a particular political position, our cheerleading or disdain for a particular candidate, or virtue signalling in social media.

    This is not to say that we cannot come to support a particular position through an analysis of policy or judging the merits or character of a political actor or calling for a better form of justice but, for many of us, we unconsciously look to those who share our values in general first and then consciously devise a reason for this support.

    This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it is a characteristic of our evolutionary success, binding us together with our kin in defence of our homes or to work together to solve problems.

    It gets far more complex as tribalism carries itself over millions of people in times of chaos such as today. Today, tribalism in the form of political speech starts to invade facets of life which have already developed its own subculture culture to a point that politics supersedes all else, including sports.

    Fewer things are more arbitrary than cheering for a particular sports team. We cheer for the home team, or we root against the bad guys, even though there is very little to distinguish between the character or values of players of team than the next. We do it, at our heart, because we are tribal.

    From a fan’s perspective, sports is an analog through which people can act out tribal impulses in a superficial and ultimately inconsequential form. We can take out our aggressions psychologically, or assign hero archetypes to star players, or discover the importance of humility over hubris, and so on. And we do it in a way that can be contained within that sports culture without turning the broader society into revolution or civil war (Vancouver Stanley Cup runs aside).

    So, yes, politics has already found its way through sports as Willis points out, but the backlash against this latest invasion comes from the idea that we must choose sides with one tribe or the other – ” to kneel or not to kneel.”

    Except sports already has its tribes cut out for us. Inserting politics to our sports in this way disrespects those who choose to act out their tribalism in a different way.

    This latest invasion also fails to consider that there are myriad other forums to discuss these broader issues, with the implication that sports fans are somehow unaware of these forums, or hold the wrong views because of our unforgivable ignorance, stupidity or alleged unconscious bigotry.

    Therefore, as supporter and regular reader of this blog, I ask FlamesNation to give us a bit of respite from the political chaos out there. We are all aware of the issues being discussed and fought over, and we all have means to discuss it.

    Please consider whether your political opinions are respectful of our own views or our ability to seek out opportunities to discuss these on other forums. I don’t want to see this nonsense here, nor do I appreciate the self-righteous lecturing.

    I’ve already quit Twitter because of how stupid this entire political culture has become, and I won’t think twice about discovering other means through which to appreciate the Flames.

    Or, at least, to jeer the bloodsucking Oilers.

    • Captain Ron

      Great comment Rob. I gave you 10 props for it. I came to this site to discuss hockey and was introduced to analytics because of it. Suddenly I find myself reading quotes from Martin Luther King of all people on my favorite hockey blog. We are being bombarded by political and religious views from every angle now and it seems there is no escape from it.
      Can we get back to talking about hockey on this site again? I’d rather read Oiler fan troll comments than watch people here become divided over political and/or religious debates that will go on for all eternity.
      Hockey is an escape from all the stupidity we face in the world so let’s keep it that way shall we.

    • sloth

      Aww your favourite hockey blog infringed upon your right to ignore real-world oppression, and disrespected your choice to act out your tribalism in a superficial and inconsequential way. Good thing you had that choice, because the “tribalism” many people deal with in their day-to-day lives is called “white supremacy” and it often involves white cops shooting unarmed black people in the streets…

      And good job getting that pot shot at the Canucks and the “civil war” that was the 2011 Vancouver riot. Do you understand that a literal neo-Nazi attacked and killed anti-racism activists at an Alt-Right gathering to celebrate Confederate civil war heroes? Like, there was an actual Civil War in America 200 years ago which was fought largely over whether rich white people could continue to own black-skinned human beings as private property and farm equipment. And then like a month ago, thousands of people in America traveled to Charlottesville to condemn or celebrate this chapter of their national history, in an era of already unprecedented racial tension, and one of the “white nationalists” drove his car into a crowd of innocent citizens with the clear intention of hurting and killing. And you’re making fun of those nasty Vancouver Canucks and their fans for the rioters smashing some windows and burning some cars 6 years ago, because that was a real disgraceful “civil war.” You’re truly pathetic and really need to think about your identity and privilege that allows you to make such crass and flippant comments about very serious issues for millions of our neighbours in the name of your petty sports tribalism.

      And your points about the value of sports tribalism don’t hold up to scrutiny. If it’s such a good way to “take out our aggressions … in a way that can be contained within the sports culture,” why did the Red Mile in Calgary turn into a sexual assault festival in the 2004 and 2015 playoffs? Perhaps you should sign up for Twitter again and turn off the stupid NHL if you can’t see what actually matters and what doesn’t. I’ll give you a hint, the rivalries between the Flames and Canucks and Oilers sure don’t. Sheesh.

      • Southboy

        get over it. If a person wants to tune it out, and has the oppurtunity to do so, we should apologize for that? Because of this choice, you judge us all as people who dont care, or dont our part. You my friend are the type that fuel the fire.

  • Total Points

    There are many web sites where politics can be discussed. Please Oiler Nation don’t turn this into a political/hockey web site.

    Please Please

    I want discussions about McDavid’s greatness and how Flames suck

    • oilcanboyd

      or how McDavid sucks an the Flames are great!

      McDavid.s shot is the speed of a smurf ball-less than half the speed of Cosby’s shot…not just me saying this but hockey analysts on Sportsnet…

  • Derzie

    There will always be people that disagree. That’s a fact. All of this hubbub started by Colin Kaepernick to draw attention to the fact that white US police were shooting and killing unarmed black people without repercussions. The NFL elite blackballed him. Trump used to to sharpen the divide between his deploreables and the thinking population AND to distract from the fact that soon the Russia probe will end his adventure. The positive is more people are aware of the plight of unarmed black citizens in the US. The negative is there are roughly half of the population of the US that are just fine with racial and economic divides. In Canada, it is probably closer to 30% are OK with the divide. Most of the attempts to change the minds is blowing hot air around but the discussion chips away at the people who just need better information about the world to be able to draw better conclusions. Education is not a silver bullet but it is a bullet.

  • Riley Miner

    Willis is entirely right; NA sports are inherently political. Heck, on a world scale, athletes have been politicized. Whether it be a politician taking a photo op with an athlete, an entertainment channel asking an athlete for their opinion on a social issue… Athletes are public figures. People look up to them, and that offers them an inherent power to inflict social change. Here’s the kicker here: NA sports are predominantly white. Athletes (and humans in general) do not speak much about issues they cannot relate to, and so a voice on things like police brutality, inequality and discrimination is decidedly lacking. Not to mention, there is a culture in sport that ‘distractions’ are abhorrent and should be avoided at all cost. To a majority white owned and occupied league, a black player speaking out about racial inequalities is a distraction because they do not have to think about it, and it’s an uncomfortable subject. And so here’s the trap; black players are discouraged and have not spoken out in large numbers until now.

    The fact is, it’s important for athletes to do this. To kneel, to speak out. Because as a community, we hadn’t paid a second thought to these issues before. It was a black issue. Now it is a national issue. Is that unfortunate? As a young, white dude who feels empathy to these groups and wishes social change, I believe not. We live in a state of privilege as white dudes, and that is uncomfortable to acknowledge. The fact is, hockey players (and the Penguins) have decided their ‘bubble’ is more important than addressing a serious problem that has plagued America, and let’s face it, Canada as well for decades. So yes, it’s important for us not to stick to sports. It’s important to think about these things, so we can grow as a society and as a sport. The truth of the matter is, this isn’t good for a lot of non-white hockey fans. This is what they have seen, heard and felt from the hockey community. Silence. How are they supposed to feel welcomed when the Stanley Cup champions decide to honor the office of a president who has denounced black activists and defended white supremacists? Who has decided to make white supremacists his closest advisers in his governance? Ignoring this issue like we always did before shouldn’t be acceptable anymore. We as a hockey community can do better, and should do better. Right and left aside, we need to stand up for our fellow human beings, and fellow hockey fans.