Lack of protesting in hockey is nothing to be proud of

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September 25, 2017 by marlonpitter

The 2016 Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins visit the White House under former President Barack Obama. (Courtesy of Susan Walsh/AP)

Written by Marlon Pitter

There’s something in the air as we skate closer to hockey season, and it reeks of elitism on social media from those who think hockey is the best sport because the NHL hasn’t seen a player or team protest during the national anthem.

The movement started by Colin Kaepernick in the 2016 NFL preseason to kneel during the national anthem has lasted for over a calendar year and found its way to the NBA and MLB, leagues that have a significant population of black and minority athletes. The NHL, not so much.

The point of the protests is still being missed in other leagues, still largely viewed as being disrespectful to the nation’s flag, veterans, armed forces, or some combination of the three.

But it’s not surprising that there simply hasn’t been a protest in the NHL during the national anthem akin to those in the other major pro sports leagues.

At just five percent, the NHL has a demographic with far fewer black participants than the NFL, NBA, and MLB. You won’t see many hockey players, coaches, or executives talking about issues of race and police brutality because they are not affected by them in any way.

The crowds aren’t much different, and they’re often wealthier. According to The Atlantic, NHL fans, collectively, are the richest sports fans. (I didn’t get that memo when I signed up to be a fan.)

Money can’t protect every rich person, however. It didn’t stop LeBron James from having his house vandalized with a racial slur, after all.

Also, the last time there was a political controversy surrounding a hockey player, it was the absence of Tim Thomas during the Boston Bruins’ visit to the White House after their 2011 Stanley Cup championship.

That’s good and bad. Hockey culture is one where you fall in line and do what’s best for the team at all times, part of which means keeping your head down and not speaking up for what you believe in.

Although vaguely worded and poorly timed, Thomas exercised his constitutional right to not visit the White House with the Bruins the same way players in other leagues are using their First Amendment rights to bring attention to a cause they believe in.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are the latest club to win the Stanley Cup and have accepted the invitation to the White House as a championship team. So far, there hasn’t been an individual who publicly refused to go, and I don’t expect there will be one.

Yes, there are fewer “distractions” in the NHL, but again, the communities facing the social injustices being fought against in the other leagues are largely different than this one.

In a sense, fans that don’t care about these issues can take comfort in their safe haven of whiteness at the rink where unarmed black men being killed doesn’t matter because of the makeup of the league.

It’s mind-boggling that #PleaseLikeMySport hockey fans want to use their political agenda to sell their sport rather than the play on the ice. What a player does during the national anthem should not taint the quality of the sport, especially when you came to the stadium or turned on your TV to watch the game you love.

It’s sad these individuals can’t sell the sport with the moments that make hockey exciting or the philanthropy of teams and players in their communities. (Chris Kunitz’s game-winning goal for the Penguins in double overtime of game seven of the Eastern Conference Final is just one recent example.) There are dozens of reasons to watch hockey, and none of them have anything to do with politics.

If the NHL wants to make sure that “hockey is for everyone,” then the league and fans need not continue to whitewash an already homogenized crowd and ensure that everyone can speak their mind and be the change they wish to see.

And if NHL fans want to see their game grow and not be part of the least-watched of the four major North American professional sports leagues, then it’s time for them to stick to sports.

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