Columns / Discourse / November 6, 2019

Bringing politics out onto the ice

It is common for an NHL team to organize a visit to the White House and the current president after winning the Stanley Cup. This is something that happens every year because it’s commonly regarded as tradition.

But it really isn’t. The first NHL team to visit the White House after a Stanley Cup win were the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1991, and even after that, it wasn’t an annual occurrence. So why is it seen as customary now?

The 2019 Stanley Cup Champions, the St. Louis Blues made their visit to the White House on Oct. 15 of this year.

This visit was odd for many reasons.

While the team itself is based within the United States, only two of the players on their Stanley Cup roster were actually American, with only one of them still remaining on the team. 17 of the players were Canadian, and yet the team still made the push to visit the White House.

When also taking the current political climate into account, this visit becomes even more perplexing.

Why would the team rush to associate themselves with a president that is in the process of being impeached?

For them, this visit is in no way political. They don’t see this as making any sort of statement. No matter the nationality of the players, they all just see it as a “great opportunity.”

However, no matter how much the players and the teams try and play these visits off as apolitical, they will always be politicized.

There is no way for them to visit arguably the most politicized being in the country for it to not be a political visit. Making a conscious decision to visit the White House and the Trump administration is explicitly showing support of their policies and opinions no matter how much they believe that they are attending with good intentions.

These players are choosing to side with these oppressors and participate in what is ultimately a photo opportunity rather than support the minorities within their fan bases and within the league itself.

Each year when the White House visit comes around, it is always emphasized by the teams that players are able to make their own decisions regarding attendance. However, in a league where you frequently hear stories of players being traded due to them clashing with “locker room atmosphere,” taking the outsider status is not looked favorably upon.

It was said that there were multiple St. Louis Blues players who disagreed with the politics of the Trump administration, yet did not speak up and reject the invitation to uphold “locker room atmosphere.”

For the wealthy straight white man, political apathy is commonplace. They can choose to make the decision to ignore politics because they know that whatever happens, it will in no way harm them. This sentiment only grows stronger within the NHL.

In 2017, Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup and were faced with the prospect of a White House visit. Crosby stated that the message from the team was clear: choosing to attend was not something they stopped to question.

It is no mystery that the whitest North American professional sports league is the one to rally the hardest behind these visits. Though these visits are cultivated upon the individual political beliefs of the players and teams, it is ultimately the league and the culture surrounding the sport itself that breeds these beliefs.

It is not shocking that these are the messages the league wants to convey. The NHL always has and always will prioritize the support of white male fans.

Whenever the NHL talks about supporting LGBT hockey players or supporting women within the sport, it is always met with the same response: to keep politics out of hockey. However, these visits to the White House are just viewed as a common and necessary occurrence by most.

Three players from the Washington Capitals abstained from their White House visit in 2018. Of all the players on the three teams to visit during the Trump presidency, they were the first to choose not to go.

The fact that three players out of a team of twenty four decided to have morals should not be as noteworthy as it is.

It has become increasingly necessary for fans to hold players accountable for their actions and, in turn, their inactions. Silence is no longer acceptable. Players need to start speaking up for what they do and do not support if they ever want to see change within the sport. The NHL remains a league made up of privileged white men for a reason. It is crucial in our current time that everybody voices their opinions and apathy does not become the default.

Don’t settle for the bare minimum. Support the people who will support you.


Tags:  activism Donald Trump nhl politics professional hockey stanley cup white house

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