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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

To take a knee, or not to take a knee? That is the question.

Joel Ward 2016
Joel Ward, 2016. By mark6mauno
[CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
The NFL vs. Trump story has been blowing up my social feeds all week, and everyone seems to have an opinion on it. I am loathe to wade into such shark-infested waters, but it got me thinking. Speaking of sharks, Joel Ward, winger for the San Jose Sharks, recently said:

"[He wasn't] ruling out the possibility that he could become the first NHL player to join the protests sweeping through the NFL by taking a knee during the national anthem at an upcoming Sharks game." (via The Mercury News)

It looks like the players of several NFL franchises, and even some owners, were quick to take the knee, or some other form of protest, but this is not happening in the NHL. I think there are many reasons for this, and it really is a complicated issue, but I want to break it down.

Typically, just prior to puck drop at an NHL game, the anthem, or anthems are sung after each team comes out, and while the starting lines stand on the ice. Depending on who is playing, you might hear The "Star-Spangled Banner," or "Oh, Canada," or both. This is one of my favorite parts of the game. I love hearing the anthems! I get chills just thinking about it, but for me, it's not about tradition. It is a  conditioned response. Hearing an anthem means that I get to watch hockey for the next hour and a half.

If I saw an NHL player take a knee, I would not be offended so much as curious, and impressed. Taking a knee on the ice, in skates, might be something that a professional hockey player is perfectly capable of doing, but it's probably not very easy or comfortable. If NHL players ever wanted to protest something, then there might be more practical ways of doing so. To me, it just seems an awkward thing, to kneel on the ice. Fun fact: a big percentage of NHL players are not US citizens. Most of them are Canadians. Many are Swedish, Russian, Czech - you can name at least a dozen other countries. There are vast differences in language, culture, national identity, and politics there. Taking a knee probably does not mean the same thing to everyone, and this idea might even be baffling to some. By contrast, I will venture to say that the NFL is made up of mostly Americans, and perhaps has more unity. Not to mention the fact that the NFL is about 70 percent African-American, whereas there are only around 30 black players in the NHL. So, no the NHL did not run to jump on the bandwagon.

I understand why the NFL players chose this method of protest, and I sympathize with the players for what they are protesting. If you are going to stage a protest, you want as many people as possible to see you. So, they are using a highly visible platform to make a gesture, and they could do a lot worse than just taking a knee. I think that burning jerseys, and etc. is a bit of an overreaction, and it's unfortunate for the sport that some fans  are reacting in this way. Whether or not you approve of their methods, I think the NFL players have a right to free speech, and they deserve to be heard.

I know that some people feel that taking a knee during the anthem is disrespectful. I personally can't judge whether it's disrespectful or not. I was raised Catholic, so I spent years doing the kneel, sit, and stand routine in church. To me, taking a knee is reverential. It's a gesture of submission. It doesn't immediately occur to me as being disrespectful. I will stand during the anthem, but it doesn't bother me if other people don't.

Georges Laraque 2016
Georges Laraque, 2016
By Connor Mah (Own work)
[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Some opinions on my social feeds have called out the NHL for not joining in with the protests. In particular, the Pittsburgh Penguins are taking some heat because they have accepted an invitation to the White House. Former Penguin defenseman, Georges Laraque said:
“I know hockey’s more conservative than other sports, but this time it’s just wrong,” he said. “I’m surprised the NHL didn’t make a stand. To me, it’s an embarrassment that they’re going.” (via USA Today)
Once again, I sympathize, but I don't like seeing the Penguins (or any team) being placed in this position. There are no winners here. I don't doubt that the Penguins organization considered this decision very carefully, and they have their reasons for doing so, but there are no winners here. If they decided not to go, they probably would have gotten bashed for that, too.

I don't like seeing politics defile my hockey, but unfortunately, you can't really avoid it. Professional sports leagues tend to be political, whether they want to or not.

Racism is a very real issue in this country, and as long as it exists, we will all be affected by it in one way or another. I think that the NHL has made strides in recent years to be more inclusive, but it still has a way to go.

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