After dressing up as Donald Trump for halloween, Edmonton Oilers captain Connor McDavid told reporters “It was not meant to be anything, to mean anything.” This is just the latest in a long series of disappointing responses by the hockey world to Trump’s presidency. As previously reported in The Daily, the National Hockey League (NHL) has been, at best, weak in its criticism of Donald Trump and, at worst, supportive of the president’s messages. Very few players joined in the widespread anthem protests at the start of the season. In fact, many NHL players have criticised the athletes who do protest their national anthems. For example, PK Subban echoed Trump’s words when he said he would prefer to “stand, respect, and sing along” to the Star-Spangled Banner than to kneel, implying that kneeling is disrespectful. The 2017 Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins, insisted that they would follow through with their White House visit. Captain and MVP Sidney Crosby told reporters that the team would visit Trump’s White House, stating “From my side of things, there’s absolutely no politics involved.”
Unfortunately for Crosby, and the younger Connor McDavid, there absolutely are politics involved. To hear from the two brightest stars of hockey that it is not merely permissible, but right and respectful, to show support for Trump, or that dressing up as him for Halloween is just a bit of fun, is incredibly damaging to both fans and the game. Hockey has historically lagged behind other sports in terms of its political activism and awareness, but in the year that more than 200 football players took a knee in protest, the NHL’s pride in remaining ‘apolitical’ is insulting. It is not okay to show support for the bigoted, racist, homophobic, and transphobic president in any way. To pass this support off as one’s ‘duty’ as a hockey player, as Crosby and Subban have done, is short-sighted and frankly appalling. Being a hockey player does not have to mean being politically inactive or ignorant. Players such as Ken Dryden and Georges Laraque have gone on to progressive political careers. When Crosby, Subban, and McDavid refuse to acknowledge their responsibility as leaders, they deny the power that their actions hold.
The Penguin’s trip to the White House was clearly political, as other champions like the Golden State Warriors refused their invites. While it is Subban’s choice to kneel, and one should not criticize him for standing, the issue is that Subban used Trump’s language of disrespect in his statement. McDavid’s halloween costume is an insult to all people directly harmed by Trump’s presidency. To brush Trump off as a joke is a privilege that very few people have. McDavid, a multi-millionaire white athlete from Richmond Hill, Toronto, is one of these few people. Flaunting the fact that Trump’s presidency can be funny for him demonstrates how far removed McDavid is from the everyday reality of those harmed by the current American Administration, many of whom may be fans of his.
It is time for hockey players like Crosby, Subban, and McDavid to acknowledge their influence and privilege. Perhaps for them, a Trump presidency can be a joke, or a non-issue, but for millions of people around the world it is dangerous and at times life-threatening. It is not their duty to remain apolitical under the Trump Administration. It is their duty to support their fans, many of whom are made vulnerable by Trump’s presidency.