SIDNEY CROSBY will lead the Pittsburgh Penguins to the White House on Sunday (today, Oct. 1, 2017). Some think they might as well carry tiki torches.
For here’s Sid’s sad reality: As desperate as he and his teammates might be to stay out of the open warfare between Donald Trump and the anthem-kneelers in football and basketball, just going ahead with the traditional Stanley Cup winners’ audience with the president makes them look like they’re choosing his side.
Hockey culture says players should avoid politics. Shut up and play, the code demands. Through all the separatist turmoil in Quebec, the Montreal Canadiens didn’t make a peep. When Boston goaltender Tim Thomas, an American who despised Barack Obama, refused to go to the White House with the rest of the Bruins to celebrate their 2011 Stanley Cup victory over the Vancouver Canucks (sorry if I just made you burst into tears), he was widely reviled for doing so.
And hey, most of the Penguins aren’t even U.S. citizens. If Canadians don’t want foreigners meddling in our matters (how do YOU feel about Miley Cyrus preaching to us about the grizzly hunt?) we have no business wading into presidential politics. Not our circus, not our clown.
It was Trump, after all, who seized the protest started by Colin Kaepernick and ramped up the divisive rhetoric, turned up the heat under an already-bubbling cauldron.
This has now become about the whole, broad-based issue of racial inequality. It’s not really about the simple act of kneeling or sitting during the anthem — though people sure do get worked up over that.
Look at what happened at the 2013 Mann Cup lacrosse final in Victoria. When a few fans of the visiting Six Nations Chiefs refused to stand for O Canada, a few local supporters hurled racist slurs at them — “wagon burner” and “go drink your firewater” and taunts of similar imagination and eloquence.
After the slurs became a story, the visitors were quick to say that it was only a small group who acted this way and that many other, embarrassed Victoria fans came forward to apologize.
But here’s what else the visitors said: When out in Victoria they were sometimes made to feel … different. It was the looks they got from other shoppers in Costco. It was the stores where service wasn’t quite as prompt as it was for other customers, the smiles not as genuine. They didn’t get this back home in Ontario, they said. They sounded more hurt than angry.
Last week, there was a minor fuss over a Victoria event at which white men were, supposedly, to be charged a higher admittance price than others. The practice is called “justice pricing,” one of those concepts that inspires poli-sci students to engage in three hours of earnest debate while others just roll their eyes. The idea that all white men are privileged will come as a surprise to the ones who spend their nights shivering in downtown doorways before shuffling down to Our Place. When painting with broad brush strokes, it’s easy to miss a spot.
Still, it’s worth acknowledging that in predominantly white Victoria (“I didn’t know I was a visible minority until I moved here,” a friend once confided) most people need not ever consider the advantages or disadvantages of race, whereas for others it’s the lens through which they are viewed.
The wonderfully acerbic author Scaachi Koul was at the Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival last weekend. She read a funny, sharp and sobering piece about growing up as a brown girl in Calgary, about casual (and not so casual) racism and about knowing her mixed-race but fair-skinned niece’s life “would be different than mine, because her race is a footnote instead of the title.” Think of that. And think of the people who should be standing up and saying: “We all need to be better.”
And then think of the Penguins and good, decent Sidney Crosby, who for more than a decade has dutifully done everything Canada and hockey have asked of him, and who in never setting a foot wrong is marching into Trump’s trap.
Forget the code. The Oval Office is no longer neutral ground. The hockey rink might not be a political arena, but the White House is.
Jack Knox is a born-and-raised Kamloops lad who once worked at the Kamloops Daily News. He is now a columnist with the Victoria Times Colonist. Since joining the Times Colonist in 1988, Jack has worked as a copy editor, city editor, editorial writer and editorial page editor. Prior to that he was an editor and reporter at newspapers in Campbell River, Regina and Kamloops. He won the Jack Webster Foundation’s City Mike Award for Commentator of the Year in 2015.