“We believe all hockey programs – from professionals to youth organizations – should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.” This statement comes straight from the National Hockey League page for their diversity initiative called “Hockey is for Everyone”. This campaign involves NHL players participating in events such as taping their sticks with rainbow tape in support of LGBTQ+ pride and participating in pick-up hockey games with people with disabilities. On the surface, it looks like a great way for players to make an impact in their community and ensure that hockey is an inclusive environment for anyone who wants to play. However, below that glimmering surface are spineless white men who could not care less about the people they are trying to help.
Let’s take a step back for a second to the summer of 2015, when Chicago Blackhawks player Patrick Kane was accused of sexual assault in his hometown of Buffalo. That year, he went on to score the most points in the NHL, while simultaneously becoming the face of the league at large. He capped off his successful season by winning the Most Valuable Player Award. That same year, Kane’s teammate Andrew Shaw was suspended for the use of a homophobic slur during a playoff game. A year later, Anaheim Ducks player Ryan Getzlaf was fined, but not suspended, for using a different homophobic slur. Most likely in response to all of this, last February, the NHL created the “Hockey is For Everyone” initiative described above.
Fast forward to today. The sitting President of the United States is a white supremacist who will not hesitate to call black athletes “sons of b*tches” but will be very nuanced about his description of the Nazis who marched in Charlottesville in August. He has advocated for violence against people of color at his rallies. He has called an entire ethnic group rapists and murderers. He has supported police brutality. Yet, Sunday, when athletes throughout the NFL were protesting him and overall injustices, the defending Stanley Cup Champions Pittsburgh Penguins thought it wise to release a statement saying that they will “respect the institution of the Office of the President, and the long tradition of championship teams visiting the White House” by accepting an invitation to visit this fall.
I am a really big fan of diversity and inclusion initiatives in sports. They are a fantastic way for kids and adults who may be normally ostracized to get a chance to participate in a game without having to think about their differences. But when you talk a big game and simultaneously condone the heinous actions undergone by the president, your words become meaningless. All the pictures and events you planned seem just that: planned. All of your actions undergone to make up for the gross things players have done do not show growth or introspection, rather it looks as though you know people are angry and therefore need a way to cover your backside. It’s a public relations show that weaponizes marginalized groups for rich old white people’s capitalistic greed.
The Donald Trump debate is not a political one. It is an existential dilemma that will determine the fate of millions of people. By the Penguins accepting his invitation, they expose themselves as being completely tone deaf to what is happening in the country. Trump and his cohorts have gaslighted much of America into believing that white supremacy is a partisan issue. That whether or not immigrants are considered human is a matter of politics. The fact is none of it is political; it’s moral. When people try to make it about politics or which candidate or party one supports, it gives space for people to mask their bigotry behind the idea of subjectivity. Facts are not subjective. It is a fact that Donald Trump was more sympathetic towards Nazis than he was towards peaceful protesters, not a matter of opinion. Yet, the Penguins and the NHL have bought into that ideology because the truth is, they don’t care about people; no matter how much time or energy is put into their diversity projects. In the end, what matters to them is people keep coming to their games and keep paying their salaries. Don’t be fooled by their theatrics.