This past Sunday, the entire country watched as NFL players and even some owners united arm in arm, kneeling during the national anthem. It sparked from a rally President Donald Trump held in Alabama the Friday before, where he called out these players, bashing them for their disrespect of the United States of America. With the issue now on the front pages of every newspaper, how long is it before the hockey world is affected?
Ninety-seven percent of hockey players identify as white. It is rare to find more than one black hockey player on an NHL team. It is a minuscule amount compared to the three other major American sports leagues. Nevertheless, some black hockey players are already speaking out.
Before supporting or discouraging these athletes, it is important to remember how this started. Approximately one year ago, Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers kneeled during the National Anthem in protest of racial inequality in this country. The logic was that his country betrayed him and he wanted to express his displeasure. One year later, he finds himself without a job.
When the issue first arose, hockey seemed immune to the movement. John Tortorella said that if his players sat during the National Anthem at the World Cup of Hockey, he would bench them for the entire game. The issue did not arise after that, and the League was treated to some excellent renditions of the Anthem throughout the season, especially during the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Now in 2017, black players like Joel Ward, Georges Laraque, and even the Isles’ own Josh Ho-Sang have expressed their sympathy to the NFLers. “I think what the NFL players are doing is amazing. It’s good that they’re all sticking together,” Ho-Sang said. “I mean, I’m Canadian, so I don’t have too much input on the matter itself. It will affect me living in the States.” The Islanders forward sympathizes with the original reasons for kneeling during the anthem.
If it does enter the hockey world, it will obviously be on a much smaller scale than in other pro sports leagues, but nevertheless, it sends a strong message to both the sports and political worlds. However, as this issue continues, it is important to see things from the other perspective. A national anthem represents pride and respect for one’s country. By kneeling for ours, we send the message that we are upset with our country, which is respectable, but suggests that we are not willing to make a change for the better.
Many American citizens understand where most of these athletes are coming from, but if they are really upset with the situation, the onus should be on the athletes, as role models, to find ways to make things better. Their fans should be able to see them play sports with underprivileged children and/or deliver food and aid. They should stand up and play an active role in our great democracy. As hockey begins to feel the effects of this issue, I hope that all the NHLers who sympathize with this cause do more than just express distaste.
Dividing the NHL will only bring negative light on to one of the most respectable, united sports the world has to offer. Sports have never meshed well with politics, but it has always had a role in improving the lives of those around them, and that is what I hope comes out of these tumultuous times.