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J.T. Brown Protests Prejudice While Penguins Visit White House
Brown Joins Fellow Black Athletes
Black football and basketball players comprise more than 70% of NFL and NBA rosters, while black athletes make up about 8% of the MLB and 5% of the NHL. Statistically, the United States population is 14 percent African American. In a league which identifies as more than 90% white, J.T. might feel akin to Devante Smith-Pelly, who admitted a “little bit of a lonely feeling” in terms of having teammates able to relate with the experiences of black athletes.
It’s not a coincidence that NBA and NFL players have been on the forefront of spreading awareness of racial inequality. Colin Kaepernick’s been martyred by NFL owners while LeBron James speaks out on and off the court, using his platform to address numerous social issues. Bruce Maxwell of the Oakland A’s was the first MLB protest in late September while J.T. Brown lifted his fist in October. At first glance, the order of protests appears related to the percentage of black athletes playing in pro league.pen
Similar to Kaepernick and others, J.T. Brown made sure to state that he wasn’t protesting the flag itself, an important detail often lost in the argument. Just like Kaepernick, Brown received online threats and listened to critics miss the point. Unlike Kaepernick, Brown hasn’t received as much ire from the NHL, with most players and coaches supporting J.T.’s initiative. Instead, the biggest hockey league on earth seems mostly content to stay on the sidelines.
Contrast: Penguins Visit The White House
When the Pittsburgh Penguins revealed their intention to visit the White House after winning their second Stanley Cup in a row, some criticized Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins for what would be considered implicit support for President Donald Trump.
Coach Mike Sullivan stated that their trip to the White House was non-political, with the team strictly honoring the championship they earned the year before.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman disconnected the league one step further, saying that “people are going to have to decide what makes them comfortable,” concluding that such issues depend on “individual belief and individual choice.” Clearly, the NHL prefers to stay on the bench to avoid the risk of alienating their fanbase. At least Coach Sullivan said that “we’re very respectful of anyone’s right to protest”, indicating that he would be fine with an on-ice protest from one of his players.
For the most part, hockey players have been supportive of J.T. Brown’s protest, especially his teammates. Ryan Callahan addressed the media, ensuring that the Tampa Bay Lightning “support Brown on and off the ice… we’ve got his back.” Ryan acknowledged that team members may have a different opinion, but everyone on the roster still respects and supports Brown. J.T. informed his teammates ahead of time, and they didn’t ask him to stick to sports.
Not everyone agrees – coach John Tororella said “if any of my players sit on the bench for the national anthem, they will sit there the rest of the game.” Brown responded briefly: “Wouldn’t benching a black man for taking a stance only further prove Kap’s point of oppression?”
Will The NHL Try To Remain Neutral?
Other than the occasional message against communism and fascism, hockey has always been relatively apolitical, if not conservative.
In an era where the politicization of sports explodes, a visit to the White House makes the NHL appears out of touch, almost aloof, in the eyes of some sports fans. Former NHL player Georges Laraque didn’t mince words, calling the Pittsburgh Penguins decision “embarrassing”.
On the other hand, the support that J.T. Brown received from teammates shows a willingness to respect minority voices. The NHL would be wise to embrace the spirit of players like J.T. Brown and the Tampa Bay Lightning, instead of remaining passive and neutral.
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