In August 2016, media took notice that NFL player Colin Kaepernick had started kneeling while the national anthem was played before games. There was no grand unveiling of Kaepernick’s sitting protest. Instead, Jennifer Lee Chan of Niners Nation tweeted out a photo of the anthem, unrelated to Kaepernick sitting. The story gained national attention later that night and the 49ers released a statement confirming Kaepernick sat for the anthem. Kaepernick told the media after the game he sat because of the oppression of people of color and ongoing issues with police brutality: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” The player was soon joined in solidarity by others on his team, others in the league, and athletes in other sports leagues like the National Women’s Soccer League and the NBA as well as by high school teams, the Howard University cheerleaders, even school bands showed up. Yet in hockey, as far as I can find, we have Auston Matthews being grumpy and Sidney Crosby being all, ‘sports are not about politics.’ Sports have always been about politics. If you don’t want to believe this humble blogger whose work is on a university course-reading list about sports so whatevs, this guy wrote a whole book about it.
The 1936 Summer Olympics were pretty darn political, a whole lot of Muhammad Ali was political. So much political was going on when Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan were making the news (they still do). What about that 1968 Black Power salute? If sports weren’t political Trump wouldn’t give a fuck and Don Cherry (barf) would maybe shut up. The fact that the major sports league not getting involved is the one full of white, affluent dudes, is pretty political.
“But, wait!” I hear the white boys cry, “Our Black friend says it is OK!” I hear your cries, and I call racism. And don’t send me any of P.K.’s comments or his dad’s. When the Subban family says they want politics out of sports, they do so coming from experiencing racism and recognizing hockey’s links to Canadian nationalism. On Page 4 of How We Did It: The Subban Plan for Success in Hockey, School and Life (yes, I did my time on the Toronto Public Library waiting list) Karl Subban talks about how playing hockey helped him fit in; he imagined himself as Ken Dryden, “As a youngster and new immigrant, I wanted to make friends. I wanted to feel like I belonged.” Though he doesn’t talk too much about being a family of colour finding success in a mostly white sports league, Papa Subban references Herb Carnagie’s autobiography A Fly in a Pail of Milk, which I read next, and Carnagie says a whole awful lot. The Subbans are not the Black spokesmen for white, hockey fans, they are a family who found success in something they worked hard at achieving, they don’t need to prove that racism exists in sports, they know it.
White folks like Crosby, however, could do some good acknowledging it. To say that sports aren’t political, in order to excuse visiting the White House, and on other days wear camo in solidarity with military and nationalism … kinda banana’s right?
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