Is It Possible To Separate Politics & Sports?

With the current climate, there’s a lot of focus and scrutiny on how organisations and sports teams are responding to what’s happening in the news.

Whenever a professional sports team throws its weight behind a cause that’s at least partly political in nature, there’s often a social media backlash. When the New Jersey Devils tweeted recently that they’ve added ‘Black Lives Matter’ to the ice at their practice rink, the response ranged from support all the way through to threats of cancelling season tickets.

A common complaint is that politics shouldn’t cross over into sports. Is it possible to completely separate sports and politics? If so, should it be done?

Politicians have been dropping ceremonial pucks in the NHL for ages and every President since William Howard Taft has thrown a ceremonial first toss in baseball. In 2016, owners of Big 4 Teams donated over $26.6 million to political causes and action committees.

The challenge is where do you draw the line, as the causes that the NHL champions causes that are partly political in nature. These range from promoting green energy through to LGBT and recognizing the armed services. Of course these aren’t wholly political, but as topics of discussion they aren’t mutually exclusive either.

Therein sits the challenge. To completely separate politics from sports, you need to give up the causes and limit the ceremonial traditions to non-political guests. Should the Stanley Cup winning team go to the White House? Every year this causes controversy as some players refrain depending on who the current president is.

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The total separation of sports and politics isn’t practical, but the usual controversies can be mitigated. Puck drops and pitches are fine, but the trip to the White House? It’s become bigger than just the winning team going to meet the president, and to keep things simple, it’s a tradition that should end.

Sports teams, especially high profile players are hugely influential as role models, and this can do wonders for good causes, but can also be divisive. Personally I feel the NHL does get it right a lot of the time, and I’m not the only one, but could it do more? Sure. It’s a fine line, but the league and its teams need to embrace their own marketability and realize that they can be an even bigger force for good than they already are (except Ottawa).

It’s  definitely possible to separate sports and politics, but there are no gains, and lots to lose for those causes that are part of the hockey family. Lose the stuff that will always aggravate, but keep it going at a community level, as that’s where hockey should exist, and sometimes the NHL loses sight of that.

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