Write like no one is reading.
That’s not how the saying goes but it’s how I’m approaching this entry.
In my last entry I briefly touched on the moment I became a hockey fan. It was easy to transition into the sport because I have been watching them my whole life. Baseball, basketball, racing, tennis. Yeah, I get that racing isn’t necessarily a sport. There are some that argue baseball isn’t either. Whatever. The point is, my life has been filled with rooting for a team or individual athlete in some capacity as far back as I can remember.
I’m sure somewhere along the way the fact that my brother watched sports helped me find them. But where he casually watched whatever sport was on TV at the moment, I fell into categories. College basketball became my obsession. For years if you approached me in March I could tell you all the teams and their rankings in the NCAA basketball tournament. My team was Duke. The Lakers were my NBA team. And the Dodgers have always been a part of my life – my grandparents had season tickets and even after they stopped going my friends and I would go to games on our own. The NFL came and went for me, probably because the LA teams left the city. But I do like Tom Brady despite himself. And before him it was Peyton Manning. Quarterbacks and goaltenders. Those are my dudes. Tennis became my way to stay connected to my grandmother. And even though she no longer remembers, I follow it.
Being an LA native I naturally gravitated toward the teams here. Although, in 1993 I found myself enamored with the Pittsburgh Penguins because they had Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr (among others, I can name them, seriously, ask me who the core of the 90s Penguins team was and I can tell you).
In recent years my watching habits have changed. The NCAA isn’t so much a thing for me until the finals, and sometimes even then I just catch up on highlights and scores. In fact basketball in general has become more of a “I’ll watch it when the finals start” habit. These days I’ve found baseball soothing and it doesn’t matter what team is playing, I’ll have it on. Until recently, when my favorite driver retired, and the political climate changed in this country, Sundays were reserved for NASCAR, when I remembered. The only constant is hockey. From October to June hockey is where my priorities lie. “Want to hang out tonight?” “Depends on if the Kings are playing.”
What does that all mean and why am I telling you (myself) all this?
Sports and politics have always been a thing. Don’t let anyone tell you this started with the idiot in chief. He made it personal, but it’s always been there. Political protesting in the Olympic Games, the NFL, baseball, it was a thing before him and will be after him. And what just took place had nothing to do with him until he made it so.
The current situation in sports has always been about racism. Hell, if you look at the history of protest in sports it’s 98% about racism. If not 100%. It’s never been about the flag, or the anthem, or not respecting our armed forces. Colin Kaepernick didn’t take a knee to protest war, the flag, America. He started this movement to put eyes on one specific issue: police brutality against black people. Don’t let anyone get you twisted. It’s always been about racism.
In fact it’s still about racism. When you can stand in front of a crowd and call white supremacists “very fine people” one week and call protesting players (black men, in case that wasn’t clear) “sons of bitches” the next, it’s about racism.
And here’s where my personal sports journey comes into play. Hockey and NASCAR are becoming an issue. Let’s start simple. NASCAR has always been and it seems, will always be, made up of red state, right leaning drivers and fans. So it is not surprising that where NFL owners stood up for the players and their right to protest (despite being supporters of the current administration), many car owners explicitly forbid their drivers from doing the same, threatening firings if anyone defied them.
For a while I was able to look past the fact that NASCAR owners, and many drivers, young and old, had opinions different than mine. I justified my continuing support by remembering these teams are sponsored by companies who feel as I do, and the culture of the sport was trying to change. And while I am happy to say the driver I was rooting for this season has spoken in favor of protesting peacefully, NASCAR will no longer have my eyes on it.
Here’s the thing though. NASCAR couldn’t care less if I am watching or not. I’m not their audience.
And neither do the Penguins, who also disappointed me this week.
The NHL is steeped in tradition. They are also steeped in team mentality. There are no individuals. From the top tier players to the day to day skaters you ask them about the game and they fall over themselves to be all about team. That’s not to say they don’t have their share of individual awards and the like. But they are taught from day one that hockey is about us, not me. So to step up and say something about the current state of things…well that’s calling attention to yourself and that’s just, rude. But mostly, and this is the key here, the people that make up the NHL are white men. So it’s easy for a team like the Penguins to say things like “It’s a tradition to go to the White House so we’re going.” They don’t have a player in their locker room who is threatened by the administration’s policies and rhetoric. Even though they currently live in this country. And to say they’re taking politics out of the equation is utter bullshit.
So I’ve stopped following them on all social media, and unless they’re playing the Kings, I won’t watch their games. Again, though, they don’t care. I’m not their audience.
The NFL is still fucking over its players. This week team owners stood side by side, kneeled with, and spoke in favor of their teams as protests spread over the league. All while continuing to support the administration (after all, they’re the 1% benefiting from its policies) and keeping the catalyst of this particular movement off a professional team. That’s right, folks. Colin Kaepernick kneeled during the National Anthem and was conveniently unsigned by the team he was playing for at the time. And for some strange reason (she says sarcastically) remains unsigned by every team who participated in this weekend’s protests.
Sports is flawed. It will always be flawed. But as long as there are people willing to take a stand and speak out, I’ll continue to pay attention to them. Even when that means I have to put aside other bullshit to do so. Except NASCAR and the Penguins. I’m done with them.
A side note. This summer my team, the LA Kings, drafted a player with two moms. When asked about it, the pro scout who recommended the player to the team said: If anyone has a problem with that they can go fuck themselves. This week they singed the player to an entry level contract (this is normal procedure for a draftee not picked in the top 3-5 spots). Baby steps.
I will forever be conflicted by my choice to continue to watch sports despite what I know. I get the luxury of making that choice. I will continue to stay informed and do my best to make the right decisions based on that information.
W.O.W. Moment of the Week: Sticking with my responsibilities despite feeling like shit.