The NHL community has been relatively quiet about the United States anthem protests by NFL players and teams this past weekend fueled by comments from U.S. President Donald Trump at an Alabama rally, and his tweets on the topic.
“Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now!” Trump said at the rally. “Out! He’s fired! He’s fired!”
Following Trump’s words, hundreds of NFL players kneeled during the national anthem, locked arms in a display of “unity” or simply left the field and did not take part in the anthem.
“The conversation has to get past this whole anthem thing and get to where it needs to go – if there’s actually a difference being made in the end, and what changes are actually taking place,” he said.
The narrative surrounding the protests has been largely focused on the players and teams that are standing, sitting, locking arms or kneeling during the anthem. For Toews, the direction of the conversation needs to change:
“... rather than constantly hearing people talk about, ‘Oh, is he standing or is he sitting?’ The point’s been made a long time ago. Let’s move on to actually doing something that makes a difference.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup champions, have been the lone NHL team to make an official statement on the issue as they accepted Trump’s invitation to attend a ceremony at the White House to honor their championship victory. San Jose’s Joel Ward and Nashville’s P.K. Subban, who are both black, have addressed the issue saying they won’t kneel during the anthem. Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler, a white U.S.-born player, said he would support a teammate protesting the anthem, but would also like to have an open discussion with them to understand their stance on the issue.
While the NHL is not at the center of the discussion, the issue is an opportunity for the league and its players to have a voice in the conversation and make a difference where it feels it can.
The NHL continues to stand behind the idea that the game is for everyone and the league does a large amount of charitable work in the many communities it reaches around the world.