NHL’s attempt to avoid political controversy misfires

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From what we have learned of last week’s meeting, Gary Bettman’s message/advice/order to the Board of Governors regarding national anthem protests essentially can be distilled to these four words: “Stay out of it.”

And I can understand that.

For as much as a segment of the hockey population would encourage NHL players to kneel or engage in other symbolic protest during the playing of the anthem, there is surely another segment that would encourage players to wear MAGA red hats during warmups or during on-camera interviews.

And as much as we have players who might be prone to sit, we also have players who would be prone to wear the hat.

If you can have one expression of opinion, you surely must also have the other.

And does anyone honestly want that at the rink?

NHL players have been used before as props of political partisanship, at the 2008-09 NHL season openers in Philadelphia, when late Flyers owner Ed Snider invited vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin to drop the ceremonial first puck about a month before the election, and then when Blues president Dave Checketts hosted the-then governor of Alaska in a similar capacity in St. Louis two weeks later.

The Flyers didn’t stick to sports in 2008.AP

That is the fate likely awaiting the Penguins when the reigning Stanley Cup champions visit the White House for the traditional ceremony set for Oct. 10 that will be anything but traditional.

If flag, country and patriotism are inextricably (if not necessarily accurately) linked, none is remotely related to these ceremonial visits. Neither is respect for the office of the presidency, unless you want to besmirch the 1995 Devils for having fewer than half of their championship team visit Bill Clinton in a hastily organized July event.

And though it is one thing to stay out of it as relates to the anthem issue, it is another thing to be completely out of it regarding the impact of being featured in a photo op that is likely to be framed as an endorsement of the president, no matter how many times a designated spokesman says this is not about politics.

It is impossible to know how much input the Penguins players had into the organization’s decision to keep the commitment initially made in June even as Sidney Crosby said he supports the decision and Phil Kessel has been quoted as saying the players talked about it.

Multiple emails sent by The Post to members of the Penguins organization requesting information only on how the decision was made and by whom — specifically whether the players held a vote or had a say in the decision — went unanswered. One was answered by an individual who shall remain unidentified. The response: “Sticking to hockey.”

If ownership was solely responsible for the decision, then it is on ownership to say so. Why hide it? Why the cone of silence?

It is, after all, the players who are at risk at being used as props in contrast to Stephen Curry and the NBA champion Warriors, and it is the league that risks being used in furtherance of a particular political agenda.

No one should be so naïve as to think otherwise.



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