On Tuesday, the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues will visit the White House. Per tradition, they will in all likelihood give U.S. President Donald Trump a monogrammed sweater. They’ll shake hands, take photos and Trump will start off saying something about hockey and probably end up starting a war in Greenland.
A lot of people are angry at the Blues for agreeing to this long-standing U.S. sports tradition because it involves Trump. Apparently, the players ought either to decline the invitation or show up wearing black masks. Any exposure to Trump makes them suspect as possible enemies of the resistance. Time to start taking down names, comrades.
Famously, NBA players are no longer expected to go to the White House. They are free to refuse because their league commissioner hates Trump, their executives hate Trump, their coaches hate Trump and their owners (pretend to) hate Trump.
This isn’t exactly a bold stand. It’s a business posture. The NBA has discovered that opposition to the sitting U.S. executive tends to burnish their standing with paying customers.
Also, Trump – unlike, say, China – isn’t showering the NBA with hundred-dollar bills from a leaf blower. Hence, the notable difference in tone when it comes to one strong man versus another.
Still, NBA players often make a bit of a deal announcing they will not set one foot in the White House while Trump remains in office, always to great cheers. These are occasionally the same players who don’t know anything about China, won’t take questions about China and couldn’t find China on a map, all while they are in China.
Guys who are nowhere near winning an NBA title – and thus in no danger of an invite over for quarter-pounders and mind-numbing chitchat – make these pledges as it regards the White House. It’s become a sort of oath of loyalty in the NBA.
NHL players don’t get the same advantage.
In the case of St. Louis, its principal owner, Tom Stillman, is a noted supporter of the Republican party. The golden rule applies just as much in sports as it does in your line of work – the person who has the gold makes the rules.
If your employer instructs you, as a function of your work duties, to visit a place or person you do not agree with, you are left with a few options. You can refuse and take the consequences. You can take a principled stand and quit. You can register your displeasure and go under protest. You can keep your mouth shut and hold your nose.
What’s a little harder to do is say, “I’m not going, and I demand that you like it. In fact, I demand your public support for me while I’m voicing my lack of such for you.”
The St. Louis Blues, as with every other NHL winner during Trump’s term, are choosing the road of diplomacy.
“Whatever your view on politics is, it’s your own personal thing,” Blues goalie Jake Allen told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “But just the experience of going and seeing [the White House], not many people get that chance. It’s going to be pretty neat.”
Well, anybody can arrange to tour the White House. All it takes is a little foresight and an internet connection. But you see what Allen is trying to do here.
“It’s a special house,” said Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. “It’s something you’re going to remember for the rest of your life. How it looks in there. How cool it is there.”
Who knew? The St. Louis Blues are professional sports’ greatest admirers of Palladian and neoclassical architecture.
What? The president lives there, too? Amazing. They hadn’t heard that.
You can see these poor guys twisting themselves in knots in their attempt not to offend either side of America’s political divide. They’re not visiting the head of state. They’re going to take pictures of some really great furniture.
We seem to have forgotten one of the unavoidable compromises of life. Over the course of yours, you will occasionally have to consort with people you don’t like. That’s part of what work is – learning to co-exist with people who aren’t your best buddies. Every one of us has had a co-worker we despise. And every one of us who has remained sane through our professional lives has figured out a way to work with or around that person.
A sports team does not visit the White House (or any other house of government) for a political rally. They go there because it’s a work trip.
Physical proximity to power does not equal endorsement of it. Endorsement equals endorsement.
Taking a picture with someone does not mean you agree with everything – or anything – they think. It’s just good manners. If you feel the record needs to be set straight afterward, you are very free to explain your own take on things.
Lots of people will listen. There has never been a moment in which the polity is more willing to hang on the political thoughts of men who’ve never studied deeply nor live anywhere close to what most of us consider the real world.
If you make two or five or 20 million bucks a year, I don’t require a lecture from you on how I ought to conduct my affairs. What I need from you is a loan.
In this one instance, hockey players are the voice of reason on today’s profound cultural and political matters. They don’t want to speak to them because they realize they have nothing useful to say. They’re hockey players. They want to play hockey, not puzzle out in public the political implications of unrest in Hong Kong on stability in Asia, or the wisdom of impeachment.
The key word there is ‘public’. I’m sure many of these guys have (like just about all the rest of us, muddy and semi-informed) thoughts on the matter. But for the same reason you would not like having your family arguments over the dinner table broadcast on live TV, they don’t want theirs.
I don’t urgently require the thoughts of NHL (or NBA or NFL or professional jai alai) players on politics, any more than I do some random stranger on the streetcar. I need the players’ thoughts much less, actually. That random stranger is far more likely to share in my issues and concerns. We’ve completely lost sight of that disconnect.
Expecting famous people to be insightful just because they are famous isn’t the solution to America’s current White House problem. It’s what got Americans into the problem in the first place.