Canada Deserves Better Than Sidney Crosby

Sid's White House visit proves that he isn't the leader Canada needs, on or off the ice.

There’s a silver lining to the NHL’s decision to skip the 2018 Olympics. Sure, it’s the type of silver-lining that makes you squint and clench so hard that there’s guaranteed to be a paper trail afterwards. But that lining does exist, and it’s the relief that we won’t have to cheer for Sidney Crosby.

There are many reasons to hate Sid the hockey player — his whining, his cheap shots, his constant need to hog the spotlight from human French Bulldog/Hot-Dog Connoisseur Phil Kessel. Sid’s spent the better part of a decade devastating rival fans and players, using an otherworldly, generational skill-set to grind the hopes and dreams of his opponents and critics into dust. Whether it’s because of jealousy, scorn, awe or bitterness, Sid the player has always deserved our hatred.

Now, after years of keeping that hatred contained to the ice, it’s finally time to hate Sidney Crosby the man.

Last month — amid a hail-storm of attacks on NFL players for freely expressing their opinions on race in America — Steph Curry wondered out loud whether or not the championship Warriors should attend the customary trip to the White House. To any rational, thoughtful person, wondering if you should visit a place that might not welcome you is a rational, thoughtful thing to think. But to the pettiest man this side of Kevin Durant, that line of logic was enough to bruise what is supposedly the most unassailable ego in the world. And so, the Warriors invitation was rescinded, and all hell broke loose. Trump — never one to miss an opportunity to fire up the most grotesque of his base — decided to inject his grubby little fingers into an issue he had in many ways been a key cog in creating, and rage-baited everyone he could find. An active President of an actual country took to Twitter and press conferences and aggressively expensive publicity stunts to send a very clear message to athletes: Shut up and stay in your lane.

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But athletes didn’t comply. LeBron called Trump a bum. Most of the NFL kneeled in defiance. Even JR SMITH took time away from staring off into the great unknown to ask Obama to come back. And while all the corners of the sports world came together to oppose this unprecedented attack on professional athletes, one man heard that message from Trump and decided to bend his knee to the emperor. It was none other than Canada’s Golden Boy.

Now, it’s not that we were expecting much from Sidney Crosby — at his most eloquent, he’s a humanoid drone programmed to simply dominate on the ice and speak in vague platitudes. He wasn’t going to suddenly offer up a well-articulated treatise on race relations in America. There weren’t calls for him to put his career at risk or to boycott the sport he grew up loving, or even ‘disrespect’ his national anthem. We set the lowest possible bar imaginable for Sid, somewhere just above ‘meaningful thought’ and just below ‘meaningful action’. Curry et al had provided Crosby with a blueprint to follow, and he could have kept his brain on autopilot, and simply gone along with his fellow athletes. But he didn’t.

What could have been a moment of principled action, thoughtful reflection and compassionate unity became another vague platitude about doing things the way they’ve always been done, followed by that trademark grin, and the skating away of a national shame, content to bury his head in the sand and continue to hum along to whatever joyfully upbeat song plays in the heads of people who believe they live in a bubble, free of context or consequence.

People have (and will continue to) defend Crosby — we have a tendency to create blind spots when it comes to the athletically gifted among us, especially when they bring our country glory. Their argument is that sports should serve as an escape, and politics has no place in hockey. Let’s look at that justification a little more closely.

First, I tend to agree that sports should help us ‘get away from it all’ — a 24/7 hook-up to the toxic IV line that feeds you nothing but the non-stop bickering, back-stabbing and bile of professional politics sounds like literal hell. (It’s what I imagine working for CNN is like). The ability to don a jersey and scream and cry and shit yourself in fear, anticipation and excitement is beginning to feel like an existential necessity as the world outside of sports becomes more dark and dreary. So yes, sports should serve that purpose. And believe me, if every face-off was accompanied by a low-level City Councillor pedalling hydro savings in exchange for votes, I’d be the first one to send pitchfork through TV. But this was never about a complete takeover of sports by politics.

This was about a moment.

Athletes decided to use a fragment of an iota of an atom of their time in the spotlight to say something about the injustice they believed was happening in their country. As a response, people blew it up into an all-out war for the future of patriotism and freedom and whatever other lazy buzzwords the criminally depraved use to rile up the masses when they don’t feel like speaking with thoughtfulness or nuance. Which is insane.

Yes, the national anthem is a symbolic celebration of pride in one’s country. But you know what else happens during the national anthem at live sporting events? People grab beer and urinate. They use the national anthem to gauge how much time they have to collect their snacks before the game starts. Most TV stations don’t bother to broadcast the anthem because those two minutes could be sold to advertisers to generate more revenue. When networks do broadcast the anthem, how many among us actually rise out of our well-formed ass grooves, for a reason other than the fact that we left something in the other room? Athletes like Kaepernick were simply trying to use a quiet moment of reflection to bring attention to an issue that they believed their country could improve upon. That’s it. They weren’t saying that America sucked — they were saying it could get better at something. And if we really need to crucify them for that, let’s let the person that never used the anthem delay to refill their bowl of fucking Cheetos cast the first stone.

And before you go ahead and repeat the ‘but politics has no place in sports’ line, I’d like you to think back to the most celebrated moment in Canadian hockey history, and the reason why there’s 86 bajillion Canadian men in their mid-40’s named ‘Paul’. Yes, I’m referring to the Summit Series. The one against the Soviet Union. The one that had to be arranged by ambassadors and high-level members of Papa Trudeau’s government. The one that took place at the height of Cold War tensions. Is any of that ringing a bell? It was a hockey series for the fate of the free world, which sounds ridiculous now, but that’s how politically-charged the series was. Do you think anyone would remember Paul Henderson’s name if he had scored the game-winner for Canada against Burkina Faso? Exactly.

We can’t claim to want politics out of sports when it suits our argument, and then go and worship at the altar of a politicized sporting event that makes up a key square of our national cultural fabric. (Ironically, the people that still aren’t convinced that politics has a place in hockey and are rushing to call me and anyone who shares this opinion ‘liberal commies who hate liberty and freedom’ are the same people who would have been cheering the loudest for a hockey series where Canada faced off against actual real-life communists. But I digress.)

What does all of that have to do with Sidney Crosby? Well, the time you took to read that little side-rant is far longer than the time it took Crosby to consider his position on the issue. Because if he had, he would have never said an asinine thing like ‘this isn’t about politics’. Of course it is Sid. Think about it.

You’re visiting the White House. It’s the very literal physical embodiment of politics. If alien invaders ever grace us with their presence, a picture of the White House is on the title slide of the PowerPoint Presentation on how humanity’s political system works. The White House is a political entity. It takes politics to get there, politics to stay there, and politics to be removed. You can’t separate one from the other. But that’s exactly what Sid felt entitled to do.

And so, Canada’s most visible and internationally recognizable modern athlete decided to fully comply with a tradition of saluting a foreign leader whose values and views have proven to be a direct contradiction to what the leaf on his jersey is supposed to represent. After a career of exploiting those values to profit heavily from our shared Canadiana (Everyone jump on the ice with Sid, and don’t forget your piping hot Tim Horton’s Double-Double!) it’s astonishing that when the time came for Crosby to actually stand up for what that leaf means, he wilted.

Crosby can go on and win four more Cups, six more Harts, and three bazillions more of whatever the fuck they call the Trophy that they give out at the ‘Gary Bettman World Champions League of Misfit Countries’, and none of that will matter. He will no doubt don the leaf again, probably with another ‘C’ attached to it, and he might even think that he’s proudly representing what it means to put on that jersey. But for the rest of his career, Crosby will never again be worthy.

Dan Szczepanek
Dan Szczepanek
Dan Szczepanek is the founder and Editor in Chief of Grandstand Central, an outlet he helped launch in 2017 to look at the intersectionality of sports and world around it. He's a recovering ad-man, and former politics wonk.


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