What is it about being American that makes us love to hate?
We hate foods, we hate products, we hate movies and shows, and we’re exceptionally adept at hating people.
We hate athletes on opposing teams. We hate athletes that have left our teams. We hate athletes who don’t look like us or act like us or think like us.
We hate people who don’t look like us or act like us or think like us.
It seems like just yesterday that we were discussing the soulless bags of flesh who ran Colorado Avalanche goaltender prospect Hunter Miska off social media because they couldn’t cope with their run-amok fanaticism and therefore HAD to lash out at someone. The hate had to flow.
It seems like just yesterday that we were learning about how nasty people are to players like Nazem Kadri because of his religious beliefs and heritage, and sometimes his public mistakes as a hockey player in the National Hockey League.
It seems like every day there’s some lesson to be learned about the worst of society rearing its ugly head, and a warped vocal minority spewing hatred has certainly never shied away from the sport of hockey.
So here we are again. Move over islamophobia, xenophobia wants you to hold its Coors Light. More fear of The Other has arrived. This time it’s directed at Russian hockey players because somehow they’re responsible for the actions of their homeland. It’s silly and misguided and boy will you learn just how much of a two-way street it is if you ever leave the country.
It’s despicable to think that once again, players are being threatened by supposed fans of the game. If that’s the case, those people can go. We don’t need them hanging around games and buying jerseys and sowing their B.S.
What control does Nikita Zadorov or Kirill Kaprizov have over Russia’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine? What say does Artemi Panarin or Pavel Buchnevich have in deterring heinous war crimes from happening? What can many of the Russians playing hockey, or any sport, in the United States do?
And largely they shouldn’t have to be held to account for that. These are citizens of the world, of cultures affected by geopolitical events unfolding in their homeland, that may have thoughts and opinions on things that are worth asking after. But they’re also not beholden to taking a defensible or indefensible position in the same way that very few American players are expected to discuss their political ideologies or thoughts on diplomatic situations.
And they certainly don’t deserve derision and denigration, or worse, simply for existing or deciding to keep quiet.
Alex Ovechkin is a different story. As an active supporter of a murderous dictator who has been very vocal of his support, both in words and deeds and Instagram avatars, Ovechkin deserves to be asked about these events. As someone who founded Putin Team and served as a mouthpiece for the autocratic regime, calling for saving children from non-existent Ukrainian fascism, No. 8 should be accountable for continuing to stand behind those words or recanting them altogether—publicly like he has in the past.
There is responsibility there, particularly as a one-time face of the NHL and no doubt the face of the NHL to Russians. And if you’re worried about something happening to his family were he to simply come out and say he doesn’t support a war against neighboring Ukraine, fear not. He’s a national icon and worth, according to CapFriendly, at least $183,002,600 in salary earnings. He’s untouchable.
Hockey, and sport in general, is used as propaganda for Russia, and therefore is not above reproach in dire situations such as these.
Do 17-year-olds in the CHL deserve to be cut from their teams, denied entry into the U.S. or Canada, and ostracized from the sport because their accomplishments are used as a tool to show how their nation can fight off the decadent West? No.
Do national teams deserve the right to compete for the glory of Russia abroad? No.
There are avenues here that have diplomatic impacts as a punishment or deterrent, but I can assure you that threatening death or physical harm to Russian players like Valeri Nichushkin isn’t moving the needle anywhere. It’s just pathetic.
Holding the Washington Capitals to account for allegedly banning Ukrainian flags from games while potentially allowing others is part of the hockey fan’s unwritten code of conduct. Protesting and booing a player like Ovechkin in other cities is a rite of passage as old as sport. Calling out weak comments and hypocrisy as being unacceptable is a requirement from the media.
You don’t have to root for him. You don’t have to support him. But you also shouldn’t be wishing him, or any Russian players, harm or death.
It’s time for the Hockey Enlightenment, a period in which we accept that this is a global game played by players of different nations and beliefs and attitudes that is constantly changing. You don’t have to like everyone. You don’t have to support everyone. There can be villains and heroes, whether in reality or of your own creation.
But the unhinged desire for violence, for verbal and physical threats, the irrational hatred of people based on their religion, race, heritage, sexual orientation, or athletic prowess is pathetic. And attitudes like that are the reason for war and genocide and violence around the world in the first place.
They have no home in hockey.