News

Political debate creeps into dressing room, but not out in public

GLENDALE, Ariz. — In the ramp-up to and the aftermath of this most unusual presidential election, politics has crept into nearly every facet of society. It even has crept into the inner sanctum of the NHL dressing room, which, to hear a few of the Blackhawks tell it, frequently resembles your typical Facebook page.

“Even people who don’t normally have an opinion, all of a sudden they do,” Jonathan Toews said. “I wouldn’t say any of the discussions are very coherent. It’s just that everyone’s got their horse, and they’re sticking to that horse through thick and thin, instead of actually having a sensible conversation about it. It’s more divisive than anything.”

But good luck getting anyone to allow those private conversations to become public. While players and coaches in other sports — such as Warriors coach Steve Kerr, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, Raptors guard Kyle Lowry and Steelers lineman Ryan Harris, among others — have been outspoken critics of President Donald Trump’s administration and the Muslim ban that has been dominating discussion around the world, the hockey world has been characteristically silent.

Even the Blue Jackets’ Brandon Saad, whose father was born in Syria and who still has family there, told the Columbus Dispatch, “It’s not something I really want to comment on.” The Maple Leafs’ Nazem Kadri, a Muslim-Canadian, called Trump “pretty delusional” back in the early days of his candidacy and called the ban “unfortunate” this week, but that has been the extent of the NHL’s willingness to speak out, either for or against Trump’s policies.

Jonathan Toews said that political talk among players can get heated, and called it "annoying." (Getty Images)

It’s simply ingrained in hockey players at an early age not to make waves.

“There’s definitely the feeling that guys don’t want to attract attention to themselves, if it’s unnecessary and if it has nothing to do with what happens on the ice,” Toews said. “There’s that sense of team, where guys aren’t out to bring the spotlight on themselves.”

Besides, in the age of mass -media and the internet, when every off-hand comment instantly makes its way around the world, players are more reluctant than ever to take a stand.

“If you know all the information, I think it’s fine to speak out,” defenseman Brian Campbell said. “I try to watch it and keep up to date, but I’m not going to sit here and say I know all the ins and outs and say I’m the expert on it or anything. I ask friends and talk to teammates and we discuss what’s going on, but you don’t want to be talking about things when you might not have all the information.”

A few players said political talk has gotten heated at times and has generated some genuine tension over meals or at the hotel or at the rink. But usually it devolves into standard joking around. With seven Americans and seven countries represented on the roster, there’s a wide array of opinions. Dennis Rasmussen, a Swede, said he doesn’t pay as much attention to American politics because “I don’t feel like I can do anything here,” but he’s well-versed in the similarly changing political climate of his native country.

Toews said he only gets “worked up” when he hears someone “blindly supporting something when they don’t really know what they’re talking about.” Toews noted that there are “a handful” of Trump supporters on the team, but he was quick to point out he wasn’t one of them. In recent years, Toews has been more outspoken with his beliefs and causes, including combatting climate change. In the insular world of hockey, even that can be controversial.

So if you’re waiting for a hockey player to speak out in support of a specific policy or to rail against a specific person, don’t hold your breath. Those discussions are starting to happen in the hockey world, but they’re not leaving the dressing room.

“The only thing I’d ever really say is it just seems to be one team vs. another instead of both sides working together and trying to fix the problem without getting their egos involved,” Toews said. “And the same thing happens with people who elect those people. You choose a side, and that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

Follow me on Twitter @MarkLazerus.

Email: mlazerus@suntimes.com