Former Halifax poet laureate El Jones is criticizing the Pittsburgh Penguins' recent decision to meet with Donald Trump at the White House.
The NHL team's statement comes amidst the controversy surrounding the U.S. president's attitude towards athletes who take a knee during the U.S. national anthem to protest police brutality and racial injustice.
Crosby defended the team's decision to meet with Trump and told reporters that it was "a great honour" to be invited and while he supported athletes who didn't want to attend, the Penguins hadn't discussed the matter very much beyond agreeing to go. Trump praised the team for its choice.
Please to inform that the Champion Pittsburgh Penguins of the NHL will be joining me at the White House for Ceremony. Great team!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 24, 2017
Jones told Metro on Monday that Crosby's actions were an "act of moral cowardice," but that it wasn't too late for the Penguins to reevaluate.
"I hope that he sees this and realizes how greatly disappointing this is to Canadians and particularly to Black Canadians," she said. "He has a chance to reconsider. I'm not saying he's a terrible person, but he made a terrible choice."
At a recent rally, Trump said players who kneeled during the national anthem should be fired.
He also uninvited Steph Curry and the NBA champion team Golden State Warriors from visiting the White House on Twitter after Curry criticized him and stated that he would be skipping the traditional visit.
While the NBA, NFL, and even MLB are getting involved in the debate over athletes taking the knee, the NHL's apolitical stance has been particularly glaring. Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler was one of the only players to openly support other athletes taking a knee. Other prominent figures like Toronto Maple Leafs star and Arizona native Auston Matthews and Crosby either voiced their opposition or stayed steadily neutral on the issue.
It's the First Amendment to our Constitution. The First one!!— Blake Wheeler (@BiggieFunke) September 23, 2017
Regardless of how it makes you feel individually, these are literally the principles the US was founded on. Come on, Mr. President— Blake Wheeler (@BiggieFunke) September 23, 2017
"Sidney is a superstar. He's not some rookie that doesn't have a voice in the locker room," Jones told Metro. "If he didn't want to go, as captain and as the biggest superstar in the league, he could've made a serious point about not going. He has a lot of power here."
She added that if Crosby doesn't support Trump's words he should make that more clear.
"In recent sports this is one of the starkest moments where it's a very clear which side are you on moment. Where #TakeAKnee was trending on Twitter, it was very clear that there was a choice to be made about whether people are going to side with Black athletes protesting injustice," Jones said.
The Penguins' decision has sparked a bigger conversation about racism in the NHL. The league is overwhelmingly white, and players of colour, especially Black players, have faced racism when hitting the ice with their teammates. When fans went to see P.K. Subban play for the Montreal Canadiens, some of them donned blackface. Someone threw a banana at Wayne Simmonds when he was on the ice with the Philadelphia Flyers. Earlier this year, the NHL's commissioner, Gary Bettman, openly asked players to stay out of politics.
Crosby is a native of Cole Harbour, N.S., a town which has seen racial tensions boil over several times. The UN condemned anti-Black racism in Canada in a report last week. It's hard to deny it isn't an exclusively American problem. In light of all of that, many, including Jones, struggle to see Crosby's non-actions as anything but political.
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