President U Bum

It is traditional for championship winning teams from the big four sports to attend the White House and take their trophy to meet the president. Since Trump however,  some athletes have turned down this honour.

The latest is the current NBA champs, the Golden State Warriors. Point guard, Steph Curry, said:

I don’t want to go. [I] don’t stand for… the things that he’s said and the things that he hasn’t said in the right times. I don’t think us not going to the White House is going to miraculously make everything better, but this is my opportunity to voice that.

The team will visit Washington to celebrate equality, diversity, and inclusion, but will not attend the White House.

Trump, of course, waded into matter  on his Twitter (which I can’t believe is under his complete control with nobody vetting his tweets prior to being made public).

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And LeBron James countered: _97988986_a9ae6f71-85ec-4c37-b0f3-21345d6e8139

Colin Kaepernick famously took a knee during the national anthem in protest of the treatment of black people in America and has essentially lost his NFL career as a result – whereas players who are accused of physical or sexual assault continue their careers. Kaepernick’s act was not offensive; it was a peaceful protest. Kaepernick’s act of not standing for the national anthem garnered more outrage than the murders of countless black people at the hands of authority figures, however his act has paved the way for others to criticise the treatment of American people, and moreover the people in power whose beliefs are in direct opposition of their own. It’s not “unAmerican” – the practice of free speech is a basic human right and the first amendment.

Most recently, Bruce Maxwell, a rookie catcher with the A’s became the first MLB player to take a knee during the anthem. Maxwell was born on an army base to a father who was serving.

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Too often, athletes are told to stay out of politics, stick to kicking a ball, yet also be role models. How can athletes stay out of politics when their president can’t keep out of sports?

At a republican rally in Alabama recently, Trump has criticised NFL owners for not doing more against players who protest during the anthem.

Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now, out, he’s fired.

When you are more outraged that athletes are kneeling for the national anthem than the fact police killed 309 black people last year then you have a serious issue. The USA has experienced extreme weather conditions recently, with Puerto Rico and Florida battered by hurricanes, Houston flooding, and forest fires ravaging the West Coast. Trump is also engaged in a war of words with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. Surely the president of the United States has bigger issues to face than black athletes not wanting to visit his racist ass – but no, he will continue to throw his toys out of the pram because he’s not a president, he’s an egocentric bigot.

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Bryan Bickell is Retiring at the End of the Season

The winger was drafted by the Blackhawks in 2004 and made his team debut  in 2007. During his tenure with the team, Bickell won Stanley Cups in 2010, 2013, and 2015. In the 2015 playoffs, Bickell experienced vertigo like symptoms that affected his performance then in the following season he played for the Blackhawks AHL affiliate, the Rockford Ice Hogs.

As part of a multiplayer trade, Bickell joined the Carolina Hurricanes for the 2016/2017 season, however he continued to experience health issues, including unexplained pain in shoulder and leg. In November, the player was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and placed on injured reserved. He has continued to receive treatment and began to train again with the Hurricanes AHL team, the Charlotte Checkers. On the 5th of April, Bickell made his first NHL appearance since November, but today (8th) has announced he will retire at the end of the season.

“I’ve made the decision with my family that I’m going to call it quits, so it’s just these last two games.

Away from the ice, Bryan has a wife and tumblr_oo3jlqX8011uc6ypfo1_500.jpgtwo daughters, and is the founder of the Bryan & Amanda Bickell Foundation, which rescues abused pitbulls, and uses them to help abused children. Today, Bickell and his family participated in a WalkMS event, and was surprised by his team-mates who also turned up.

We wish Bryan and his family all the best for the future and wish him well in his fight against MS.

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Update on the USA Hockey saga… Nevertheless she persisted

As previously discussed, the women’s team took a stand against unfair, sexist treatment and announced they would boycott the upcoming World Championship in Michigan if the situation did not change. The ladies received overwhelming support from their male counterparts, other athletes, and sixteen US senators.

On Tuesday (28th March) the team agreed to a four year deal with USA hockey whereby players can earn more than $70,000 in a non-Olympic year and $100,000 in the Olympic year. This is a huge boost as previously the players were earning $6000 in the six months leading up to the Winter Olympics. More focus will also go towards the girl’s programs to increase participation, development, and support. This is also an important step as many senior players have been forced to play in leagues with boys growing up because opportunities for girls were – and still are – scarce.

It took a lot of strength. As USA hockey began to explore their options and tried to call up other players, these women showed solidarity with each other. Imagine being on the B team and the A team says they’re not playing then the coach calls and offers you the opportunity to play – although it may be the only chance you have, you refuse because taking a stand for the majority is more important. Powerful.

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Bravo Cruzeiro! #VamosMudarOsNúmeros

Cruzeiro EC, a football team in Brazil, did something special to mark International Women’s Day (8th March).

In partnership with Umbro, the club printed statistics on the players’ shirts tying in with their regular squad numbers. The stats were collected by NGO AzMina – an organisation that fights for women’s empowerment – to illustrate the difficulties faced in Brazil for women.

“A lot of people think that the fight for women’s rights doesn’t make sense anymore, but the data that the players will wear shows that this is still a current issue” – Leticia Bahia, director of NGO AzMina

Some details from the shirts:

  • Every 11 minutes a woman is raped
  • 33% suffer with street harrassment
  • Only 12% of the mayors in Brazil are women
  • 17% are forced to share a prison with men
  • 25% have post-natal depression
  • 38% of women murdered were killed by their partners
  • 35% of women have experienced harassment on public transport
  • Only 37% of employees in large companies are women
  • In films, only 29% of protagonists are women
  • Women’s wages are 30% lower
  • In 23% of municipalities, there are no females on the council
  • Three out of ten women have been kissed against their will
  • Out of ten unemployed people, seven of them will be women

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You Can Play

The NHL has declared  that February is now the “Hockey is for Everyone” month to highlight their commitment to diversity and inclusion. Teams have been hosting specific events to celebrate and recognise diversity, for example, participating in sled hockey, meeting blind players, and welcoming recent immigrants to the country to drop the puck. Fans have also been encouraged to share their stories of how hockey has impacted their lives using the hash tag #HockeyIsForEveryone. Each team has also assigned a You Can Play ambassador, who is said to be a leader in the locker room and the community on issues such as equality.

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You Can Play ambassadors 

In addition, this month is hosted in partnership with You Can Play, a non-profit organisation that supports LGBTQ rights and holds that locker rooms and sports venues  should be safe and free from homophobia, and athletes should not be judged on their gender identity or sexual orientation. One specific night during February is dedicated to You Can Play featuring ceremonial puck drops, hometown heroes, and Pride Tape.

Whilst I agree that these nights are important on a whole, I have a few issues with them too. Firstly, the ambassadors. The biggest “what the heck” name on the list is that of Andrew Shaw. Last April, Shaw was suspended during the playoffs and fined for using an anti-gay slur towards an official. He said he let his emotions get to the best of him – let’s be honest, it’s not the first time he’s thrown a tantrum. The reason why these types of nights are hosted are for people to realise  why a gay player might be uncomfortable in the league, but also for players and fans to change their attitudes. On one hand, that’s great – he made a mistake, showed remorse then learnt from it, and wants to turn it in a positive. On the other hand, was he really the best ambassador they could muster? From the statement he issued, it gave the vibe of his own personal project, and some fans in the LTBQ community have expressed dismay at his appointment because  he’s not a person they feel comfortable with representing and supporting them – considering he was screaming f—-t on national television ten months ago, you can understand why.

In contrast, some ambassadors get the big thumbs up. Braden Holtby and his wife
visited Harvey Milk’s former home which is now the San Francisco Human Rights Campaign Action Center and Store, and were later invited to a national dinner.

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Fatima Ali with Wilson and Williams

Together they attended the Capital Pride Festival as anonymous supporters, then the Washington Capitals asked Holtby to represent the organisation at the Capital Pride March – which he and his wife planned to attend anyway. The organisation itself has also been great in supporting this special month; Fatima Ali, a hockey player from the UAE was invited over, they’ve hosted a Chinese cultural night, USA Warriors, a hockey clinic for disabled children, and a ‘try blind hockey’ event. The team has also held a screening for middle school students of Soul on Ice, a documentary about black hockey players.

 

How much do these nights really help in the advancement of acceptance? Holtby stated that You Can Play have pushed the conversation forward so that acceptance is the norm, but is rainbow tape on a stick really going to encourage a player to come out? The NHL store is stocked with pride t-shirts and the tape but make no mention of where that money is going which makes me feel like the NHL is cashing in on what should be a progressive event. Considering they’re  building a hockey team in Las Vegas – ANOTHER PLACE WITH NO ICE – it’s safe to say they love that cash. Secondly, you only have to look at comments on Facebook to see dozens of “keep politics out of sport”. The safety and comfort of minority groups are not a political campaign – they are basic human rights and should be treated as such.

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Holtby representing the Caps at pride

A small point, not wholly relevant to this post but still important, is that some Russian players, like Yakupov, have also expressed their support for the You Can Play campaign. Considering the attitudes in Russia towards homosexuals, even speaking up and saying that a gay teammate would be supported is a quietly monumental feat that could put them in a precarious situation in their home country.

Whilst the effectiveness of You Can Play nights can come into question, and could be considered as just another money spinner for Bettman, the point remains that these events are a step in the right direction to making the league safer and more comfortable for minority groups, and importantly begin a conversation about it. For every fan complaining that politics should be kept out of hockey, there are others who fight for night’s like You Can Play. It’s not perfect – it won’t ever be – but it tells LGTBQ people that they are welcome in hockey, and that’s what counts.