*Cross-posted on The Rabbit Hole*
I was getting my skates sharpened at my local hockey store and while killing time I wandered over to the hat wall and saw the products above. The hats in question are produced by George Parros’ Violent Gentlemen apparel company. That’s right, George Parros, Princeton graduate and the NHL’s Director of Player Safety moonlights by selling MAGA (Make America Great Again) inspired hats that call for a more violent game. And they say sports and politics shouldn’t mix.
The NHL finds itself at a cross-roads in 2018. First, increasing pressure to minimize the possibility for head trauma is a hot-button issue and the League continues to bury its head in the sand following the lead of the National Football League. Former NHL’ers Dan Carcillo and Nick Boynton have created a strong social media presence pushing back against the NHL’s unwillingness to address both mental wellness and CTE. Therefore, it seems…problematic…when the Director of Player Safety openly advocates and profits from a game that has been documented to jeopardize the health of its players.
Second, Donald Trump is divisive and the MAGA hat is symbolic of this social division. Case in point, a man in Vancouver, Canada was recently refused service while wearing a MAGA hat. I’m not going to tell you how to vote but we should be able to agree that the Trump platform is the antithesis of the NHL’s Hockey is For Everyone campaign. The notion of Make America Great “Again” invokes nostalgia as a way to rally the disaffected white majority to remember a time when white supremacy was the accepted norm. And when the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to accept their White House invitation when most other leagues declined the opportunity, it signalled to white supremacists and nationalists that the NHL was a safe space for racist politics. I realize that the Penguins organization insisted that their visit had nothing to do with politics but when you make decisions that are seen as positive choices by hateful groups then it’s time to check yourself…unless that is the fan base you seek.
The Hockey is for Everyone campaign, on the other hand, states:
We support any teammate, coach or fan who brings heart, energy and passion to the rink. We believe all hockey programs – from professionals to youth organizations – should provide a safe, positive and inclusive environment for players and families regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, gender, disability, sexual orientation and socio-economic status.
Now, the NHL hasn’t been great at walking the walk with respect to the Hockey is For Everyone campaign but it should be abundantly evident that promoting hockey violence through a hateful play on popular culture is unacceptable when an executive of the League benefits from these products. The MAGA hat has come to symbolize contempt for non-white races, non-Christians, women, the disabled, and the LGBTQ communities. Furthermore, considering Colin Kaepernick has been maligned for mixing sport and politics (even though he’s really only responsible for highlighting the fact that they are already in a very intimate relationship), where are the anti-politics with my beer and sports critics now? I also realize that Parros’ company pre-dates his employment with the League. As a result, I’m not saying that Parros cannot sell these hats (although I don’t think he should), but I am saying that he cannot both profit from products that promote violence and social division AND respectfully advocate for the safety of and inclusion of all the NHL’s players. It’s time to make a choice George.