Opinion

Sidney Crosby isn't evil. He's a hockey player going to the White House: Robyn Urback

We seem to exist in a climate now where there's this impulse to characterize everyone — athletes, actors, co-workers, etc. — as either "with us" or "against us." That's feeding right into Donald Trump's playbook.

Crosby was damned either way: he'd either be a Trump sympathizer or a rogue liberal

We seem to exist in a climate now where there's this impulse to characterize everyone — athletes, actors, co-workers, etc. — as either 'with us' or 'against us.' That's feeding right into Donald Trump's playbook. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Earlier this month, satirical news website the Onion published an article entitled: "Former Conservative Recalls Belittling Tirade From College Student That Brought Him Over To Left."

"I'd just mentioned my support for a Republican congressional candidate on Twitter," said the article's protagonist, Vincent Welsh, "when this 19-year-old responded by telling me ... I hated the poor and that I was everything that was wrong with the world, and it just completely opened my eyes to how incorrect my whole worldview was."

The joke, of course, is that berating people on the internet for their personal views never actually changes someone's mind. It's theatre, largely: an expression meant to demonstrate one's moral superiority to a social media circle and/or a cathartic release of personal grievances.

Sidney Crosby, traitor

That futility, however, hasn't deterred legions of critics from this very time-consuming, often counterproductive endeavour. The latest high-profile target is Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who is being lambasted as a "traitor" and "f------ scum" for accepting an invitation to the White House.

It's very easy to get sucked into a black hole of over-analysis when it comes to anything Trump-related, but let's take a step back here and remember what we're talking about: an athlete has accepted an invitation to the White House.

He's not a monster who has decided to join the dark forces or a Republican trying to take health care away from millions of vulnerable Americans: he's a hockey player who probably, naively, thought he was doing the right thing.

U.S. President Donald Trump said the NFL should fire 'son of a bitch' players who take a knee during the national anthem. (Michael B. Thomas, Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The timing, I'll grant, was exceptionally poor: it came after President Donald Trump said the NFL should fire "son of a bitch" players who take a knee during the national anthem, which is a demonstration against police brutality targeting black Americans.

The Pittsburgh Penguins took that moment, of all moments, to issue a statement confirming the team's attendance at the White House for a post-championship visit — a statement that might as well have read: "For immediate release: We don't get it."   

That statement set the stage for Crosby's rather tone-deaf remark, in which he called the invite to the White House "a great honour." In response, Crosby has been called all sorts of names that cannot be reprinted here.

On the one hand, it's understandable: Crosby's enthusiasm makes him appear ignorant of, and unconcerned with, the glaring racial undertones to this Trump versus athletes feud, which should be apparent to anyone with an iota of cultural sensitivity.  

But on the other, the vitriol seems over the top, and largely misguided. If the point is to express some frustrations about Trump, then it's probably working. But if the idea is to somehow win Crosby over to the anti-Trump cause — some have argued Crosby should be a powerful advocate of social justice given his upbringing in Cole Harbour, N.S., which continues to grapple with racial tensions — then this is likely the wrong way to go about it.   

Personally, I would have liked to see Crosby turn down the invite for any number of reasons: Trump's attacks on athletes, women, immigrants, the U.S. Constitution and a normal news cycle, or for appearing to declare war on North Korea over Twitter. Take your pick.

I suspect Crosby assumed, rather adorably, that accepting the White House invitation was the less political of his two options. And after the excoriation Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas received for skipping his team's White House visit in 2012, it's not hard to see why he might think that.

Two wrong choices

But in 2017, there is no such thing as an apolitical move. Crosby was damned either way. He'd either be a Trump sympathizer by accepting the invitation, or a rogue liberal by turning it down.

Ideally, there would be room for some nuance, but we seem to exist in a climate now where there's this impulse to characterize everyone — athletes, actors, co-workers, etc. — as either "with us" or "against us," which is absolutely being encouraged by the guy in the White House.

Indeed, separating people into "good" and "bad" is straight from the Trump playbook, but that doesn't mean the rest of us have to play along. We don't have to see an athlete who visits the White House or chooses to stand during the national anthem as a de facto Trump sympathizer; perhaps he disagrees with Colin Kaepernick's method of protest, or fears being seen as anti-American, or maybe he just wants to try to stay out of it, to the extent that's possible.

There is an argument to be made, however, that someone who does nothing in the face of injustice is himself guilty of perpetuating that injustice. It's a fair point, which is why Crosby doesn't exactly deserve a high-five for shrugging off the president's bizarre views on the free speech rights of athletes.

But it's unrealistic to expect every prominent figure in the world to declare his or her position on this presidency. Some people just aren't built for it (which, granted, speaks to an extraordinary level of privilege, since some people have to be political, whether they want to or not). Hockey players are not exactly known for their thoughtful takes on social justice.

In any case, Crosby is not the enemy. If there is an enemy here, it's his indifference, which won't be challenged by sending him a tweet calling him a moral leper.

You don't change minds by dividing people into camps and declaring as enemies those with whom you disagree. And you don't change minds by yelling at strangers on the internet.

Change happens when those with whom we disagree are seen as potential allies, not hopeless adversaries. Crosby could be an ally. Or else he'll just be a pretty good hockey player.

This column is part of CBC's Opinion section. For more information about this section, please read this editor's blog and our FAQ.

About the Author

Robyn Urback

Columnist

Robyn Urback is an opinion columnist with CBC News and a producer with the CBC's Opinion section. She previously worked as a columnist and editorial board member at the National Post. Follow her on Twitter at:

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