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Auston Matthews won't protest anthem, says it dishonours flag

Auston Matthews says he doesn't think he will participate in the protests during the American national anthem. Speaking at Maple Leafs' training camp Monday, Matthews cited respect for the military as the main reason he won't be kneeling.

Maple Leafs centre says he supports others exercising right to free speech

Toronto Maple Leaf centre Auston Matthews said Monday that he doesn't think he will kneel during the American national anthem. (Christopher Katsarov/Canadian Press)

Auston Matthews says he doesn't think he will participate in the protests during the American national anthem.

Speaking at Maple Leafs training camp Monday, the 20-year-old cited respect for the military as the main reason he won't be kneeling.

"My great uncle served. I have friends and family who've served. There's men and women who have risked their lives for the United States, people who have died for the United States," said Matthews, a Scottsdale, Ariz., native.

"To me, I don't know if  kneeling, sitting, stretching is something I'd really look into doing because to me it's like a dishonour to the men and women who fight for that flag, that fight for the U.S."

After President Donald Trump called for protesting NFL'ers to be fired, over 200 of them did it anyway. We have seen many athletes perform protests over the years, and Rob Pizzo counts down five of them. 2:03

At least 200 NFL players either knelt, sat, stretched or prayed during pre-game anthems on Sunday as part of a protest against racial inequality in the U.S. that gathered steam when President Donald Trump castigated protesting players, going so far as to tell team owners to "get that son of a bitch off the field."

The second-year player, however, still said he supports athletes protesting.

"Isn't that one of the Amendments? You have the right to say what you want."

When asked if he would attend the White House should the Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup, Matthews said "we'd probably go."

Teammate and fellow American James Van Riemsdyk agreed with Matthews on the right to freedom of speech, but didn't mention possible protests or White House visits. 

Leafs head coach Mike Babcock also spoke on the matter.

Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler, also an American, did have a message for Trump via Twitter on Sunday.

"For a lot of people similar to my wife and I, it's been a slow boil," Wheeler said Monday at the Jets' practice. "The rhetoric over and over has gone a little bit too far a few too many times, so it felt right to take a stance."

Wheeler also said a teammate electing to kneel during the anthem would "100 per cent have my support."

Jets coach Paul Maurice said he chooses to stand during the anthems, but he supports Wheeler's right to voice his opinion.

"The simple rule in our locker-room is the players can say whatever they want," said Maurice. "If you want to take a stand and make a point, you should feel free."

With files from The Canadian Press

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