Among many inconvenient truths to surface out of the mire of our current political discourse is the reaffirmation that your favourite athlete might not only fail to share your politics or world-view: he or she might in fact hold ideas that are diametrically opposed to it.
Like Alexander Ovechkin: proud Russian; proud Putin lackey.
In the old days – like, I don’t know, five, 10 years ago? – this was no big deal. Oh, sure, there were third rails that could never be touched: racism and anti-Semitism in particular and, gradually, homophobia and sexism, although the latter two seem unfortunately still stored away in the corners in many clubhouses and locker-rooms – as they are in many offices and family rooms.
But at any rate, I doubt if anybody looked at the action on the ice, diamond or field and thought ‘hit that bastard Democrat forward’ or ‘run over that damned Republican piece of …’ well, you get the picture.
Can’t do that anymore, can we? I mean, poor Connor McDavid and his friend dress up as Donald and Melania Trump for Halloween (badly, I might add) and social media has a kitten. I guess there’s a chance that McDavid was being ironic … but a safer bet is he knew another teammate was going as Captain America or one of those tiresome Game of Thrones characters and just figured: ‘Meh. This is easy.’ Or maybe it’s an Alberta thing.
At any rate, the Edmonton Oilers captain is now probably aware that in great wide swaths of the world Donald Trump’s poisoning of the public discourse means he is viewed as being nothing short of evil; that the sores Trump delights in opening and then poking and then rubbing salt into are not laughing matters.
Donald Trump is real world evil. The laughing ended months ago.
Which brings us to Ovechkin, who was all over the news this weekend for the remarkably magnanimous act of buying clothes for a homeless man he encountered in Edmonton, where the Capitals were playing the Oilers. Feeding and clothing the less fortunate in society ought to be the charge for all of us; along with providing shelter it is the most immediate thing we can do to change a person’s circumstance in real time and Ovechkin showed a massive heart in doing so.
Thursday, Ovechkin announced via social media that he has formed something called ‘Putin Team,’ and is quoted on Instagram as announcing it by saying: “I have never hidden my attitude towards our president, always openly supporting him. I am confident that there are many of us, supporting Vladimir Putin. So let’s unite and show everyone a united and strong Russia!”
Which is his right, of course, not to mention wholly unsurprising. Putin is, among many other things, a plutocrat who keeps track of those with fame and wealth, especially when they can be an enabler: either in lining his own pockets or furthering his attempts to create a new Russian empire which is often one and the same thing.
There are coat-tails to be ridden everywhere. Ovechkin has been a buddy with Putin for a long time; he was made one of the faces of the Sochi Games and Ovechkin’s mother, Tatyana, is a former Olympic basketball gold medallist who is a highly decorated athlete from the bad old days of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics – when sport really was an extension of the state.
My guess is Ovechkin really believes this stuff, and that he does so even knowing that the current political climate in the United States gives an element of risk to what he’s done. Ovechkin spent much of the post-election cycle attempting to maintain a public non-stance on matters related to U.S. politics and continued assertions of Russian interference. Alas, that veneer has been dropped. I don’t know who Ovechkin is an ally or enemy of in the culture war in which we are now engaged – and that’s what it is, folks, an out and out culture war where we all need to pick sides or have them picked for us – but I have a pretty good guess.
He’s still a helluva player, though, and on most nights very much worth the entertainment dollar. Look: I know for a fact there are popular – hugely popular – athletes in this city who voted for Donald Trump. Truth is, there are a lot of people who make a crap-load of money who voted with their pocketbook, and in case you haven’t noticed, an awful lot of NFL players haven’t hitched their wagon to Colin Kaepernick’s cause and as far as I can tell few if any Major League players took up with Bruce Maxwell or NHL players J.T. Brown.
I hate to tell you this, but it’s possible that your favourite athlete is a misogynist or a homophobe or racist even if he doesn’t put it on a t-shirt. More to the point: I can guarantee that even if you’d cross the street to avoid a Trump supporter, you’ve gone crazy and cried for and died with a player who voted for Trump and that you’ll do it again next season and the season after and that you’d do it even if you knew he gave money to Trump.
Because you’re a fan and unless you are gullible enough to still believe there’s some sort of moral or spiritual underpinning to professional sports, some sort of life-changing intrinsic goodness to be found in it, you understand the meal satisfies your need without knowing each individual ingredient.