A few weeks later, he’s making far bigger headlines that transcend sports.
In a Russian interview on the Vsemu Golovin Youtube channel, Panarin spoke out about the state of Russia’s political and societal landscape and was openly critical of Vladimir Putin. In doing so, he becomes a rarity among his pro sports peers and, by far, the biggest Russian sports star to ever speak out against Putin.
Russian hockey reporter Slava Malamud translated the interview, which he called “easily the most glorious interview by a Russian athlete ever” and posted the transcript of Panarin’s most poignant points on his website on Friday.
Malamud joined Sportsnet Today on Sportsnet 590 The Fan Friday to discuss the significance of Panarin’s words — both here in North America and overseas in Russia, where Panarin spends much of his off-season.
“This is absolutely unprecedented in Russian sports,” Malamud said. “Among all the active athletes, people who are in the spotlight, it is completely and utterly unprecedented. I’ve never ever heard anyone even come close to anything like this. And if somebody did come close — or even remotely close to that — they would’ve backtracked the next day. So I’m curious about what’s going to happen to Artemi over the next few days, whether he’s going to be backtracking on this or not.”
Sports and politics so often mix in North America these days, with many American athletes using their platforms to speak out against U.S. President Donald Trump, but the topics rarely mix in Russia. And when they do, it’s typically in praise of Putin.
“I don’t think even Putin would know what to do in a situation like this because if there’s one constituency that he can always count is going to be in his corner, it’s the athletes, the jocks,” Malamud said when asked about possible reaction to Panarin’s interview over in Russia.
“You see guys like Kovalchuk, and especially Ovechkin, and Malkin to a smaller degree and Varlamov, basically just sing [Putin’s] praises.”
In addition to Panarin’s words, Malamud is also intrigued by the timing of the interview.
“What’s most revealing about this is this interview was actually recorded about a month ago. It did not go live until [Thursday],” he said. “[Panarin’s] still in Saint Petersburg. And that’s just because Artemi doesn’t give a damn, he’s utterly fearless, he’s absolutely sure that nothing is going to happen to him.”
Here are some notable excerpts from the interview, which you can (and really should) read in full here:
On what he thinks about Putin:
“I think he no longer understands what’s right and what’s wrong. Psychologically, it’s not easy for him soberly judge the situation…
I am not saying this because I see any kind of profit for myself in this. I want the people to live better, for teachers and doctors to have better salaries. I don’t want some ballerinas (Panarin is referring to the ultra-patriotic former dancer Anastasia Volochkova) to say, ‘If you don’t like it here, you can leave!’ This is raving madness! Everyone has left already, all the brains are gone. This shouldn’t be happening.”
On Putin’s “personality cult”:
“The mistake in our society is treating him like a superhuman. He is a regular person, like us, and he is serving us… Yes, to be a president you have to be smart and enlightened, but our biggest mistake, among many, is thinking that we have nobody better than Vladimir Vladimirovich. This is nonsense. How many million people live here? No question there is someone better.”
On the seperation between sports and politics:
“Athletes should pay attention to what’s going on in the country. They should have a position. I don’t want anyone to mess with mine. Maybe we know less about politics than politicians. But why do they play hockey, then? Can we say that politics should be outside sports? OK, then, Vladimir Vladimirovich, sell your skates!”
Panarin's face when he says, "Vladimir Vladimirovich, sell your skates" is absolutely everything. pic.twitter.com/sE2fPbYM8s
— Slava Malamud (@SlavaMalamud) July 19, 2019