Lightning’s Brown on standing by his beliefs, ignoring the backlash

Tampa Bay Lightning winger J.T. Brown listens to a question during a news conference. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

For some, perhaps most, in the professional sports community, the political sphere is a foreign land, rarely overlapping with the lighthearted environment of athletics.

But for others, that type of separation isn’t an option. Some feel compelled to force a bit of overlap, to use the platform afforded to them as high-level athletes for the purpose of calling attention to issues dear to them.

Consider Tampa Bay Lightning winger J.T. Brown in that camp.

One of only a handful of visible minority players in the NHL, Brown has established himself as one of the sport’s leaders in regards to standing publicly behind his beliefs. He did so last year when he waded into the continuing debate about players protesting their national anthems, and he did so again in the wake of the recent rallies in Charlottesville, Va., donating $1,500 towards the removal of a Confederate statue in downtown Tampa Bay.

While the decision to speak out when he sees injustice has brought both praise and criticism for Brown, the 27-year-old said he doesn’t plan on wilting any time soon.

“Stick to sports? I’ve heard it,” Brown told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan on Tuesday. “I heard it last year. I’ve heard it now after this. I’m not afraid of backlash. Everybody has their opinion on what people should say and when they should say it.

“But if everybody stuck to what they’re supposed to do, we wouldn’t have made the strides we made to get to where we are.”

Watching racial tensions continue to rise in the United States and around the globe, Brown said he’s doing what he can to help move the needle in the right direction.

“My wife and I had conversations. How will I explain this to my daughter? At what age?” Brown said. “You don’t want to dance around it, but she might have questions I don’t have answers to. With relocating the statue, we are creating a more inclusive environment for the community. Not just for my daughter’s sake – for everybody else, too.”

Set to enter his fifth NHL campaign, the Burnsville, Minn. native said his drive to remain vocal about social issues stems from the children looking to him and his peers for leadership.

“Being a role model for young minorities, I don’t necessarily see it as an obligation or something that I have to do,” Brown said. “But I think it is important to speak out when I feel strong about something and show any young minority … (that) that’s OK, and also that they can play too.”

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