“It” wasn’t supposed to even be on the agenda at Wednesday’s NHL Board of Governors meeting.
This was supposed to be a regular, run-of-the-mill meeting in New York City to rubber stamp a rule change, and get regular updates from various league departments.
“It” was a discussion about national anthems, and their role prior to hockey games. You see, what occurred throughout the NFL on Sunday and Monday forced the topic onto the agenda. It was deemed important to talk about how to handle potential protests by players as well as anthems, as was the pending Penguins visit to the White House.
For many years, hockey has done a much better job of embracing the anthem both in arena and on television than other sports in North America. There are few, if any, alive that can remember an NHL game without an anthem just minutes before puck drop. It has become key to every game, almost as a countdown or last signal that the game is about to begin.
Other sports in North America have been asked by television to move the anthem(s) outside that eight-to-10 minute “TV Window” just prior to the start of the game. Networks have used that time adjacent to the game to run high-priced commercials instead.
So when the NHL governors discussed it, much of it could be described as constructive, and in the end, consensus was that fans come to the games to watch the games and enjoy the event. And the anthem is part of the event. It was viewed as a positive tradition. It was also discussed how teams would and should handle any player protest. When it comes to political and social issues, the consensus was to respect the players and they have to decide what makes them comfortable.
Internally, the owners viewed the anthems as a “good” tradition. Citing the Stanley Cup experience in Nashville, as well as what occurs at United Center in Chicago, there was a belief that fans like how the anthem is treated in NHL arenas.
They also believe that running both O Canada and the Star Spangled Banner, back to back, was something truly unique to hockey that should not be squandered. As well, there was no appetite to shy away from running them because of how many arena crowds, in both countries, actually sing along with the anthem singers. It’s as much of a tradition as it is patriotic, if not more.
That discussion is actually in contrast to a Twitter poll I ran on Sunday night.
Results that overwhelmingly suggested that anthems really shouldn’t be played prior to a game. Any game. Hardly scientific, the poll results actually surprised me, but one has to wonder if the timing of the poll on an emotional, time-sensitive issue made the data predictable.
Hockey, as a business, is conservative by nature, and respectful of many traditions. Change, even if required, takes time. On a positive note, at least the issue wasn’t ignored and constructive discussion occurred.
And for many, the anthems remain intact, just before puck drop.