Ryan Callahan: Lightning players have J.T. Brown’s back

Watch as Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown raises his fist in the air during the playing of the national anthem.

As the hockey community continues to struggle with finding the balance between “sticking to sports” and taking a stance on the current political climate, J.T. Brown has taken matters into his own hands.

The Tampa Bay Lightning winger became the first NHL player to join the protests during the American national anthem, raising a fist and bowing his head during the Star-Spangled Banner on Saturday. While Brown said he received death threats following his silent protest, with some misconstruing his actions as disparaging the military rather than looking to highlight racial injustice, the 27-year-old can rest assured that his Lightning teammates understand his intent.

“We’ve got 25 different guys in here, everyone is going to have a different opinion, come from a different background and upbringing,” Tampa Bay’s Ryan Callahan said to Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times on Monday. “Whether we agree or disagree with what (Brown) is doing, as a team we support him.

“We support (Brown) on and off the ice. Our biggest thing is we’ve got his back.”

Brown also received support from other players around the league who said they respect his decision to make his views known.

“I’m proud of him, proud that he did that and proud that he stood up and put himself out there,” Washington Capitals forward Devante Smith-Pelly told Smith. “Because it’s tough. It’s tough anytime, but in this particular sport, it’s tough to put yourself out there. It’s a lonely feeling, even without doing a protest. So that he stood out and put himself out there, I respect it a lot.”

This isn’t the first time Brown has stood up for his beliefs. The Burnsville, Minn. native spoke previously about the racial tumult that led to the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, eventually donating $1,500 to the removal of Confederate statues in downtown Tampa Bay.

“Stick to sports? I’ve heard it,” Brown told ESPN’s Emily Kaplan in August. “I heard it last year. I’ve heard it now after (donating to the statue removal). 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.”

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