Denouncing Putin isn't as easy to do for Russian hockey players as some Americans assume
There is a wave of commentary denouncing some Russian NHL players for failing to take a strong public stance against Vladimir Putin's attack on Ukraine.
I get it. Columnists, talk show hosts and panel members all over our country have taken the time to blast several players for failing to condemn Putin, as Washington Capitals star Alexander Ovechkin avoided doing this week. Or for saying nothing so far, as has been the case to date with Penguins star Evgeni Malkin.
I can't join that fray. A few hockey players thousands of miles away from their homeland aren't going to stop a war with their words. But they may put themselves or their families in jeopardy.
You can add to the trend, though. Go ahead and log onto Twitter. Shame Ovechkin and any other Russian athlete who doesn't rip Putin from the comfort of your living room in a free and democratic society.
After you do that, change your Twitter profile to add the Ukrainian flag to show the world how much you really care and how invested you are in the story. You're making a statement. Good for you!
Your virtue is signaled. And now that signal is seen by all.
When you're done with that, mix in a tweet blasting Joe Biden for how he has handled the situation. Call him "Sleepy Joe." Call him feckless and spineless and a waste of a president.
In the next tweet, remind your Twitter followers how Donald Trump was too cozy with Putin in the first place and that's part of the reason we're in this mess right now. Make sure you call him orange-skinned, Muppet-haired, and a Putin sock-puppet along the way.
Use that kind of language against both men who ran for president in 2020. Go ahead. You can do that here. Those opinions and that harsh tone are allowed. There are no repercussions aside from who you tick off and how much they blow up your Twitter comments or try to get you canceled.
That's how your brain is wired because you grew up in America and all you know is the ability to speak freely.
Now, try this. Print out copies of your column or your blog or your anti-Putin tweets. Stand in Red Square and pass them out or read them out loud.
Let your voice be heard, right? That's what matters. Make a difference!
Pfft! I mean, what's the worst that could happen? It's not like you'd get arrested, poisoned or murde....
Oh. Um. I, uh ... I guess you could.
See where I'm going with this, now?
Ask New York Rangers forward Artemi Panarin what it's like to speak out against Putin. He's done so.
A few weeks before the invasion (go figure), he had to take an NHL leave of absence to fight allegations that he physically assaulted a woman and bribed authorities to cover it up. An incident that has been universally dismissed by witnesses and those who support Panarin as nothing but a smear campaign and an intimidation tactic.
Unfair columns: Maybe SB Nation's James Dator should've skated a mile on the blades of one of these players before foisting upon them the onus of public speaking without the comfort of unbridled freedom that we as Americans enjoy.
At least he should've considered that before publishing a hit piece like this, with the super-edgy, hot-take-y headline, "Alexander Ovechkin is a lying coward who won't take a stand against Vladimir Putin."
It was a column so unbalanced that a headline change and an editor's note post-publication needed to be added in order to more properly frame the other side of the story.
Kevin Blackistone of The Washington Post also went after Ovechkin, at least in a more grown-up manner anyway. And one point he made is that other Russian athletes have taken a firmer stance against Putin's actions.
But just because some tennis player ( Andrey Rublev) wrote "no war, please" on a camera lens after a match, that's not the same thing as Ovechkin denouncing Putin in public. Putin may not notice or care what a soccer player or tennis player says. He does care about what star hockey players like Panarin and Ovechkin say.
If Ovechkin takes down the now-infamous photo of him with Putin currently on his Instagram, Putin is going to notice that.
Ovechkin's family is still in Russia: Did we mention Ovechkin still has family in Russia? Yeah. Now would be a good time to mention that Ovechkin still has family in Russia.
You follow? I'm sure Ovechkin does.
Because here he is getting bashed as a coward for not renouncing Putin from the relative safety of America. But if he does speak his mind from a gated community in Washington, D.C., and he leaves his family back home to attend to the consequences in Russia, is that not the height of cowardice?
A Putin fanboy? As Blackistone and Denton point out, Ovechkin has brought a lot of this on himself for being such an outspoken supporter of Putin. That their negative commentary is more about years of spreading pro-Putin propaganda than it is about dodging specific answers about Ukraine.
OK. Fair enough. Ovechkin did bring that on himself.
Or did he? I mean, do we know? Is Ovechkin really that much of a Putin zealot because he wants to be? Or because there is a (clears throat) "expectation that he'll be supportive of the president in public when asked."
All those chummy phone calls and visits we hear about between the two. Is that because Ovechkin really wants to be best buddies with this deranged psychopath? Or is he a little concerned to push him away because he is, well, a deranged psychopath?
I keep hearing Ovechkin being called a "Putin fanboy." Maybe he is. But I tend to think Putin is more of an Ovechkin fanboy and sees the value of having Ovechkin be ostensibly a North American "minister of sport" for his administration.
Whether Ovechkin wants to be in that role or not.
Blackistone and Denton both mentioned how Ovechkin put together a reelection campaign for Putin in 2017. Again, yes, bad look, Ovi.
But as the New York Post points out, Blackistone's own paper eventually reported that a "Kremlin-backed firm was likely behind the initiative."
Is anyone else catching on to why I'm looking at the whole relationship between Putin and Ovechkin a little more dubiously?
Give him the benefit of the doubt: That's how evil Putin is. It takes a power-mad despot on the brink of starting World War III to get me to defend Alexander Ovechkin.
Not even "defend," honestly. How about just, give him the benefit of the doubt? Or understand his no-win position.
But here I am. And here we are.