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The Daily Chum: What saying “Stick to Sports” really says

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There’s a common theme to the issues we don’t want athletes to talk about.

Vancouver Canucks v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

For as quiet as he is, Jonathan Toews isn't afraid to speak his mind about the things that matter to him. Earlier this season, he made it clear that while he doesn't support Trump, there's still plenty of debate about him among players in the locker rooms. Directly political statements, though, still evade most soundbites.

There are certain issues players are still willing to speak on. For Toews, that's climate change. He took the issue to social media on Friday:

Caption reads:

Do you believe in climate change? Whether you're super pumped that we are putting 'Americans first' or you are absolutely outraged at the idea that we are taking yet another step backwards in dealing with a major global problem, the only way to solve this argument is to try and set your own agenda aside and see how this affects everybody. The only lie we tell ourselves is that we are more special than other life forms on the planet. Well, we're not. Even if we weren't responsible for any major climate catastrophes heading our way, shouldn't we still do our part to preserve what we have left? The same way that we shouldn't wait till our bodies break down completely to start doing the right things to stay healthy, let's not wait till it's too late to do something. I am not saying I am perfectly 'green', but the first step is to keep an open mind and try to learn what you don't already know.

He linked to the post on Twitter and the replies to both posts are littered with a single sentiment: “Stick to sports.” Of course, it's not about him having hobbies or interests outside of sports – the underlying message is specifically that as an athlete, no one is asking for his political opinions.

There are three layers to respond to here.

First, the idea that athletes shouldn't speak on politics is absurd. Athletes are more than just the physical feats they perform. They're people, who are just as affected by politics as the rest of us – sometimes more so, such as the case of Colin Kaepernick, who as a black man is directly affected by police brutality. Kaepernick received criticism for not “sticking to sports” when he protested on behalf of the Black Lives Matter movement, despite the issue being one that directly affected him.

Another point here is that climate change is hardly a political issue. Science functions on a consensus and the consensus is that climate change is real. According to NASA, 97 percent of climate scientists agree that humans are creating global warming. There are no two sides to the issue and, to quote The Princess Bride: anyone who says differently is selling something. Any attempts to politicize science are for personal gain, to prevent environmental policy that would cost money to enact.

Finally, the heart of the issue is that fans tend to pick and choose what issues we want to allow athletes to speak about. When Isles' goaltender Thomas Greiss was nearly thrown off the German national team for liking instagram posts likening Hillary Clinton to Adolf Hitler, no one was calling for him to “stick to sports.”

The common theme between the issues that fans don't want athletes to speak on is that they confront uncomfortable truths. We don't want to hear people we respect call out things we've internalized or accepted. Our racial prejudices, our internalized sexism and homophobia, and yes, even our being complicit in climate change are all things that we don't want to have to examine within ourselves. On the other end of that spectrum, when players come out in support of those internalized prejudices, fans find no reason to shut them down, because it reinforces and normalizes those prejudices.

The bottom line is that athletes have a platform. They have a massive audience and a chance to influence youth. They’re people, with passions and interests. As fans, when we choose to criticize those athletes who use their platform to create a better, more inclusive future, we’re sending a clear signal.

It says a lot more about us than it does about them.