Bobby Orr, Donald Trump and when sports heroes disappoint you


Bobby Orr’s endorsement of Donald Trump is disappointing, but unsurprising.

Many hockey fans are loosening their grip on Bobby Orr right now.On Friday, one of the greatest hockey players of all time stepped into politics by posting a full-page ad in the New Hampshire Union Leader to support Donald Trump for the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Notably, Orr does not reside in New Hampshire, but in Florida. Instead of releasing the ad in his home state or Massachusetts, where he spent most of his hockey career with the Boston Bruins, he released the ad in a state with a closer battle that would have still a lot of nostalgic Bruins fans.

Orr joins other sports legends who have endorsed Trump in recent days, such as Jack Nicklaus and Brett Favre, though those endorsements have only come on social media, rather than a full page in a newspaper.

“President Trump did things for all of the American people, regardless of race, gender or position in life,” Orr says in the ad, which includes a photo of Orr and his wife with Trump .

Certainly, LGBTQ people who have seen anti-discrimination protections withdrawn under Trump might disagree with this statement. Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement, which Trump called a “symbol of hatred,” would also disagree with him.

Trump’s approval of Orr has sparked strong reactions online.

Let’s be honest: Orr’s support for Trump may be disappointing, but it’s not surprising. For many reasons, the political beliefs of North American hockey players tend toward the conservative right-wing end of the political spectrum.

Hockey is a sport played primarily by wealthy whites. Barriers to entry – especially cost, but also time – mean that hockey is most readily available to those who have the money and time to overcome these barriers. In the United States and Canada, that mostly means rich whites due to the systemic racism that has robbed people of color of economic capital.

There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of the NHL is white and well-off, which is the starter pack for Trump supporters. Republican policies of lower taxes for the rich help the rich financially, while Trump’s rhetoric never targets them, so they are immune to its vitriol.

In other words, Orr does not suffer any prejudice from a Trump administration and is likely immune from the prejudice others have suffered. This does not excuse his approval, but goes a long way in explaining it.

For fans of his groundbreaking game on the ice, Orr’s support for Trump is hugely disappointing, especially for fans who may already feel marginalized from hockey culture, such as women, the queer community, and fans. people of color. Unfortunately, this disappointment is a very familiar feeling.

Elias Pettersson and Spittin ‘Chiclets

Some Canucks fans were recently disappointed when Elias Pettersson appeared on the Spittin ‘Chiclets hockey podcast. While this is one of the most popular hockey podcasts, it has a history of misogyny – hosts Paul Bissonnette and Ryan Whitney would call the women they slept with “murders.” Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising considering his association with Barstool Sports, long criticized for its misogyny and sexism. Barstool Sports founder David Portnoy has a history of racist and sexist comments.

Dani Huntley, co-host of The Broadscast, had a particularly strong reaction when it was announced that Pettersson was appearing on Spittin ‘Chiclets.

“It disappointed me that he chose a platform that has a history of glorifying misogyny, whether it’s referring to women as murder or bragging about their sexual exploits,” he said. Huntley said. “Just listen to the episode Petey and how the Spittin ‘Chiclets team made homophobic comments towards [J.D. Burke] before Petey joins the interview. That does not suit me.

Some have suggested that Pettersson may not be familiar with the podcast’s history and problematic associations, but Huntley does not buy into that explanation.

“I think when he has an agent and a PR team, he made the decision to continue,” she said. “He may not be directly involved in misogyny, but he shows me that he is an accomplice.

For Huntley, Pettersson’s appearance on Spittin ‘Chiclets hit particularly close to home.

“I was listening to Spittin ‘Chiclets, I was called a guy’s daughter and I thought my white wife was making me immune to patriarchy,” she said. “I had to reassess myself – I was not being true to myself and I was only doing this to try and fit in with the hockey crowd. I appreciated my closeness to power, but our closeness does not protect us. If there are 12 seats at the table and only two are reserved for BIPOC and women, who are the comfortable people? White men.

Spittin ‘Chiclets has had plenty of NHL players on the podcast – it’s one of their main draws – and Pettersson isn’t even the first Canuck to participate in the podcast. Bo Horvat had been on the podcast earlier this year and the podcast has a reputation for bringing NHL players to open up in ways they don’t do elsewhere, perhaps because two former players of the NHL are the hosts.

According to Samantha Chang, one of Huntley’s co-hosts on the broadcast, that’s part of the problem.

“I am disappointed that one of the main sources of access to candid speaking players is unabashedly affiliated with a media platform that has built its brand on misogyny, racism, homophobia and ableism, and which encourages regularly doxed and harass his supporters, ”Chang said. “In that sense, I’m always disappointed when the players and the NHL choose to partner with them.

“Frankly, I’m rarely surprised when an athlete I’m a fan of doesn’t share my point of view,” she added. “I’m more often pleasantly surprised when they do, like Braden Holtby.”

For many hockey fans, these problems may go unrecorded, a privilege not available to marginalized hockey fans, who have had to learn to compartmentalize with respect to their favorite sport.

“It’s a luxury that fans of under-represented bands don’t get,” Chang said. “For many of us, enjoying sport forces us to ignore the language and behavior that shrinks our existence and our identity.”

It means compartmentalizing that disappointment into an off-ice decision and continuing to enjoy what Pettersson can do on the ice, while hoping for better choices in the future.

“At the end of the day, I’m still a fan, especially Pettersson, especially on the ice,” Chang said. “It is simply impossible to enjoy this sport otherwise. Hopefully, for a player who is clearly aware of his platform and influence, he thinks more carefully about how he uses it.

Likewise, Huntley’s opinion of Pettersson’s prowess on the ice has not changed.

“I still think Pettersson is one of the best hockey players in the NHL. It won’t change for me, ”Huntley said. “I don’t think he’s a bad person. I wonder why he felt aligning with Spittin ‘Chiclets, a bar stool company known for its culture issues, at a time when the NHL also has this issue, was good for his brand.

Is this same compartmentalization available to Orr fans? Pettersson participating in a podcast is clearly a lesser offense than Trump’s unqualified endorsement. Maybe the latter is a bridge too far and will forever color fans’ memories of the Orr Shard on the ice.

Athletes, fans and the limits of team identification

We want our sports heroes to reflect who we are as sports fans because fans identify so strongly with their team. Fans frequently use “us” when talking about their favorite team – “We’re going to win”, “We traded for Nate Schmidt”, “We need to get bigger and tougher” – and wear their team’s shirts and of their favorite players. It becomes a shared identity.

In fact, as fans stay with a team long before and after players come and go, there is an argument to be made that fans are the holders of the team’s identity, rather than the players.

There is an element of tribalism in the sports fandom. The Vancouver Canucks aren’t just a sports team fans want to succeed – they represent Vancouver and they represent their fans. There is an element of the evolving desire for survival in team building. When your team wins you actually feel more secure because when your tribe wins your brain associates that with a greater chance for success and survival.

Psychologists call it “Basking in Thoughtful Glory.” That’s why the fans say ‘We won’ when in reality it was a group of athletes with no tangible connection to you. There’s a related theory, Cut Thoughtful Failure, which explains how fans disassociate themselves from loss – “They lost” – but that’s a topic for another day.

When fans identify so strongly with a team, it’s understandable that they can hope that the players on that team also identify with them and share similar views. When a player becomes so closely associated with a team, he is part of the cultural fabric of the city, as we have seen with Trevor Linden and the Sedins. When the beliefs and off-ice views of these players clash with the identity of the city, it can be shocking.

The truth is, players are people with different points of view. It is not warriors who represent your city; in most cases, they are more like mercenaries. Meanwhile, a fan base is also made up of individuals with very disparate perspectives, united by one thing: a connection to a sports team.

While some Canucks fans felt disappointed with Pettersson on Spittin ‘Chiclets, others had no issues with it or were happy to see him do it. The problem is, just as Orr is immune to the damage done by Trump, most hockey fans are insulated from the damage done by Barstool Sports. As a result, those who already feel marginalized by hockey culture once again feel unwelcome.

It’s impossible for a player to exactly share the perspectives of an entire fan base, but there is a lower bar they can aim to clear to help those fans feel more welcome in hockey.

“I don’t necessarily want athletes to share my point of view outside of sport,” Huntley said. “I wish they would make an effort to be more inclusive for the fans who pay and invest their time in them.”


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