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This article was published 26/1/2018 (1129 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
There has been much wringing of hands the past week or so -- on Twitter and in the mainstream media -- about the National Hockey League’s decision to hire musician Kid Rock to provide the entertainment during the league’s all-star game festivities this weekend in Tampa Bay.
Critics -- and there’s plenty of them -- have savaged the NHL, arguing that it’s completely inappropriate for a league that claims to be inclusive to hire a homophobic, race-baiting musician who draped himself in the Confederate Flag for decades to be the league’s lounge act.
"I want to write about Kid Rock about as much as I want to listen to Kid Rock," was the opening line of ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski online column last week. Wyshynski then went on to list all the reasons hiring a polarizing musician with intolerant views for your signature event sends the wrong message to both existing hockey fans and anyone considering becoming one.
"The tricky thing about walking through a minefield is that you can't see the mines," Wyshynski continued. "But for the NHL, this was more like stepping into a cow patty."
Dave Lozo over at Vice Sports used a different analogy as he wondered how even an organization as historically inept as the NHL could get something this wrong.
"Whatever you think of Kid Rock, you have to wonder how the NHL could be this stupid," wrote Lozo. "Usually, the NHL accidentally gets its d*** caught in a zipper; with this, it's like they lined it up after sharpening the teeth."
All of that is great -- and hilarious -- writing. I’m jealous.
But I’m also here to argue quite the opposite.
Don’t get me wrong -- Kid Rock is all the vile things he’s been accused of the past week -- and much, much more. He’s a lousy musician and an even worse person, a guy so intolerant he dismissed the one-half of the American population who didn’t vote for Donald Trump in the last presidential election as "Dumbfuckistan."
You can buy the t-shirt on his website. I’m not kidding.
But my criticism of the criticism is that it all misses the point entirely -- Kid Rock is perfect for the NHL precisely because he is all the things he’s been accused of.
Think about it -- If the Confederacy had won the U.S. Civil War, America today would look a whole lot like an NHL hockey game.
Try this little exercise the next time you’re at an NHL game: count the visible minorities on the ice and in the crowd who aren’t a concession worker, usher or arena staff.
The NHL is not only the whitest professional sports league in North America -- by a mile -- it also has the whitest fans of any of this continent’s four major pro sports. Again, by a mile.
If you’re anything other than white and heterosexual (more on that in a minute), you’re every bit as much of a minority sitting in the stands at an NHL game as Dustin Byfuglien is skating out on the ice.
Hockey is played by white people, for white people. It is hardly a coincidence that countries where the game is most popular -- Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Czech Republic, Slovakia -- also happen to be the whitest countries in the world.
Even in a racially diverse country like the United States -- which is on track to surpass Canada as the single largest producer of NHL players by nationality in as little as a decade -- hockey is a white man’s game played almost exclusively in northern states by white people.
Again, it is hardly a coincidence that the state that produces the most NHL players by a mile -- Minnesota -- is also among the whitest states in the United States. Yet again, by a mile.
Against that lily-white backdrop, you could argue that draping yourself in the Confederate flag for 20 years is a selling point, not a disqualifier, to be the musical act at the NHL all-star game.
Now, a couple things. Yes, it is true that Kid Rock stopped using the Confederate flag at his shows a few years ago, right about the time public opinion dramatically turned and doing so became deleterious to Kid Rock’s bottom line.
And it’s also true other musicians had an uncomfortable history with the Confederate flag, including rock music icon Tom Petty.
The difference, however, is that Petty acknowledged the error in no uncertain terms. "It was dumb and it shouldn’t have happened," Petty, who passed away last year, told Rolling Stone in 2015.
"People just need to think about how it looks to a black person. It's just awful. It's like how a swastika looks to a Jewish person. It just shouldn't be on flagpoles."
And Kid Rock? He doubled down instead, issuing a statement to Fox News (where else) in 2015 after protesters began gathering outside his shows to object to his use of the Confederate flag over the years.
"Please tell the people who are protesting," the musician told Fox, "to kiss my ass."
Sound familiar? It should -- it is basically the same thing Gary Bettman told us back in 1995 when we were in the streets trying to Save Our Jets.
See what I mean -- these two are a match made in heaven.
And not just on these issues either. Much has also been made the past week about Kid Rock’s views on gay and transgender people in general -- and his weirdly strong views on what bathroom they get to use.
"Why, these days, is everything so gay?" he asked a cheering crowd at a concert in Detroit last year. "Gay rights, transgender this and that.
"But things shouldn’t be this complicated, and no, you don’t get to choose. Because whatever you have between your legs should determine the bathroom that you use."
So why would a league that has partnered with You Can Play -- a non-profit group that supports the LGBTQ community and fights homophobia in sports -- want to have a guy like that serenading them during all-star weekend?
Because the NHL’s partnership with You Can Play is a beard, a cover for a league that says one thing but does another -- which is to say absolutely nothing -- when it comes to LGBTQ issues.
Consider: Last August, the NHL announced it would hold the 2018 league draft in Dallas even as Texas lawmakers at the time were debating a discriminatory "bathroom bill" targeting transgender people.
It was a tone deaf announcement by the NHL, as usual. And it was a missed opportunity for the league to make a statement on LGBTQ issues that would actually have mattered.
Consider: when North Carolina passed a similar bathroom bill in 2016, the NBA promptly stripped the state of the 2017 NBA all-star game, which had already been announced.
Embarrassed and under pressure, North Carolina lawmakers repealed the bathroom bill the following year -- and the NBA promptly rewarded them with the 2019 NBA all-star game.
See how that works?
But of course this is the same NHL who refused to suspend Anaheim Ducks forward Ryan Getzlaf for using a gay slur -- repeatedly -- during last year’s playoffs. Because playoffs.
For their part, the NHL has defended itself the past week by saying Kid Rock is just good wholesome fun and, also, he’s a Detroit Red Wings fan and, also, the NHL doesn’t get involved in politics.
"It’s all about the entertainment at the end of the day for us," NHL executive vice-president Steve Mayer said with a straight face last week, "and this selection was purely based on that, and the fact that Kid Rock is a hockey lover."
The NHL doesn’t get involved in politics. Tell that to the people of Calgary, where Bettman attempted to stage a coup last year during Calgary’s mayoral election in a failed bid to oust Naheed Nenshi, who opposes giving the billionaire ownership of the Calgary Flames a gift-wrapped new arena at taxpayer expense.
The only thing more hypocritical than the most political sports commissioner in North America claiming he doesn’t do politics is that the NHL has proclaimed February to be -- I’m not even joking -- ‘Hockey Is For Everyone’ month.
It’s for everyone alright -- just so long long as you’re white, heterosexual and a fan of redneck rock and publicly financed arenas.
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.