On Nazem Kadri, Donald Trump, and Keeping Politics Out of Hockey

Nazem Kadri first voiced his disapproval of then-Republican candidate Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim travel ban in November of 2015:

“I think he’s pretty delusional. But his opinion’s his opinion…[T]hat being said, I’m lucky to live in a country like Canada, where people of political stature don’t say those kinds of things to make people feel out of place.”

On January 31st, 2017, he voiced these thoughts again, this time in the midst of a presidential administration that had followed through on Trump’s racist campaign promise:

“Obviously it’s unfortunate. I’m obviously proud to be Canadian and happy it doesn’t affect me a whole lot. But, you know, banning some people from coming back into the country – and some smart people that really could make a difference – I really feel bad for those kind of people and their families, and just not being able to come back to America and do what they want to do.

Maybe not the most eloquent words, but give the guy a break – after several seasons as the lone person of colour on the Toronto Maple Leafs* and one of the few Arab Muslims in the NHL, he’s probably sick and tired of having to be the spokesman for his entire race and religion.

The recurring theme in both of Kadri’s statements is his gratefulness for living in Canada, “where people don’t say those kinds of things.” But as more and more American athletes speak out against President Trump and his racist policies, it’s becoming apparent that most Canadians “don’t say those kinds of things” not because they’re liberal and tolerant but because they don’t have the guts to say anything at all.

While other Toronto sports superstars like Michael Bradley and Kyle Lowry have spoken out against Trump’s travel ban, the Leafs (and virtually the entire NHL) have remained silent.

It could be argued that reporters asked only Kadri about the ban because he was the team’s only Muslim, but Bradley and Lowry are not Muslim. (Neither, for that matter, is Dale Earnhardt Jr.) The athletes speaking out in solidarity with Muslims, refugees, and immigrants come from a variety of ethnic, racial, and religious backgrounds. So why was Nazem Kadri the only Leaf expected to have an opinion on the matter?

The comments and replies from Leafs fans to Kadri’s comments have uniformly been white people complaining that he should “leave politics out of hockey.” What these paragons of empathy fail to realize is that as a core foundation of Canadian national identity, hockey is inherently political. Regardless of his politics themselves, Nazem Kadri playing for the sport’s flagship team as a proud second generation Lebanese-Canadian Muslim is an inherently political act. And his team’s refusal to support or acknowledge his principled stance is an inherently political act, too.

It is not enough for white Canadians to be grateful to live in Canada – we must make a deliberate effort to be the kind of country we tell the world we are. It starts with standing up for our peers and colleagues of colour when they are unfairly targeted. And it starts with celebrating the Canadians of colour who hold us accountable for our entrenched racism and bigotry.

*It’s possible this has changed with the arrival of Mexican-American Auston Matthews, but I know Latinx racial identity is a complex thing and I don’t know how Matthews identifies.

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