NHL commissioner: Fans don't want games to be 'political rallies'

Daniel Roberts
Senior Writer

As the issue of player protests continues to dominate the current NFL season, other American pro sports are not immune.

The NHL has not said that it will explicitly restrict players from protesting, but NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, speaking at Yahoo Finance’s All Markets Summit on Wednesday, suggested that he’d rather they not do it.

“I think people come to sporting events to come together, to be unified as a community, to root, and to be distracted,” Bettman said. “I don’t think fans like to come for political rallies. There are other times to do that. We didn’t issue an edict or a rule, and virtually almost without exception, our players have been focused on being a team, serving their communities, and trying to win their games.”

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman at Yahoo AMS

The new hockey season began this month, and while the NHL hasn’t had a player kneel during the anthem yet, it has certainly seen some of its players express public opposition to President Donald Trump’s war of words on protests during the anthem.

Tampa Bay Lightning player JT Brown raised his fist during the anthem. San Jose Sharks player Joel Ward said he was considering becoming the first NHL player to kneel, though he has not done so. Meanwhile, Nashville Predators star PK Subban, who is Canadian, said he’d “never kneel” during the anthem because he respects the American flag too much.

It’s worth noting that Bettman’s tune on the issue has changed subtly: On a panel at the Milken Institute in May, the commissioner said, “I would encourage and I do encourage our players to do it on their own time. When they’re showing up for work to participate in a game that people are focused on, care about, pay a lot of money to attend, then it should be all about the game. That block of time should be apolitical.”

But on Wednesday at the Yahoo Finance summit, he said, “To suggest that we want to be ‘apolitical’ is a little bit of an exaggeration.”

Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwriteSportsbook is our sports business video and podcast series.

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