Paul Stastny is entitled to think and say whatever he wants, and the veteran Winnipeg Jets forward certainly took full advantage of that uninhibited ability in a revealing one-one-one with my Free Press colleague Jeff Hamilton the other day, railing about COVID-19 protocols, vaccine and mask mandates, mainstream media and government policy.
But freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences, and there’s no doubt Stastny has done damage to his own brand, and by extension that of his current employer, by using a prolific platform to spill his ignorant, ill-informed views.
Stastny, 36, put his mouth where his money is after donating to a movement with far-right ties meant to disrupt democracy — in this case the so-called freedom convoy that blocked borders, terrorized small business owners, harassed health-care workers and regular citizens and became a cesspool for racist and/or violent individuals — and then doubling down on the decision when given a chance to explain.
Let me make one thing clear: I usually agree with those who say media have no business asking questions of athletes that go beyond their level of expertise or personal experience. It’s why you didn’t hear any of us scribes on Tuesday asking Mark Scheifele, Andrew Copp or coach Dave Lowry for their views on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine following the Jets morning skate.
But as soon as Stastny’s $1,000 gift became public knowledge thanks to a leaked list of donors, the elephant in the room had to be addressed. Hamilton did great work in privately broaching the subject with Stastny while on the road covering the team this past weekend in Arizona.
Stastny deserved the opportunity to have his say, and I was frankly surprised to see how candid he was. It’s one thing to harbour these kind of views privately. It’s another matter entirely to put them out there, especially when you’re a public figure. In that sense, I suppose Stastny deserves at least some credit for not spouting off the usual cliches or flat-out lying through his teeth, but that’s as much praise as I’m willing to give him.
You’d think the son of immigrants that left a communist country to come to Canada and has now earned more than US$80 million during his NHL career would recognize real oppression — such as the kind poignantly spotlighted on Tuesday night by the Hoosli Ukrainian Male Chorus singing the anthem of their war-torn homeland prior to puck drop against the Montreal Canadiens.
Instead, some of Stastny’s takes are the stuff of the lunatic fringe, from his affinity for disinformation factories such as Rebel News, suggesting government may be “brainwashing people” and at one point even claiming to Hamilton that both the independently-owned Free Press and the Postmedia-owned Sun are “government run.” And while he tried to distance himself from the most extreme aspects of the Ottawa occupation which spilled into other cities, including Winnipeg, both his actions and his ensuing words are telling.
“I know what Canada was like, and I can see where Canada is going, and I think that’s what scares me,” said Stastny. “I respect when people are fed up; I think a lot of people are fed up.” He also claimed participants of the convoy “spoke not just for Canada, but they spoke for basically the whole world.”
No, they certainly did not.
We live in an age where those who shout the longest and loudest are often viewed as representing the majority. It’s important to remember that when it comes to the pandemic — which has claimed nearly six million lives around the world, more than 36,000 in Canada and nearly 1,700 right here in Manitoba — only a very vocal minority share Stastny’s views. The major problem is his voice carries a lot more weight than the Twitter troll with the egg avatar and three followers who is mostly screaming (and typing) into the abyss with every conspiracy theory they can find.
There are likely other members of the Jets, and by extension the entire league, nodding in agreement with Stastny. These are rich, entitled and privileged young men, most of them having already weathered a bout with COVID with little to no issue due to their exemplary physical condition. In their insular world and tiny bubble environment, many really do see this as much ado about nothing.
We’ve seen other hints this season from a few of Stastny’s teammates, including comments from goaltender Connor Hellebuyck who raised plenty of eyebrows in December when he called the NHL’s decision to briefly pause the season because of the omicron outbreak “overkill.”
This has not been a banner season for the Jets on the ice, as they have failed to meet lofty expectations and remain outside the playoff picture with less than two months to go in the regular-season. It’s been an even uglier campaign off the ice, with Stastny’s salvo and the resulting brouhaha it’s created just being the latest hit.
The organization was sullied when general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff was identified as part of the inner circle involved in the Chicago Blackhawks sexual assault scandal, then ultimately was the only one to keep his job. Then came Paul Maurice’s abrupt resignation — or was it a forced departure? — as head coach.
There has yet to be a single sellout at Canada Life Centre following a decade of slam-dunk full houses, and judging by the reaction I’ve see to Stastny’s comments — my Twitter feed was a raging tire fire on Tuesday — I’m not expecting a box-office boon.
In some ways, I suspect Mark Chipman and the upper brass at True North can’t wait for the off-season to arrive so they can hit the reset button on everything and try to start with a clean slate in the fall.
Stastny, who has played parts of three years in Winnipeg, likely won’t be around here much longer. He’s a pending unrestricted free agent who is likely going to be moved by the March 21 trade deadline, provided the Jets don’t go on a major tear between now and then and start looking like legitimate contenders. Another team with Stanley Cup aspirations will likely come calling for his services, with the locals grabbing a draft pick and/or prospect in return.
Despite plenty of accomplishments during his Jets tenure, including skating in his 1,000th career game last season, Stastny is now likely going to be remembered for what he said than what he did. A major, self-inflicted wound.
Score another victory for the “shut up and play” crowd, and another costly loss for the hockey team when it comes to the all-important court of public opinion.
View original article here Source