By Matt Kalman
BOSTON (CBS) – In the immediate aftermath of a hectic weekend in the NFL last weekend, Bruins forward David Backes gave an eloquent answer Monday to a question about the pregame protests.
Backes carved out his position of disagreement over the form of the protests because he didn’t think the way to get the players’ message across was by doing what he thought disrespected the flag and the U.S. military.
There was no time to give Backes a follow-up question and it seemed like it was time to move back to hockey and cut politics out of the Bruins’ locker room. But then word came from across North America that San Jose forward Joel Ward, who is black and Canadian, was considering kneeling during the anthem or anthems.
It’s possible more hockey players might follow Ward’s lead depending on what he does, and then it’d be interesting to see how players like Backes handle the situation, especially if teammates get involved.
“I’d strongly suggest that there’s better ways to go about it,” Backes told me Wednesday when asked how he’d react if a teammate was considering a protest act during the anthem. “Open conversation, whether it’s with one of my teammates or whether it’s with Joel Ward to find a way that maybe we all bind together to have some effective change that’s looked at as making our society better, I’m all for it. I think we also need to pay respect to the flag and to our servicemen and women and again, I think the attention’s been brought, the scenario is out there and now let’s have a constructive conversation.
“I think Joel Ward’s a smart guy and he’s been around a long time. I think a good conversation with him might bring to light some great answers, so let’s maybe get a caucus going and have those conversations. I think there’s a way to both respect the flag, respect our servicemen and women and get both that and get some great change and whatever we’re looking for society-wise and make it happen.”
One thing Backes didn’t get to express the other day was his belief in the First Amendment rights of those who have chosen to send a message during the anthem. He stressed his firm belief in everyone’s “100 percent” First Amendment rights on Wednesday. He just believes there are other ways to send a message without the risk of offending military members, and he acknowledged that the military is not a monolith and veterans have come out on both sides of this issue.
Beyond some sort of unifying gesture done by the team –like the Dallas Cowboys locking arms and kneeling before the anthem on Monday — Backes believes players could find other ways to have their voices heard.
“I think they have loud platforms that they can express it in other ways, it doesn’t have to be during the National Anthem,” Backes said. “Score three touchdowns and then in your postgame interview redirect all the questions, instead of how great you are at scoring touchdowns, redirect them all to ‘I did this but I want this press conference to be about bringing this issue to light or this is a great solution to what we have as societal issues.’ I think that’s a great way to redirect that spotlight that we have as athletes onto what they want to shine it on.”
The spotlight promises to shine brighter on the NHL should some of its players partake in any form of protest or speak out in any way. For now, it’s back to hockey.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.