NHL commissioner on protests: 'I don't think people come to games for that'

Addressing the role of protests in hockey during a Q&A with the Los Angeles Kings' Jim Fox this week, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman indicated that most of the league is "basically doing what they believe is correct" and keeping demonstrations during the national anthem away from the rink.

"Our players tend to focus on the games, which is what I think fans want," Bettman said, as transcribed by For The Win's Hemal Jhaveri. "There's lots of places where you can exercise your commitment on either social or political causes, but I don't think people come to games for that. I think the anthem is important, I think showing respect for the White House, the Office of the President is important -- politics aside -- and overwhelmingly, we haven't had to issue an edict. Our players are basically doing what they believe is correct and that is giving our fans and giving their teams focus right on the game itself."

Bettman added that the league still encourages players "to be as socially active and involved as they'd like to be ... before the game, after the game, on their off time."

It's a sentiment shared by plenty, including U.S. president Donald Trump, who in September called NFL owners to "fire" players who use the national anthem as a platform for protesting social inequality and sparked backlash across professional sports.

But it also contrasts his own statement from less than a month ago, when Bettman said "people are going to have to decide what makes them comfortable" rather than keep protests away from the game altogether. And it comes immediately after some of the league's few black players, including the Tampa Bay Lightning's J.T. Brown and Washington Capitals' Devante Smith-Pelly, either began or supported raising a fist during the anthem in protest of police brutality and racial inequality.

Do most fans want to focus on the game rather than protests? Probably. Do people come to games for protests? Probably not. Those are mentalities that span across all of sports, not just the NHL. In essentially reversing course and endorsing a distaste for players' choice to demonstrate before games, however, Bettman has positioned himself a little closer to one side of the debate -- intentionally or not.

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