It’s fair to say Edmonton Oilers superstar Connor McDavid isn’t being paid $12.5 million per season to hash out social and off-ice hockey news, and solve the world’s problems. He’s the best player in the game right now, and his everyday focus isn’t going to be on anything other than trying to win games.
However, in shrugging off the foibles of unrestricted free agent winger Evander Kane earlier this week, and making clear he’d welcome Kane to join his team, McDavid came off as tone-deaf and unnecessarily dismissive of serious issues that matter to many people.
On the surface, Kane is a good fit for the Oilers. You can understand, from a strictly on-ice perspective, why the former San Jose Sharks star would prosper next to McDavid and/or fellow Oilers star Leon Draisaitl. Indeed, he might give them the best first line in all of hockey, and that must sound excellent to McDavid & Co.. They’re deeply yearning to win games and get Edmonton back on the right track, and getting help in that regard, no matter where it comes from, likely makes sense for them.
But we’re not living in a bubble, and we can’t cast aside issues just because we’re not comfortable speaking about them. Kane’s past detrimental history is a factor, whether McDavid or anyone else likes it or not. His rumored ability to cause rifts in his team’s dressing room with self-centered behavior is not going away. The actions he took, in submitting a phony COVID-19 vaccination card, speak to his selfishness on a human level. It should not matter whether he contracted the virus or not; the repercussions of his wrongdoing could’ve devastated San Jose’s lineup for weeks to come.
It’s not as if Kane is some 16-year-old kid who has never interacted with the media and team management prior to doing what he did. He’s 30 years old. He’s a full-grown man, and has been for years. And yet he has never truly had to suffer repercussions of his life choices. He simply moved on, from team-to-team, performing well from an individual perspective, but never being part of a winning team. Furthermore, he’s still being investigated by the NHL for another potential violation of the league’s COVID protocols. If Kane has learned his lesson, he sure has a strange way of showing it.
That is what McDavid should’ve been considering before speaking publicly about Kane joining the Oilers. Certainly, Edmonton’s public relations staff could’ve helped out McDavid before he made any comments about Kane, guiding him to say something innocuous in front of the microphones and cameras. But to speak so brusquely, and make it seem as if Kane is going to be embraced if he signed with Edmonton, McDavid perpetuated the closed hockey culture that cares only what a player can do on an NHL scoresheet.
But we’re no longer in a place where that culture will be celebrated and protected. The world has changed. We need to make players fully aware they are operating in a different environment than their predecessors played in. You can’t just endorse someone for their hockey skills, especially if it means ignoring damage that they’ve done away from the rink. We now strive to give voice to the underrepresented.
There are no more free passes for stars of any sport. If you’re problematic as a citizen, being an elite athlete no longer allows fans, media and teammates to look past your wrongdoings. And in a hockey-crazed city like Edmonton, Kane’s history will not be ignored. If he signs with the Oilers, he’ll be under the biggest microscope of his NHL career.
McDavid always has the chance to walk back his recent comments about Kane, and he should take advantage of his platform to express regret he wasn’t more delicate in his choice of words. If Kane does become an Oiler, McDavid’s comments could come back to haunt him. He doesn’t want to be known as the best player in the world who also endorsed a notoriously negative force in trying to lure that force into putting on an Edmonton jersey.
McDavid must show he’s more sensitive than that. That is real leadership, not turning up your nose at a legitimate question.