“Shut up and play hockey.”
“Another celebrity telling how to live.”
“Stick to hockey. Leave the political crap out.”
“I feel bad for you and all your libtard friends.”
And so went the unsurprising commentary connected to the eleventh Twitter thought from Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews, who joined the social medium on February 21st by opening with “Better late than never eh Twitter? Got some catching up to do.”
And he got plenty caught up the night of the Oscars eight days later, when he responded to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Best Actor acceptance speech with a sentiment that enraged the section of his fans marooned on the far-right fringes of science denial:
This was not what you might think, however: just another professional athlete misunderstanding potential controversy and overstepping into something unintended. Far from it.
Toews feels strongly about the dangers of human behavior heating up the atmosphere, and is more than a mere hashtag activist. He explained in depth last week to USA Today just how much the cause matters to him. “I grew passionate about learning about environmental changes and climate change and the energy that we use, food and water consumption,” he said. “We don’t really realize, we don’t see it first hand, we don’t feel the aftermath of our lifestyle.”
He attended a meeting earlier this month with other clean energy advocates at Sierra Club Illinois. The group is currently engaged in the Clean Jobs Illinois initiative that is working to create both thousands of jobs and new efficiency standards, all while saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars now being wasted. At the conclusion of the event, Toews lent his face to the effort in a Facebook photo, holding a sign that reads “ACT ON CLIMATE NOW.”
Toews’s personal involvement dovetails with league interests, too, particularly during the NHL’s first-ever Green Week. Global warming is of urgent concern to hockey, with officials at the sport’s highest levels concerned that the frozen ponds on which the culture was created are disappearing rapidly. NHL vice president Omar Mitchell was a presenter at December’s international climate change forum in Paris, and told The Washington Post “Our game, which is probably unique to most other professional sports, is so tied to the environment. We need cold weather, we need fresh water in order to play. Therefore, our game is directly impacted by climate change and fresh water scarcity.”
A cynic, then, might view Toews as some kind of mascot for the cause, only acting on instruction from his bosses. But that would be a drastic misinterpretation in this case, and an insult to someone who understands fully that there will be blowback to a strong public position.
The Blackhawks and the NHL allow for players’ self-expression, particularly on personal platforms. Still, it is suggested to them to avoid any stands that could be perceived as political, even if they happen to align with league initiatives, as Toews’s does with NHL Green. This is not just a top-three player, but the captain of a three-time champ — the guy on the cover of the video game. As a native Canadian playing for the league’s most marketable American team, he knows he can be a significant voice.
He has the nickname “Captain Serious,” and is serious about this.
“It’s sad that it’s still a debate in this country,” Toews said in USA Today. “It’s mind-blowing in a lot of ways. If we can start having the conversation, at least make people more aware of what’s going on. We live in an age of information. People want to know, and it’s right in front of them. You have access to the information, and once you get that going, people will demand change.”
He’ll play hockey, and he’s not going to shut up.