While Alexander Ovechkin won accolades for surpassing Gordie Howe’s NHL scoring record last week, he shouldn’t be celebrated no matter how good a player he is.
Ovechkin has long chosen to associate with and support one of the worst dictators that the world has had to deal with over the past several decades – Vladimir Putin.
I can hear people who consider themselves sports purists screaming right now that Ovechkin shouldn’t be judged by his politics. Here’s the problem: even before Putin invaded Ukraine, “Ovi” tied himself to the dictator in Moscow by helping to run support campaigns for the former KGB agent’s “elections.”
Most of us couldn’t tell you the politics of any particular hockey star, or even most professional athletes, but Ovechkin has made his politics a known part of his public persona.
Putin is someone who has served as either president or prime minister of Russia since 1999 and has ensured he stays in office by assassinating his opponents. Sergei Magnitsky in 2009, Alexander Litvinenko in the same year or Boris Nemtsov in 2015 are just some of the Putin’s opponents that have met an untimely death for standing up to the strongman.
Yet, Ovechkin stands with Putin.
In 2017, Ovi, the captain of the Washington Capitals, even decided he would work to ensure his friend stayed in power. That year, Ovechkin set up a powerful group of Russian athletes and celebrities to back Putin’s 2018 reelection campaign and gave themselves the name PutinTeam.
To this day, Ovechkin’s Instagram account has a photo of the hockey great standing next to the murderous dictator of Moscow.
Would we accept this for star athletes who were close to other politicians seen in a negative light by the mainstream? I can guarantee you that if Ovechkin were supporting Donald Trump, he would get more criticism than he gets for his close ties with Putin.
One of the claims I hear in defence of Ovechkin is that he has family still in Russia that he needs to protect. Spare me the false tears. The man has enough money and connections to get his extended family out of Russia if he wants to; he simply doesn’t, and he doesn’t want to renounce his gross, disgusting support for Putin, either.
Ovechkin surpassed the 801 goals Gordie Howe scored in the NHL, but he hasn’t passed Howe’s goal total in a real professional league, which still stands at 975. He’s also still a long way from Wayne Gretzky’s NHL goal total of 894 and the Great One’s overall professional goal total of 940.
As a music fan, I’ve long been faced with the question of whether I could separate the politics of the performer from the artistic work they produced. For the most part, the answer has been yes, even though many artists have politics that go against my own.
I don’t remember having to decide if I really liked a musician who supported a murderous dictatorial regime.
That is the question sports fans face now as Ovechkin tries to set more records.
Can you separate the man, who is without question an incredible athlete, from the causes that he supports, including the murder of political opponents and an invasion of another country?
If you can make that separation, it might be a sign that you need to engage in some self-reflection. If you can’t make that separation, maybe you should join the calls of those saying Ovechkin shouldn’t be celebrated no matter what he does.
Unless, of course, he walks away from his support for Putin, war and oppression.