An Angel Loses Its Wings

Pavel Datsyuk is one of the most beloved and respected players in the NHL. He’s exceptionally talented and a perennial all-star, as well as a valued leader on a storied franchise. Good luck finding anyone around the league who names Pavel Datsyuk as a player they dislike.

Datsyuk 2010 Oly

It’s hard not to become attached to skilled or talented athletes; they’re a pleasure to watch as a fan of the game to both the diehards in the stands and the journalists who cover them. This is especially true if that athlete isn’t considered to be dirty or one who “plays with an edge.” Unfortunately, this can make it challenging to look at them objectively.

We as a society tend to give athletes we like the benefit of the doubt when their character comes into question, even if the situation doesn’t quite call for it. This is especially true if that player is above-average at his craft. Sometimes, giving athletes the benefit of the doubt is justified; after all, athletes are people and people make mistakes. It happens. In this case, it isn’t.

Datsyuk Oly2When questioned about Detroit teammate Henrik Zetterberg’s scathing comments on Russia’s anti-LGBT legislation, Datsyuk deferred to his religious beliefs by saying “That’s his opinion. My position—I am Orthodox. That says it all.” That’s right. That says it all.

He said plenty without saying much. The Russian Orthodox faith is in no way known for its tolerance of the LGBT community. By deferring to his religious beliefs, he implied he agrees with their antiquated views on equality. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have kept his statement so brief. Datsyuk purposefully chose not to elaborate because he didn’t need to. He had already made his opinions known.

The lengths to which people are going to defend him are ridiculous. If it weren’t a player as beloved or as talented as Datsyuk, he’d have been tarred and feathered for his comments. Imagine the outrage if Raffi Torres had said the same thing as Datsyuk. He’d never play a game without being booed again in his life. But because it wasn’t Raffi Torres and it was Pavel Datsyuk, people are hesitant to call him out on it.

In the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers has won two Super Bowls quarterbacking his team. That earned him much respect and admiration around the league. A few years ago, he served a four game suspension for allegedly raping someone and all people ever heard about was how much the Steelers missed their star quarterback, instead of the more appropriate response, “wow, this guy is a rapist.”

datsyukwarmup2OlyWe’ve put Datsyuk on a pedestal throughout his career because he’s been an elite player and he hasn’t really given us a reason to dislike him, on or off the ice. Now that he’s given us a reason to dislike him, some generally level-headed people are bending-over-backwards to defend his views as if they are acceptable in any context.

One of the defenses people are using is “stop attacking him, he’s entitled to his beliefs” as if having the right to an opinion automatically absolves that person of criticism for holding that belief. As far as those beliefs being religious, religious bigotry is still bigotry. “According to my religious beliefs, I don’t think that LGBT people are equal.” Replace the phrase “LGBT people” with “women”, “handicapped people” or “people of color” and think again about how absurd that statement sounds. It’s possible to be a person of faith and also an LGBT ally. It’s not as if you can only be one or the other. But that’s not the point. He reaffirmed himself as a member of an anti-LGBT group when presented with an LGBT-related question; it doesn’t matter if the group happens to be religious like the Russian Orthodox Church.

Pavel_Datsyuk_IHWC_2012_(2)If Datsyuk had just no-commented his way through the questions, he would’ve been in the clear. He wouldn’t have said anything to jeopardize his spot on the Russian Olympic team and he would’ve saved himself from criticism from more LGBT friendly individuals. Unlike Henrik Lundqvist, he hasn’t been involved in the YCP Project or any other similar group to this point so he wouldn’t have been expected to reaffirm any previous convictions with a comment. Some have gone as far as claiming Datsyuk’s statement can be classified as a no-comment. But it’s impossible to classify what he said as a no-comment because his statement clearly implies something. No-commenting involves not answering the question as opposed to going ahead and actually answering the question with a definitive and distinct statement.

sochi_2014_mountainsThe context of his words is totally irrelevant. He very easily could’ve just declined comment, even if under direct Russian supervision. Declining comment doesn’t imply agreement with a specific opinion one way or another. Realistically, Datsyuk probably wasn’t too concerned about possible criticism of his comments when he made them. But he was concerned about playing Olympic hockey. If he didn’t say anything, he still would get to play for his country, which is ultimately his main goal. Instead, he specifically answered the question and while he’ll still get to be on the team, now he has to face the consequences and criticism that should come with it when he returns to North America.

Sochi hockey mascotHopefully this isn’t something people will just forget and pretend never happened. If history is any indication, this will only be a blip on the radar for him. When the Winter Olympics are over, he’ll go back to the NHL and fans will revere him again. That can’t happen. It’s ok to still appreciate Pavel Datsyuk the hockey player but we can’t look past Pavel Datsyuk the person. Ignoring the problem does nothing to help move forward as a society. It doesn’t matter that the opinion came from one of the greatest players of this generation; the opinion is still bigoted.

If we just accept that it is ok for him to think that way simply because of his status as an athlete, then what is the purpose of fighting that mentality at all? How can someone call themselves an ally if they are willing to make excuses for someone whose opinions directly contradict equality for all? Datsyuk is an athlete, not a saint. It’s ok to admit he isn’t the infallible human being he was perceived to be. Doing so will help drag society out of the “being good at sports makes things ok” mentality that has plagued us for far too long.


Follow Mike Shoro on Twitter here.

About mikeshoro

If there's one thing you need to know about me, it's that I own a Milton Bradley jersey. Broadcast Journalism major at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, class of 2016
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15 Responses to An Angel Loses Its Wings

  1. g11 says:

    You are a fucking self-centered, hedonistic degenerate, who doesn’t understand that Freedom of Religion is a fundamental Human Right too. Why don’t you bitch about all the countries that are headed by a Muslim Faith-Based Government and are absolutely ANTI-GAY? Because you’re a fucking pussy hiding safely in cyberspace. I support Pavel Datsyuk because he is honest. By the way, why don’t you address Racism and Sexism in the Gay male community??? Sure, you’re too fucking blind to see.

    • Keil Anderson says:

      While I agree with you that freedom of religion is a basic human right, you forget that Article 1 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights says “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” That’s the first, and most important basic human right. Any law or belief that lessens one human being to another goes against that statement. You have the right to your religion and it’s beliefs. That doesn’t give you, or anyone else, the right to impose your religious beliefs on everyone else. That’s not what freedom of religion is about. It gives you the freedom to believe in any religion you want without being persecuted. The persecution of the LGBT community, and the restriction of their rights for religious reasons, is a blatant disregard for the rights of anyone who doesn’t share your religious views. Not only are you taking away their right to freedom of religion, you are taking away their right to equality and dignity. I have yet to meet anyone in the LGBT community that is racist or sexist. Take the time to talk to people before you make bigoted and factually false statements. I’m proud to have friends in the LGBT community. They deserve to be treated like everyone else.

  2. Agree with g11. Two worthless actions are either taking a weak position on a strong subject or a strong position on a weak subject. In this case, Datsyuk simply backed his church.

    If Datsyuk is audibly booed by Wings fans at the home opener because of his nothing-burger comment, I will give $1,000 to a LGBT organization the next day.

  3. jfk says:

    Sure Datsyuk has a right to his opinion, his religion, and what he wants to say. Just like I have the right to be disappointed and disillusioned by him and those who support his words, particularly those who do with vile, disrespectful, and ignorant comments.

    • Really? You’re disappointed and disillusioned by a hockey player because he respects his religion’s views on homosexuality? I feel sorry for you.

      • Keil Anderson says:

        I’m disappointed in him as a human being. If he feels his religious views are more important than the rights of others, he doesn’t understand that his freedom of religion only means that he can practice whatever religion he wants without fear of prosecution. It doesn’t give him, or others that practice his faith, the right to impose their beliefs on anyone. Imposing religious beliefs on others goes against the freedom of religion.

  4. Doug says:

    As a rule, we generally don’t allow abusive dimwits to post their bile and have it masquerade as a “comment.” In this case, however, it serves to illustrate exactly the point being made by Shoro. Oh, and then there’s the irony of someone leaving an anonymous hate pile accusing the author WITH HIS NAME ON IT of hiding.

  5. angry hockey faggot says:

    Datsyuk is a classless piece of shit for what he thinks of us. And a coward for hiding behind religion.
    Fans who find excuses for him are pathetic morons for placing their fandom above basic human decency.
    Sports journalists are disappointing as usual, the wear and tear of victimizing rapist & murderer star athletes every week definitely hampers their ability to call a player out for a backhanded homophobic comment.

  6. Neil says:

    This is a response to Keil Anderson’s: you claim that there is NO racism and sexism at all in the LGBT community? I think g11 has a point here: you’re the one being voluntarily blind. Let me make it easy for you, run a web search on “Racism in the LGBT community” (for example) and get the real life stories.

    Datsyuk said he believed in the Russian Orthodox Church. He said nothing at all about supporting anti-gay propaganda laws in Russia. You are inferring whatever you what to hear from his very vague statement. Context is also crucial in his case: he’s got a lot more to lose in his homeland than any of us. He also stated that he wanted to retire and go back home to his family and friends in Russia, albeit safely.

    Before you judge a man based on one statement and clearly, without empathy about his social context, look at his overall achievements and community work. He works with local charities in Detroit, the Children’s Wish Foundation in US (check their website) as well as running a youth hockey school in Yekaterinburg.

    By the way, a very good point has been brought up here: I’m very curious to know your stance on Islam and homosexuality. If an NHL hockey player gave a similar answer to Datsyuk, like “I believe in Islam, that says it all”, would you react the exact same way? There are currently at least two well known NHL players who are of Muslim faith and one of them is a Leafs: Kadri.

    For my part, I respect Pavel Datsyuk because I can take a few steps back and look at the overall picture, because I do not walk in his shoes.

    • Carolina says:

      I agree with g11 and Neil. The moment you start to talk about Islamic countries that have anti-gays laws, people start using neutral term like “religion” and “religious beliefs” instead of pointing to Islam itself because they know that it could be interpreted as blasphemy and that could carry a jail sentence or even the death penalty in some of those countries.

      Datsyuk is such an easy target in this case. It’s so easy to attack his faith in the orthodox church. The same people who write hateful comments on him will have a much harder time if he was muslim.

      • jfk says:

        I’m curious as to what you consider “hateful” comments on Datsyuk, considering you just agreed with g11’s comment, which went pretty far over the line imo.

        I’m a bit confused about when you talk about using neutral words like “religion” to talk about Islam, when that is accurate because Islam is a religion? Not being snarky or anything, just hoping for some clarification. But in any case, I understand and respect being religious (though I imagine everyone uses their judgement and choice on what to actually follow/practice to the letter, otherwise there’d be even more horrific stonings then what currently happen due to passages in the bible), and even having the fear of facing repercussions when going back home for showing support, which is why I like Ovechkin’s (non)answer.

        As for this: “Datsyuk said he believed in the Russian Orthodox Church. He said nothing at all about supporting anti-gay propaganda laws in Russia. You are inferring whatever you what to hear from his very vague statement.” Yes, his vague statement supporting the Russian Orthodox Church, which came out with a statement supporting the law because the LGBTQ would bring about the apocalypse. And it is the law that is the problem. Believing and practicing your religion is great until its being used to (force the religion on others who aren’t the same one) enforce laws that are resulting in dead, assaulted, forcibly outed, and imprisoned LGBTQ and allies for even showing support for the gay community via words or signs, or being at risk for rainbow colored nailpolish.

        • Ansar says:

          So jfk, what would do if a muslim NHL hockey player said “I believe in Islam, that says it all”? Homosexuality is a sin in Islam. In some muslim countries, you can get a lengthy jail sentence or the death penalty for anything that goes against the teachings of the Quran…that is if some devout muslims don’t decide to take matters into their own hands and get to you first. I’m not even making this up: see what happened to that UK soldier recently?

          I see here that since g11 has posted his comments on muslim countries anti-gay stance, none of you are willing to tackle that issue because Islam is a dominant religion and has more followers than any other religions right now.

          If you liked Ovechkin’s no comment (and other sports figures too), then it means you love being lied to. But that’s okay, that’s how Obama got elected.

          I agree with g11. Being PC nowadays is being full of bullshit.

          Allahu Akbar – Allah is the Greatest

  7. Ansar says:

    By the way, muslim hockey players (and fans as well) do exist. Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs is a Canadian of Lebanese descent and is Muslim.

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