There are two schools of thought on asking sports teams to weigh in on political issues. On the one hand, who cares: They’re just sports teams. But on the other hand, it’s really not that hard to give a bit of public support for basic decency. That’s why the Tampa Bay Lightning come off looking pretty bad in the debate over Tampa’s Confederate monument.
Memoria In Aeterna, unveiled in 1911 on the 50th anniversary of the start of the Civil War and later moved to outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse, features a Confederate soldier bravely facing north and the Union army, and a tattered youth facing south, returning home, beaten. The inscription is “to the honor and courage of the Patriots of the Confederate States of America.” At the monument’s dedication, the keynote speaker, state attorney Herbert S. Phillips, said:
“The South detests and despises all, it matters not from whence they came, who, in any manner, encourages social equality with an ignorant and inferior race.”
So even if, in a vacuum, the monument “merely” honors the rank-and-file traitors and losers who fought and died, you can see what it actually represented to those who installed it. Just think about what it means to so many current residents that their lawmakers and neighbors desire to proudly maintain it—and outside the county’s seat of justice, no less.
A wave of political will to take down or relocate Confederate monuments has swept the country in the last year. (Just leaving this here, but a study published this weekend found that those opposed to removing Confederate monuments, who often claim it’s about history and not hatred, have less knowledge of Civil War history than those who support removing the monuments.) Just this weekend, 50 KKK members protested the planned removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville, Virginia. A push to relocate the Tampa monument failed by one vote in June (the voting was largely along party lines), and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn had this to say:
Nobody in the city of Tampa wants this monument, but it and the decision belong to Hillsborough County. County Commissioner Les Miller said he will call for another vote later this month, and been a topic of heated debate, with just about every prominent local leader and organization weighing in. The Tampa Bay Lightning, who play a 15-minute walk from the monument, pointedly refused to give an opinion when asked by the Tampa Bay Times:
“We believe this important decision should rest with the county commissioners that have been elected to represent us and our county,” the Lightning organization said in a statement. “We trust these officials to carefully study all considerations necessary as they make their decisions, trusting them to govern Hillsborough County in the best interest of all its people.”
That’s a big nothing of a statement, and deliberately so. The Lightning could have simply refused to give comment (as the Buccaneers did), but instead chose to give one so anodyne that (they presumably believe) none of their fans could be alienated. The “Republicans buy sneakers too” of statements, if you will. But that decision in itself sends a message, especially in light of the statement the Tampa Bay Rays gave the paper:
“We understand and believe that these decisions belong in the hands of elected officials,” the Rays’ statement said. “At the same time, we are supportive of its removal from the courthouse.”
See how easy that was? Both the Rays and Lightning said this is a matter for the local government to decide, but the Rays added that they’d prefer to see the monument gone. That the Lightning thought that was a bridge too far speaks volumes. “Hockey Is For Everyone” was the NHL’s big initiative this year, supporting diversity and inclusion. Maybe it’s not actually for everyone, not for those those who feel demeaned and belittled by the monument’s existence and preservation; or at the very least, the Lightning’s statement indicates that segment of the fandom is less important than the stupid and the racist.
Sports teams do represent a community, whether they ought to or not in a perfect world. (That they accept and demand millions in taxpayer money compels them.) They have a big platform and a moral responsibility to be good citizens. The Rays chose to use their platform for good. The Lightning actively chose not to. That’s odious on an issue like this one, where cowardice is pernicious.