As far as approval ratings go, Alexander Ovechkin’s standing among Washington, D.C., natives is as high as it gets. He’s arguably the greatest professional athlete to call the District of Columbia home. He’s been there for 17 seasons. He’s a 12-time all-star. He led the Capitals to a Stanley Cup title, the first title the city won in a loooooong time. Wayne Gretzky’s career goals record is in sight. If he’s not the greatest athlete in D.C. history, he’s at least the most notable.
The president of his home country, a man he’s publicly supported, just invaded a sovereign one. He hasn’t made a statement on Vladimir Putin, and he wasn’t made available to local reporters before Thursday’s game against the Rangers because apparently he’s taking some time before addressing the topic, according to The Washington Times.
His silence has not gone unnoticed.
Ovechkin was trending on Twitter on Thursday afternoon, and NHL writers weren’t the only one speaking out against the Russian national. Slava Malamud, a former journalist who lives in Baltimore but comes from Ukraine, tweeted accusations far more serious than merely supporting Putin.
There are a lot of scenarios that could’ve jeopardized Ovechkin’s reputation in his American hometown, and buddying up with Putin had to be at the top of that list. One would hope he condemns the violence, but speaking out against the Kremlin has resulted in loss of life before, and it’s entirely possible he’s weighing the risk to himself and his family while weighing what he should say.
With the possible exception of former chess champion Garry Kasparov, he is the most visible Russian on American soil, and one would assume a heel turn would not go over well in Moscow.
The American media, especially those in D.C., are going to pry as soon as Ovechkin is made available, so he’ll have to speak on it. He can claim he’s not a “politic,” but this isn’t alleged election fraud or a mysterious poisoning, it’s a full-fledged war. Lives are being lost, and his hockey partner is responsible.
Regardless of the stance he takes, the choice he makes will be a part of his legacy. If he stays silent, the defense becomes, “He feared for his family.” If he backs Russia, there is no defending him, which is a shame because D.C. genuinely adores him.
If he most importantly does the right thing and tells Putin to fuck off, the guy will get the key to the city (if he doesn’t have it already).