The NHL has never been known for getting top-tier talent to play its events (the Goo-Goo Dolls played the last Winter Classic), but picking Kid Rock to headline the 2018 All-Star Game has come with a swift and critical backlash.
At play isn’t just subjective preference about Kid Rock’s music or his artistic relevance, but rather his outspoken political views. For a league that’s been adamantly apolitical, Kid Rock is a very political and polarizing choice. The league could have gone with many other past their prime rock bands, so why pick Kid Rock, who has a history of using the Confederate flag during his shows, proudly supports President Trump and has repeatedly said “[expletive] Colin Kaepernick” during his concerts?
Late last year, as NFL players protested during the national anthem, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was very clear about the league’s position on political activism in the sports arena.
Our players tend to focus on the games, which is what I think fans want. There’s lots of places where you can excercise your commitment on either social or political causes but I don’t think people come to games for that.
The message from the NHL, teams and players has always been that they don’t want to engage in the political debate happening in America at the moment. Unlike the NFL and the NBA, they’ve tried to be a neutral party, often to the frustration of many fans. Kid Rock is on the other side of that apolitical spectrum. He’s campaigned for Trump, launched a line of Pro-Trump t-shirts, and visited him in the Oval Office.
“Kid Rock remains at the center of media attention in regards to his musical and personal ambitions, leaving his mark in a multitude of genres,” the NHL said in a press statement announcing the event.
That’s a convoluted statement that may or may not reference his political ambitions (Rock had earlier said he wanted to run for Senate but then said it was a hoax) but it’s clear that much of the attention Rock has gotten recently has been for his political outspokenness and not his music.
During a concert at Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit, Kid Rock launched into an expletive-laden political speech that professed to support LGBTQ rights but denigrated the trans community in the same statement.
And if you wanna take a knee and sit there during our Star Spangled Banner, call me a racist because I’m not PC and think you have to remind me that black lives matter. Nazis. [expletive] bigots. And now again the KKK? I say [expletive] all you racists. Stay the hell away.
And why these days is everything so gay? Gay rights, transgender this and that. I say let gay folks get married if they want to and I’m not even close to a Democrat. But things shouldn’t be this complicated, and no you don’t get to choose because whatever you have between your legs should determine the bathroom that you use.
Rock’s politics are often openly hostile towards the very fans that the NHL desperately says it wants to bring into the game with their You Can Play initiative and the Declaration of Principles. It doesn’t negate the good work the league has tried to do on that end, but it is totally contradictory. How can the NHL keep promoting their Hockey Is For Everyone campaign when Rock is up on stage complaining that “everything is so gay?”
The NHL’s All-Star Weekend is supposed to be a fun, fan-friendly, marketing event meant to promote the game and its star players. If the league’s decision makers had wanted to keep politics out of the arena, this isn’t the choice they should have gone with. They can’t have it both ways.