Calgary's citizens stand up to their hockey team

Calgary's mayoral race proves that "sticking to sports" isn't a thing in 2017

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      In the back half of 2017 we've heard the phrase "stick to sports" a lot. 

      Mostly, it's been in response to sports writers, largely those in the U.S., who dare to challenge the way President Donald Trump has decided to react to peaceful protests in the NFL and the NBA. 

      The National Hockey League gently waded into the controversy at the start of the year, when the Pittsburgh Penguins chose to celebrate their Stanley Cup win at the White House, on the same weekend that Trump called for the "sons of bitches" in the NFL to stand up for the American national anthem or be fired by their owners. Former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem last season, in protest of violence against black people in the United States by police officers.

      The Penguins' decision also followed Trump's public shaming of Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry for refusing to visit him at the White House.

      Then, in his first game of the year (the team's second), Tampa Bay Lightning forward J.T. Brown dared to raise his fist during the national anthem as a show of solidarity. Since then, media coverage of Brown has focused on the player learning about the local police, including going on ride-alongs. It's been centred on Brown vowing not to raise his fist again. 

      None of the coverage has really mentioned that Brown hasn't played since that contest against Florida on October 7.

      Critics of those who have knelt have often uttered the phrase "stick to sports", not understanding that in today's political climate it's virtually impossible to separate sports from politics, especially when one of the most powerful leaders in the world (and isn't that scary) refuses to. 

      And yes, the events that recently occurred in Calgary were undoubtedly on a smaller scale than what's going on south of the border. But still, they were incredibly important. 

      The NHL — which always attempts to steer itself as far away from controversy as possible at all times — and the Calgary Flames jumped headfirst into Calgary's recent mayoral race, slicing and dicing up any relevance the phrase "stick to sports" still holds in 2017 like it was fresh parsley. 

      To put it nicely, negotiations between the Calgary Flames and Calgary city council (led by mayor Naheed Nenshi) to build a new arena were not going well. 

      Earlier in the year, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman more or less threatened Nenshi, hinting that the Flames could move cities if a new arena deal wasn't agreed to. And it's true that the 34-year-old Saddledome (the oldest arena in the league other than Madison Square Garden, which has seen multiple renovations) is outdated by league standards. 

      But, by all accounts, the terms that the NHL is willing to agree on to finance the arena are ludicrous. 

      Nenshi and council told reporters that the offer they put on the table would give the Flames "full control of a new arena and 100 percent of all revenues generated with a direct $185 million injection of taxpayers dollars." 

      Metro Calgary

      The Flames offer has not been made public, but apparently the sticking point for the NHL club is the property tax that the city would reap from the arena.

      Really? The city would help fund the arena and Flames' ownership would be entitled to 100 percent of all revenues, and that's not quite good enough? 

      Good on Nenshi for calling out the Calgary Sports and Entertainment Corporation. Oil baron Murray Edwards and the rest of the five-man ownership group of the Flames are aware that if they did attempt to move the beloved Flames they'd be blackballed in the city forever. 

      And good on the people of Calgary for identifying the fact that the Flames and the NHL are the bully on the playground, and not punishing the mayor or city council for refusing to back down. 

      This past week, Nenshi was re-elected with 51.4 percent of the vote, handedly beating his challenger, a corporate shill hilariously named Bill Smith, because of course his name is Bill Smith. All of Calgary's councillors were also re-elected in an election that saw a 40-year high in voter turnout.  

      The Flames were, uh, not happy. 

      Here's the Flames director of communications showing some unabashed professionalism and really sticking to sports. 

      Because he has the slightest idea of what Americans (especially minorities) are dealing with. 

      And here's the vice president of CSEC, the group that owns the Flames, doing the same. 

      Stick to sports, boys.

      Just kidding, don't. You can't. No one can. 

      Just remember that when Calgary had the choice between their cherished Flames and their integrity, they chose the latter. You'd like to think people everywhere would. 

      So when do we get to see Gregor and Francesco square off over a bike lane that the Aquilinis think will jeopardize the millions they make in parking fees each season?