The hockey star followed up his words with action when he attended a Black Lives Matter protest in downtown Dallas. The step Seguin took is admirable, but there’s another one within his scope: He could ask his team to stop using Law Enforcement Appreciation Night as a promotion for games.
Seguin and the Stars are only one example, as plenty of pro teams hold similar events. There’s no uniform structure; teams show their appreciation in many ways. The players might wear Los Angeles Police Department hats in batting practice, as the Dodgers did in 2017. Usually there’s some sort of pregame ceremony with members of the local police department, or maybe a district attorney throws a first pitch. Perhaps there’s a somber remembrance of an officer killed in the line of duty. The tone of it all is similar to the pregame national anthem: Fans are not required but very strongly encouraged to be engaged, unless they want glares from a certain type of person in the stands. The practice tends to be especially common in pro hockey and baseball, two leagues with long seasons and predominantly white audiences.
While the intent is to honor law enforcement, it exists for the same reason every other promotion exists — to sell tickets. In October, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks held their own version with a special offer: Buy a ticket through a certain promotion and receive a hat with a “thin blue line” flag on it. (Promo code: LAW.) MLB’s San Francisco Giants were slated to hand out their own customized hats this July before the coronavirus pandemic wiped out sports.
There has to be a less cynical way to get butts in seats.
When Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pushed his knee into a handcuffed man’s neck for over eight minutes, killing him, it sparked a national (and eventually international) reevaluation of the perception of law enforcement. More people in America are coming to terms with the notion that police are not infallible, they do not always tell the truth and they can be racist when dealing with civilians.
Since the outcry over Floyd’s death, protests against police brutality have often been met by more police brutality. One video posted on May 31 by actor Matt McGorry showed officers of the LAPD shooting nonlethal weapons and swinging batons at unarmed, peaceful protesters. In New York, two police vehicles were caught on video intentionally driving through a barricade and into a crowd of protesters. In Washington, D.C., law enforcement used rubber bullets and chemical irritants to clear out nonviolent demonstrators near the White House before a predetermined curfew, so that President Trump could have a bizarre photo op with a Bible. In Buffalo, officers Aaron Torgalski and Robert McCabe were charged with assault after a video showed them shove 75-year-old Martin Gugino, who hit his head on the ground and was hospitalized with serious injuries.
There have been so many uses of unnecessary force at protests that lawyer Greg Doucette and educator Jason Miller began to compile a spreadsheet of all the incidents, currently numbering over 400.
Why should anyone honor or appreciate law enforcement when it holds such contempt for the public?
These numerous examples of police misconduct might prompt a counterargument, of course: It’s not fair to punish all the officers for the bad actions of a few. Isn’t some law enforcement worth respecting or appreciating, whether it be through a hockey game or other social behavior? The events since May 25 have firmly delivered the answer: These institutions are so fundamentally harmful that it’s not worth celebrating them at all.
“The police are not using brutality to enforce ‘the law,’ ” Alex Pareene wrote in the New Republic. “They’re using the law to enforce something else: a particular social order that is, to them, worth fighting for.”
Where were the benevolent cops when Torgalski and McCabe shoved Gugino? Scores of police were marching alongside the two “bad apples”; all of them chose to follow their orders instead of immediately helping an elderly man as he lay on the sidewalk and bled from his ears. Which off-duty officers were the good ones in the crowd that cheered for Torgalski and McCabe after they were arraigned by the Erie County District Attorney’s Office? Where were the good guys halting any of the point-blank pepper-sprayings or unnecessary beatings?
Police have exhaustively demonstrated that they will kill someone for a minor or nonexistent offense, retaliate against anyone who finds it outrageous, and not hold one of their own accountable because of the societally damaging concept of “the thin blue line.”
Most sports leagues are on hiatus because of covid-19, which means there might not be a more appropriate moment for sports to reexamine its automatic reverence for law enforcement. It does not need to be a default pairing.
After Floyd’s death, plenty of pro teams released statements about listening, having honest conversations and taking on the necessary work ahead. (In one audacious example, the Washington Redskins posted a black square as part of a collective protest against racism.) Getting rid of Law Enforcement Appreciation Nights would be an easy way to show that they mean it.
I reached out to the Blackhawks, Giants, Dodgers and Stars — as well as Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Wizards, Mystics and Capitals — to ask if they had reconsidered using the promotion in the future. A spokesperson for the Giants said the team would be “examining and reconsidering many aspects of our operations, including ‘Law Enforcement Appreciation Night.’ ” The Blackhawks declined to comment. A representative for Leonsis did not comment on the record. The Dodgers and Stars hadn’t responded by Tuesday afternoon.
Maybe the way to effect change within these teams is to go through the people who actually make fans care about sports: the players. Last week, a number of NFL players collaborated on a video after they were dissatisfied with the league’s tepid statement on Floyd. DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr. and others pushed Commissioner Roger Goodell to release a follow-up video in which he declared his support for black lives and admitted the NFL was wrong for not letting players peacefully protest during the pregame national anthem. The norm of sports clutching to a certain kind of patriotism needs to be broken. If players like Seguin push for more beneficial community causes, these games could honor people who deserve to be honored.