“For me, it’s just a personal thing. I believe in what I believe in, and in order to stick to those values, I think I have to do what I feel is right, but that doesn’t make a difference on everyone else’s decision. We stick by every single teammate we have and their decision. That’s about it.”
Holtby has marched in D.C.’s Pride Parade and served as the Capitals’ designated “You Can Play” ambassador, and in September, he spoke at the Human Rights Campaign national dinner. Asked specifically about his involvement with the LGBTQ community, Holtby said it factored into his decision.
“My family and myself, we believe in a world where humans are treated with respect regardless of your stature, what you’re born into,” Holtby said. “You’re asked to choose what side you’re on, and I think it’s pretty clear what side I’m on. I believe that this is the right decision for myself and my family.”
The Capitals announced Thursday there will be no official ceremony or media availability while they are in the White House. The team will take part in a private tour and will meet President Trump in the Oval Office. Smith-Pelly, who is black and Canadian, was the first to say he would not want to be part of a White House ceremony because “the things that [Trump] spews are straight-up racist and sexist,” he told Canada’s Postmedia.
Smith-Pelly was waived in February and sent down to the American Hockey League in a salary cap-clearing move, so he is no longer with the Capitals, but all members of the 2018 team are invited and will have the option to attend. Players and coaches new to the team this season will not be part of the visit.
Connolly joined Smith-Pelly last year in saying he would skip a White House visit, and he stood by that decision when asked Tuesday night, referencing his support for Smith-Pelly.
“I respectfully decline,” said Connolly, who is Canadian. “That’s all I’ll say about it. Everyone is entitled to their opinion. It’s obviously a big deal, and it gains a lot of attention. I’ve been in full support of an old teammate that I’m really good friends with who I agreed with and a guy who will be back here, I’m sure, at the end of the year. That’s all I’ll say.”
Unlike Connolly and Smith-Pelly, Holtby is among the highest-profile members of the team. He won the Vezina Trophy in 2016 as the best goaltender in the league that season, and this month he became the second-fastest goaltender in NHL history to record his 250th win.
Trump canceled the 2018 Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles’ visit to the White House after some players said they would skip the ceremony to protest the president and his rhetoric. When the Golden State Warriors won the 2017 NBA championship, multiple players, including superstar guard Stephen Curry, said they were not in favor of a visit to the White House. They were later disinvited by Trump. The Warriors won another title last year and, rather than visit the White House during their trip to Washington in late January, they met with former president Barack Obama. The team visited the National Museum of African American History and Culture during its trip to Washington the previous February.
“Once the first team doesn’t go, it puts the onus on every other player in professional sports to be forced into making a decision, if you’re political or not,” Holtby said. “That’s why I think our team, we’re trying to take the most professional way we can with the every player has a right to choose and stand by each and every one of us regardless of what you decide. Obviously, I’ve been a little more outspoken on my views than everyone else, so I feel like it’s important for me to stand by that. But in the long run it’s not going to affect our team at all. We’re a close-knit group in here, and those things don’t affect us as a team.”
Most Capitals, including Russian captain Alex Ovechkin, have said they will participate in the visit.
“I’m obviously going to go,” American defenseman John Carlson said Friday. “It’s an experience that I want to be a part of and see through. It’s something that you dream about, getting honored as the champions, and something that we worked really hard for. That’s what I’m thinking.”
Said Coach Todd Reirden: “I speak personally on this one to start with. I think it’s an amazing opportunity. Something for the last five years you drive to the rink, you see this, you hear about it, you think about it. I was really excited about the invitation and will be going and be happy to be going. In that respect, I get it. I understand our players and their decisions, and I respect it. They’re allowed to make their own decisions. It’s important that we support them in whatever decision that they make.”
Asked whether he struggled with the decision to decline the invitation, Holtby said it wasn’t a hard choice.
“In the end, I never really came up with a situation where I’d feel comfortable going,” he said. “But the toughest part is I’ve always tried to live my life and my career that the team sticks together. So, that’s probably the toughest part, but that’s just the way the world is. Sometimes you’re forced into situations where you have to stick by what you believe. But in the end, I think there’s more important things I can do in the future. Trying to make a stand this way, I don’t think it does the most in terms of creating change. In the future, I just want to stick by what I believe in and try to push toward a world where people are created equal.”
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