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Jonathan Toews gets real on race

The Blackhawks captain offered his support to the Black Lives Matter movement with a heartfelt Instagram message on Monday. Here's why that's a big deal.

Kevin Kaduk
Kevin Kaduk

Good morning, frents …

Let’s start off with a little bit of good news around these parts: I was happy to have Midway Minute featured in the Washington Post on Monday as part of a Ben Strauss article on how sportswriters are pivoting to newsletters in this time of change. It was humbling to be mentioned among a few great sports newsletters from Substack. I’d recommend you check some of  the others out if you’re in the market for more great sportswriting.

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I think I can speak for the rest of the crew: Thank you for your support of our work!

Toews takes aim at racial injustice

“That’s my captain.”

“That’s our captain.”

“Oh captain, my captain.”

Those were three of the replies I saw most often underneath the Instagram post that Jonathan Toews put up on Monday afternoon. There were some RTs on Twitter, too.

Seeing that type of response from fans of the Blackhawks captain isn’t new. The past 10 years of social media has seen similar replies every time Toews scores an important playoff goal or appears in a comical Blackhawks ad campaign.

But Monday’s Toews achievement was new territory: Dropping an emotional and well-thought out post on the pain that Black Americans experience every day and what he as a white man can do to be an ally.

I don’t think I could convey the total impact of Toews message by picking just one or two quotes, so here’s the entire text of his post:

A lot of people may claim these riots and acts of destruction are a terrible response. I’ll be the first to admit that as a white male that was also my first reaction.

But who am I to tell someone that their pain is not real? Especially when it is at a boiling point and impossible to hold in anymore. It’s obviously coming from a place of truth. This reaction isn’t coming out of thin air.

I’m not condoning or approving the looting, but are we really going to sit here and say that peaceful protesting is the only answer? There has been plenty of time for that, and if it was the answer we would’ve given it our full attention long ago.

Listen to these two men debate. They are lost, they are in pain. They strived for a better future but as they get older they realize their efforts may be futile. They don’t know the answer of how to solve this problem for the next generation of black women and men. This breaks my heart.

I can’t pretend for a second that I know what it feels like to walk in a black man’s shoes. However, seeing the video of George Floyd’s death and the violent reaction across the country moved me to tears. It has pushed me to think, how much pain are black people and other minorities really feeling? What have Native American people dealt with in both Canada and US? What is it really like to grow up in their world? Where am I ignorant about the privileges that I may have that others don’t?

Compassion to me is at least trying to FEEL and UNDERSTAND what someone else is going through. For just a moment maybe I can try to see the world through their eyes. Covid has been rough but it has given us the opportunity to be much less preoccupied with our busy lives. We can no longer distract ourselves from the truth of what is going on.

My message isn’t for black people and what they should do going forward. My message is to white people to open our eyes and our hearts. That’s the only choice we have, otherwise this will continue.

Let’s choose to fight hate and fear with love and awareness. Ask not what can you do for me, but what can I do for you?

Be the one to make the first move. In the end, love conquers all.

#blacklivesmatter

Toews isn’t the first Chicago athlete to speak out about our current troubles. And he was right to defer to the Black athletes who have first-hand experience with the issue.

But like White Sox ace Lucas Giolito did over the weekend, Toews spoke up in a sport where social views aren’t offered as freely as they are in the NBA or NFL. A lot of players in hockey and baseball rooms don’t want to hear about anything that doesn’t stick to sports (or at least their world view.)

Some of the fans want to hear it even less. I remember being at one game against Vancouver in 1996 and hearing one Hawks fan/pile of garbage yell at Donald Brashear that “the only black thing in hockey should be the puck.”

Meanwhile, we all remember the Hawks having to ban four fans in 2018 after yelling racial taunts at Washington’s Devante Smith-Pelly.

That Toews spoke up shouldn’t catch any of us off-guard. He made headlines in 2017 when he showed concern for the environment and criticized Donald Trump for pulling the United States out of the Paris Agreement.

Joining social media wasn’t just going to be an avenue for frivolity, he told the Hockey News that year:

“The biggest reason I’ve joined is to try and include myself in some conversations as far as what I’m interested in off the ice and what I’m interested in giving back to. A lot of players have their foundations and different things they want to contribute to. They use their platform or their name, their status, to be able to contribute to something. So for me it’s to try and be a part of that world and show why I care about it and why it’s made a difference for me.”

The thing I liked best about Toews’ post is that it seemed so real. While every celebrity and brand has been scrambling to write statements of support that sound like they came out of a MadLibs book, Toews’ message sounded like it came from a real person who started with a simple view of empathy and then went from there.

That it came from a group of athletes usually more occupied not rocking the boat and a sport that just had to answer charges of inequality from Akim Aliu means even more.

There’s no doubt it should have an impact. Toews is already comfortably considered one of the best Chicago athletes of all time and is viewed with as much respect around here as, say,  revered statesmen like Walter Payton or Stan Mikita. Maybe I’m naive, but maybe it’ll open up a few minds that weren’t before.

At the very least, it was appreciated here. We’re living through a situation that needs more understanding and patience than we’re used to giving.

Leave it to the captain — our captain — to show us how to best approach it.


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Baseball’s incredibly tone-deaf approach of negotiating its 2020 season through the media continued on Monday with MLB reportedly proposing a 50-game season and reminding the players it has the right to set the season length to whatever it wants, per the agreement they came to in March.

Fifty games, though, is ridiculous and, as you might recall, it was only yesterday that the players said they were up for a 114-game schedule. I did the math and — will you look at that? — it looks like the midpoint of those two proposals is the 82-game length that has been floating around for months now. Can the two sides just call this a day already and start making real plans to get back to the ballpark?

Have a link for Midway Minute? Email me!

Laurence Holmes put together some powerful radio on Monday. (The Score)

The words of CBS’ Ryan Baker should also be heard. (Instagram)

Brian Urlacher defended Donald Trump on Grant Hill’s Instagram feed. I’ll take sentences that would have meant nothing to me 10 years ago for $200, Alex. (NBC Sports Chicago)

How Chicago restaurants stepped up when CPS cancelled meal pickups for hungry children. (Chicago Magazine)

Teddy Greenstein on the incredible journey that resulted in Lou Cannellis and his wife becoming parents after the age of 50. (Tribune)

A pro scout breaks down the Hawks-Oilers matchup. (The Athletic)

In case you need some Jay Cutler divorce news. (NY Post)

That’s it for today. Have an excellent Tuesday and don’t forget to visit some of the letters I mentioned up top. As always, thank you for being a #frentofthenewsletter.