Uptown Sports agency opposes Sean Avery’s support of marriage equality

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Just last week, New York Rangers agitator Sean Avery caught the hockey world by surprise by pledging his support for marriage equality in New York State including filming a 30-second commercial showing his support for the cause of same-sex marriage in the state. Avery’s history as an agitator often gets him a bad reputation on the ice, but his unwavering support of civil rights for gays and his willingness to stand beside any player willing to come out earns him high praise off of the ice.

As you might expect, taking a stance like this on such a hot-button topic often lends you to being criticized publicly. Sometimes it comes from people in the media or in the form of user comments on sites like this one. One area it doesn’t usually come from is from others that work in the same business.

This afternoon, Uptown Sports Management’s Twitter account, Uptown Hockey, sent out a tweet that knocked both the hockey world and those in support of marriage equality for a loop. That’s putting it very mildly.

The author of that tweet was Todd Reynolds, the vice president of Uptown Sports. As you might expect, that kind of opinion out of the blue created outrage throughout the hockey and sports world on Twitter. Avery’s actions were viewed to be brave in the face of a sports world that’s still seemingly behind the times in its open acceptance of homosexuals in professional sports.

Two hours later, Reynolds tried to clarify what he was saying. His clarification wasn’t much better.

It’s just one man’s opinion on the matter, but that opinion is one that’s falling out of favor in the modern day as acceptance and tolerance have become more the norm than the exception. Reynolds’ opinion, however, seems to be one that’s the law of the land with Uptown Sports. Sean Fitz-Gerald of the National Post caught up with Todd’s father Don, the president of Uptown Sports. His take is not dissimilar to that of his son’s.

“It’s sad. I mean, my personal position is that I do not support gay marriage, and I think it’s wrong, as well. It’s not politically correct to, I guess, give your opinion about a thing like that. It’s politically correct on the other side, for people to say, ‘sure, I support gay marriage.’ But the majority, I think, of Canadians would say that they don’t agree with gay marriage – that man and woman were created to be married, not man and man or man and horse, you know?”

Making matters even uglier still, Todd Reynolds appeared on TSN Radio with James Cybulski and Bruce Arthur this afternoon to present his side of the story and potentially clear the air about what he unleashed on Twitter. That too didn’t quite go as well as you might imagine.

“But I’m a little disappointment in some of the response. If you oppose a viewpoint, you’re immediately targeted by some people as a hater, a bigot, intolerant, homophobic and many other terms. That’s obviously not the case for people who know me… I don’t hate anyone, and I’m certainly not a bigot, but I believe in marriage between one man and one woman. It’s a social debate that’s raged on for quite some time. In Canada and the U.S. it’s a hot-button topic right now. I guess maybe it was how I was raised. I believe in voicing your opinion and not being part of the silent majority. “

For those curious, Uptown Hockey represents a handful of NHL players right now. Andrew Brunette, Carlo Colaiacovo, Jonathan Bernier, Kyle Clifford, and perhaps most notably right now Nashville’s Mike Fisher. A sports agent, or agents in this case, using the company name to flaunt their personal politics seems like the kind of thing that would rankle a player who may not agree with those personal politics. Bringing that sort of attention on a player seems like the sort of thing that would be a bad business decision, never mind in the view of public relations.

We’re not here to silence someone that has an opinion. Free speech is a beautiful thing to have. That said, when it’s opinion that comes across as archaic, backwards, and founded in abject ignorance to the human condition we’re allowed to sound off on it as we choose to as well.

A person’s beliefs are what they are and they’re allowed to them if they see fit, but this is an issue that comes down as one where future generations are going to look back on this generation and wonder why anyone discriminated against people in the first place. Much like the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s, the issue of marriage equality and gay rights boils down to one as just basic human decency. I understand that for some their religious beliefs may get in the way of that but to those who feel and believe that way, I preach to you the matter of respect to fellow human beings.

Respect is a two-way street though and angry, hateful words going either way solves nothing. Teaching more about understanding and the common good would go a long way towards making the gap between both sides of the issue less contentious and far more understanding. Ignorance never got anyone anywhere before in their lives, and the Reynolds’ and Uptown Sports are hopefully learning that lesson in a big way.

Laraque, Okposo, others discuss Trump, national anthem protests

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We’ve already seen some reactions to Donald Trump’s comments about NFL athletes kneeling during the national anthem and the Pittsburgh Penguins’ controversial decision to accept a White House visit.

As Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski notes, 93 percent of NHL players identify as white. While it’s interesting to hear from the likes of Auston Matthews and Blake Wheeler, what about hockey players who are more directly affected?

Plenty of interesting perspectives came through on Tuesday, so let’s consider some of the more fascinating reactions.

Georges Laraque disapproves of Penguins’ visit

Laraque, a black former NHL player and Montreal native, made it clear that he doesn’t agree with the Penguins’ decision, as he told the Canadian Press.

“I know hockey’s more conservative than other sports, but this time it’s just wrong,” Laraque said. “I’m surprised the NHL didn’t make a stand.”

“To me, it’s an embarrassment that they’re going.”

He also shared this slightly profane tweet on the matter.

Josh Ho-Sang is inspired by the protests

New York Islanders forward Josh Ho-Sang provided an interesting take to Newsday’s Arthur Staple, and also reminded observes that, as an international sport, the NHL features some players who might not feel as invested in (or at least as informed about) these debates.

“I think what the NFL players are doing is amazing. It’s good that they’re all sticking together,” Ho-Sang said on Monday. “I mean, I’m Canadian, so I don’t have too much input on the matter itself. It will affect me living in the States, but the biggest thing is it’s unfortunate that the message may have gotten lost a little. Now it’s becoming a battle between the NFL and the president and originally [the protests] started because of police brutality and the mistreatment of different races.”

Kyle Okposo doesn’t plan on kneeling, but supports the right to do so

While Ho-Sang and Laraque shared interesting insights as Canadians, Kyle Okposo is a black NHL forward hailing from Minnesota (he was the first black player in Golden Gophers history).

Like Ho-Sang, Okposo (pictured) was supportive of people making demonstrations. That said, he doesn’t expect to do so himself, as he told the Buffalo News’ John Vogl.

“Protecting the First Amendment is a huge thing,” Okposo said. “I’m a proud American, and I’m proud to be from the United States. Myself personally, I wouldn’t kneel for an anthem, but I respect those that do.”

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This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the current political climate affect NHL players or people they know.

Back in January, New York Rangers forward Mika Zibanejad, was “confused” by that iteration of a travel ban, as the Swedish forward had family living in Iran.

Players in plenty of sports are navigating tough questions this week. It’s important to remember that athletes can find themselves in tough spots when addressing topics that can be polarizing and/or complex.

Laraque stated that hockey is more “conservative than other sports,” so it seems like a good time to read up on the culture of this sport.

With the regular season about to kick into gear on Oct. 4, it’s certain that there will be more eyes on anthems than ever before. The insights in this post should be useful, whether NHL players kneel, sit, speak, or decide to stick to hockey.

Huge step? Doctors may find a way to identify CTE in living NHL players

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Pro Football Talk’s Josh Alper and TSN’s Rick Westhead pass along what could be a breakthrough Boston University study  – or at least the early stages of a breakthrough – in how concussions/CTE are handled in sports.

The key: after only being able to study brains of deceased athletes, there’s a chance that living athletes with CTE might eventually be identified.

On face value, that’s great news for player health. Hockey, like other contact sports such as football, is no stranger to careers and lives being derailed by brain injuries.

Of course, the NHL and NHLPA would need to cooperate to make the most of potential progress. If you’ve watched hockey long enough, particularly postseason hockey, you know that certain protocols can stand as great concepts met with hesitant execution.

Westhead expounds on such thoughts, and some of his findings aren’t very pretty.

The league is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit regarding concussions, and its actions have been elusive enough that politicians have gone as far as to accuse Gary Bettman and the NHL of being “delusional” about the issue.

Don’t just put this on the league, though.

Players might be hesitant to take such tests if it means that they’ll miss playing time (or even see their careers end). It brings back memories of Peyton Manning willfully sandbagging his baseline concussion test. For better or worse, these guys want to play.

Not great, yet you can also understand the human element.

Of course, it’s crucial to realize that potential breakthroughs from this study could take quite some time to trickle into functional practices, even if leagues and players end up being more willing to comply than expected.

Overall, this is promising news. Hopefully such changes could help athletes during their careers and into retirement.

Sprong continues to impress, just not enough to make Penguins (yet)

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The Pittsburgh Penguins frequently give prospect Daniel Sprong rave reviews, yet it seems like they believe that he still needs some seasoning before making a dent at the NHL level.

Sprong and fellow intriguing forward Zach Aston-Reese headlined a group of 21 players the Penguins demoted to the AHL on Tuesday.

Here is the full list:

Forwards Zach Aston-Reese, Teddy Blueger, Jean-Sebastien Dea, Thomas Di Pauli, Adam Johnson, Sam Miletic, Dominik Simon, Colin Smith, Daniel Sprong, Christian Thomas, Freddie Tiffels and Garrett Wilson; defensemen Lukas Bengtsson, Frank Corrado, Kevin Czuczman, Ethan Prow, Chris Summers, Jarred Tinordi and Zach Trotman; and goalies Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry have all been returned to WBS.

Sprong, 20, was the 46th pick of the 2015 NHL Draft. He’s been generating solid numbers at the OHL, so it will be interesting to see how he converts that to AHL work. Sprong played 18 regular-season games for the Penguins back in 2015-16, notching two goals.

Sprong discussed that experience with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this summer.

“I played [in the NHL] at 18 for a reason,” Sprong said. “With the shoulder surgery last year, that was kind of a setback. But I’m excited for this year and hopefully I can start the season here.”

That won’t happen, but perhaps we’ll see Sprong in 2018-19 … or maybe sooner?

Aston-Reese, 23, already showed some promise in that regard; he scored eight games in a 10-game audition at the AHL level in 2016-17.

These moves narrow the Penguins’ training camp roster down to 26 players. They have until Oct. 3 to settle on 23.

Penguins, Kings among teams with notable waiver moves

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If an NHL team wants to add a big winger with two Stanley Cup rings,* they merely need to make a waiver claim.

TVA’s Renaud Lavoie tweeted out Tuesday’s list of waived players, with the Los Angeles Kings and Pittsburgh Penguins making some of the most interesting moves.

In the case of the Kings, they waived Jordan Nolan and former Penguins backup Jeff Zatkoff. Here’s the full list, via Lavoie:

There are some bullet points that can sell Nolan, but the 28-year-old’s production was quite limited at the NHL level. Nolan’s never scored 10 goals in a single season; in fact, he’s only reached 10 points once in his career (six goals and four assists in 64 regular-season contests back in 2013-14).

Overall, it wouldn’t be surprising if a team targeted Nolan as a depth guy, even if his ceiling is limited.

While the Penguins’ entries seem notable for sheer volume as much as anything else, Frank Corrado is another name that stands out.

Corrado was often the catalyst for debates about his playing time (or lack thereof) with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but it doesn’t seem like the defenseman is having much success catching on with the Penguins, either.

Zatkoff, meanwhile, fits in with quite a few other names on this list: possibly prominent in the AHL, only likely to get the occasional cup of coffee in the NHL, at this point.

* – Yes, it’s OK to think of Jaromir Jagr before that sentence ends.