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Penguins' White House visit not a 'stance' on protests, coach Mike Sullivan says

Jerry DiPaola
| Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017, 12:48 p.m.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan hoists the Stanley Cup while exiting their plane after returning to Pittsburgh International Airport on Monday, June 12, 2017.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan hoists the Stanley Cup while exiting their plane after returning to Pittsburgh International Airport on Monday, June 12, 2017.
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel beats Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson in the first period Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 at PPG Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
The Penguins' Jake Guentzel beats Sabres goaltender Chad Johnson in the first period Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 at PPG Arena.
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan on the bench during the Sabres game in the first period Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 at PPG Arena.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan on the bench during the Sabres game in the first period Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 at PPG Arena.

In a stern voice that remained calm and stopped just short of anger, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said his organization's decision to visit the White House on Oct. 10 is not a political statement, despite perception to the contrary.

“The reality is it's just the opposite,” Sullivan said Wednesday morning at PPG Paints Arena after the team's morning skate. “We haven't taken any stance.”

His remarks gave the impression Penguins players will not become a part of the national anthem protests that have spread through professional sports.

“The Penguins as an organization and our players have chosen not to use this platform to take a stance,” Sullivan said, “and so there appears to be a perception that we have.

“And it's wrong.”

Sullivan also defended Penguins captain Sidney Crosby, who was called out this week by many on social media and, specifically, Nova Scotia poet laureate and activist El Jones, who told Metro Halifax she hopes Crosby gets the Penguins to decline the invitation.

“It is an act of moral cowardice,” Jones said. “I think that he can still fix this and maybe with pressure he will.

“I hope that he sees this and realizes how greatly disappointing this is to Canadians and particularly to black Canadians. He has a chance to reconsider. I'm not saying he's a terrible person, but he made a terrible choice.”

Crosby, a native of Nova Scotia, was not available for comment before the Penguins' preseason game against the Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday night.

“Now that we're on the subject,” Sullivan said, “the fact that people seem to think Sid needs to bear this burden of responsibility is unfair.

“This guy does nothing but come to the rink, help the Penguins win championships and be a good person every day. That's how we see it.

“Having said that, we have respect for those who choose to express themselves differently. I wish we would receive the same respect in return, and I wish our captain would as well.”

Sullivan said he has spoken to his players about the issue, and he said from this point they will speak only about hockey.

“Everyone is well aware of what's going on,” he said. “Quite honestly, my focus is on Game 1.

“We are a week away from the regular season. We've spent a week or so answering these types of questions. I'd like it from this point forward to focus on hockey. “From here on out, we're going to answer questions that revolve around playing hockey.”

He acknowledged distractions are part of the business.

“We all deal with it as best we can,” he said. “It's my responsibility as their coach to make sure we maintain the necessary focus to keep our eye on the right ball.”

The Penguins' regular season starts Wednesday against the St. Louis Blues at PPG Paints Arena, less than four months from their second consecutive Stanley Cup-clinching victory.

“We don't feel like we had that much rest, right?” winger Phil Kessel said, smiling. “We're back into it. We're ready to go. We're eager to get back at it.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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