Is Silence Complicity?

Does the societal prominence accorded professional athletes confer a societal obligation?

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.

— Martin Luther King, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story (1958)

I have expressed an opinion on public issues whenever they appeared to me so bad and unfortunate that silence would have made me feel guilty of complicity.

Albert Einstein, Address to the Chicago Decalogue Society (20 February 1954)

The horrendous police murder of George Floyd would obviously satisfy Einstein’s criteria of being “bad and unfortunate.”

Many athletes felt the outrage and spoke out against police criminality and the need for systemic change. Not every athlete has been heard from though.

A professional ice hockey player, Evander Kane, understood the onus of the opening quotations that several prominent personages have similarly expressed throughout history. Kane, went further and named names of who he wants to hear from:

We need so many more athletes that don’t look like me speaking out about this, having the same amount of outrage that I have inside…. It’s time for guys like, you know, Tom Brady and Sidney Crosby, and those types of figures to speak up about what is right and, clearly in this case, what is unbelievably wrong because that’s the only way that we are gonna’ actually create that unified anger to create that necessary change, especially when you talk about systematic racism.

Such a distinction shouldn’t matter, but in the present circumstances it does: Evander Kane is Black and Tom Brady and Sidney Crosby are White.

Football quarterback Tom Brady has posted a #JusticeForFloyd hashtag on his Instagram account. Sidney Crosby has, so far, been silent (and he may yet speak up). If he maintains his silence is he, therefore, an accomplice? Is he cooperating with evil?

Crosby has no problem speaking for a fast food outlet. For this he is no doubt well paid. It is widely believed that commercial endorsements steer away from controversy. So is Crosby, perhaps, just being selfish by avoiding controversy?

One sports writer, John Steigerwald, says, “Sidney Crosby isn’t being selfish by staying silent.”

Steigerwald sought to excuse Crosby’s silence, “Maybe Crosby is smart enough to know he can’t win no matter what he says about what Kane perceives as systemic racism. And maybe he knows he’s a Canadian and should butt out.”

Steigergeld seems to perceive that there is no systemic racism (despite data pointing out that Blacks are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than Whites, although researchers may arrive at a different conclusion as to what the data signify.) and that racism in Canada is not an issue.

Anthony Duclair, a forward with the Ottawa Senators of the National Hockey League, a Black human, was a voice of reason:

WE all have a voice, use it. Help create an environment where WE can all be treated equally. No matter what your race, religion or belief you may have, you should not stay silent about social inequality. Please spread the word. #JusticeForAll

Meaningful change is needed. A system that remunerates citizens equitably based on effort and sacrifice would be a start. However, change is needed not just in the political-economic system; change is also needed in the hearts and minds of many humans regarding how they think and care about their fellow humans.

Good hearts and minds don’t oppress other humans, and neither are they silent to the oppression of other humans.

People who have risen to prominence in society do have an obligation — not just to society but to themselves as human beings.


UPDATE: (June 3) Sidney Crosby has now spoken up through his eponymous foundation:

What happened to George Floyd cannot be ignored. Racism that exists today in all forms is not acceptable. While I am not able to relate to the discrimination that black and minority communities face daily, I will listen and educate myself on how I can help make a difference.

Together, we will find solutions through necessary dialogue and a collective effort.”

Kim Petersen is an independent writer. He can be emailed at: kimohp at Read other articles by Kim.