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The Penguins Importance, Damn We Need Some Hockey

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Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby

The world is on lockdown, and now our country is tearing itself apart despite overwhelming agreement by the political left and right. Just about that time, when a majority of us were ready to leave the house and go for icecream amongst our neighbors without fear for our life, a bad cop did the unthinkable. The country was inflamed and literally in flames. Not even the statue of Pittsburgh Penguins owner Mario Lemieux was spared.

Damn, I need a hockey game about now.

I support without equivocation the peaceful protestors who wish to express their feelings that the system is rigged against them. In the last several years, we’ve heard a lot of voices rise to be heard because they didn’t feel like they had been heard before.

And this conversation seems long overdue.

I’m listening.

I know racism exists, and I know the soft, unspoken, or even unknown racism exists in high quantity. I’m living proof, actually. Since I had the choice, I’ve lived in the city limits, usually close to a bus line or within walking distance to downtown.

However, my rent has fluctuated based on where I live. Before it became an overpriced tech hub, I lived in East Liberty. I paid $550 rent for an awesome apartment in an old stone house because not many wanted to live in that part of town.

I’ll never forget the lecture the cable guy gave me about gentrification. His mother used to live down the street from my new apartment. She could no longer afford it because landlords were starting to raise the rent and no longer accept Section 8 vouchers. His mother and his family were recently forced out of the neighborhood where they grew up.

We had a good chat, overall. I certainly didn’t argue, but I remember thinking, “I’m only paying $550! I’m not the one driving your family out.”

In reality, $550 was all I could afford at the time, and I didn’t care if my neighbors looked like me. But others did. As more “gentrification” occurred, as the neighborhood “evolved,” my old apartment is now on the market for $1200.

There aren’t THAT many new jobs in East Liberty. What changed?

Currently, I again live in one of those mixed neighborhoods with a higher crime rate and police presence. I see things and hear things. I also know without equivocation that the vast majority of our emergency personnel are exemplary human beings with whom I trust my life and my neighbors of all colors can, as well.

When a man was O-D’ing on my sidewalk last summer, the first officers on the scene nor the ambulance crew cared about his race when they saved his life.

I’ve also seen young black men being pulled over, for reasons I couldn’t immediately discern, and leave in handcuffs. And sure, I wonder, besides loud music or cruising around, why were they pulled over?

And, I’ve been the one being pulled a few times over because my bright red Saab (I really miss that car), with factory-lowered suspension and factory-tinted windows, attracted attention at 3 a.m. when I took shortcuts through certain areas to get home from work faster. Sure, sometimes, I may have been hustling through or failed to signal.

As the officers cautiously approached, I always wondered about their reaction when a middle-aged white guy dressed like a Gump was sitting there, with my license and registration immediately handy.

Would I have been treated any differently if I were dressed much differently? If I were a 20-year-old black man? I cannot know, but if I’m fully open, I think so–at least a little bit.

Also, in college and afterward, I lived in a poor Appalachian town of about 5,000 people, almost exclusively white. The police were ever-present, and I was pulled over no less than six times per year for dubious infractions, including once when I bumped my turn signal for a brief moment. I was also given a ticket for a dim headlight after an officer fully looked through my car (from the outside). No kidding.

But I never feared for my life or truly feared being arrested.

I wonder how skin color changes our interactions and police interactions, if there is a systemic bias in poor neighborhoods, too. I don’t have answers, and please don’t mistake questions for opinions. I hope everyone can soon have an honest, adult conversation about their role in making this situation better, instead of Twitter battles.

Damn, wouldn’t it be great to watch a Pittsburgh Penguins game with each other soon?

We need hockey not as a distraction, but as a unifying force. Folks in the Hill District and Sewickley cheer for the Penguins. In Boston, the Southies and Cambridge can’t wait for a Bruins Stanley Cup run.

It’s no longer accurate to call sports a “distraction.” Maybe in generations past, when our fathers and grandfathers trudged back and forth to the mill or the mines, five or six grinding days per week, when they plopped in front of the TV on Sunday, THAT was a distraction. Now, sports have evolved to include specialized networks (and websites, *ahem), 24-7 coverage, and have become a constant companion in our lives.

And the games don’t care what color you are. The games don’t care if you have money or not (unless you want tickets at the glass).

Damn, I want that togetherness again. My absolute favorite part of this job is covering a game with a raucous crowd; everyone participates. The COVID-19 quarantine was tough enough on all of us. Existing on social media in the last several days has been more difficult. The finger-pointing and soapboxing have begun, and that’s the absolute worst thing for us.

For the first time in my lifetime, most everyone agrees, we need to have THAT conversation about race and police and, ultimately, ourselves. And we also need a few more ties that bind. Those are perilously absent at the present moment.

We need to hate the Philadelphia Flyers, not each other.

Damn, we need the Pittsburgh Penguins.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now owner, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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