Wednesday, April 27, 2022


A photograph can be a powerful thing. It can arouse emotions, good and bad. It can represent joyful and meaningful moments.

It can also represent horror.

Earlier this week, the Washington Capitals took their annual team photo. Alex Ovechkin was part of it, as he has been for the past 16 years.

That’s a lot of team photos for the Russian hockey legend to value. Some teams certainly meant more to Ovechkin than others, and so those photos likely have special meaning. I’ll bet the 2018 Stanley Cup championship team photo is one of those.

Ovechkin, like most of us, can retrace the years through photographs — a lifetime of magical moments, memorable milestones and, through it all, the familiar faces of family members.

When it comes to picking out one special image to represent who he is, Ovechkin has a lot to choose from.

But the image he continues to use in the profile for his Instagram account is a photo of the most hated and despised man in the world today — Russian strongman Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin, who has been called a “butcher, a “war criminal” and a “murderous dictator” by the president of the United States.

Vladimir Putin, who has been compared numerous times to Adolf Hitler for his invasion and destruction of Ukraine. “Is Putin the new Hitler?” the headline on the March 8 Voice of America story asked.

Vladimir Putin, who is still “my president,” as Ovechkin told reporters on Feb. 25 when asked about the dictator.

Now, as Capitals fans get ready to fill up the arena to root for their beloved hero as the Stanley Cup playoffs begin, Ovechkin, 36, continues to display the photo of him and Putin.

My question is how will those Capitals fans feel in their guts as they cheer for the Russian star who makes no apologies for his support of the “butcher,” the “war criminal” and the “murderous dictator?”

It should make them feel a little sick.

We’ve let Ovechkin, who missed Tuesday night’s game with what was described as an upper-body injury, skate too long for his relationship with this thug — myself included. 

We noticed when Ovechkin created his “Team Putin” social media campaign in 2017.

“I never hid my relationship with our president, always openly supported him,” Ovechkin said in a social media post that was translated by the Washington Post. “Today, I want to announce a social movement in the name of Putin Team.”

When he was asked by reporters about “Team Putin,” Ovechkin replied, “It’s not about political stuff.”

That was nonsense then. It was nonsense in February when Ovechkin said, “I am not in politics, I am an athlete.” 

It is nonsense now.

By 2017, Putin had already invaded Crimea and was locking up dissidents and poisoning opponents. Yet once everyone raised their eyebrows about Ovechkin’s “Team Putin,” we all went back to hockey.

But there is no moving on from what is happening in the world now. There is no compartmentalizing the hockey from the horrors on the internet and news broadcasts. 

There should be no celebration of Ovechkin’s goal-scoring — like owner Ted Leonsis did Tuesday night at Capital One Arena with a painting of his long-time star and the hockey legends he passed on the career scoring list — without also noting the daily body count of Ukrainians injured and killed by Ovechkin’s “president.”

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2,345 civilians have been killed and 2,919 injured, as of April 20. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told CNN last week about 2,500 to 3,000 soldiers have been killed.

Oh, yes, and the Russians — British Defense Secretary George Wallace said Monday about 15,000 Russian troops have been killed since the Ukraine invasion began.

ESPN reported last month that the Capitals asked Ovechkin to take the Putin photo out of his profile or deactivate his Instagram account. Ovechkin refused, citing fears for the safety of his family in Russia.

That has been the defense that Ovechkin supporters have hidden behind — that he would put his family at risk. No one of authority has supported that claim.

“With Ovechkin being one of the most visible Russian players in his home country, any retaliation against him or his family would be difficult,” said Jason Mollica, a lecturer at American University who specializes in social media and politics.

“You aren’t retaliating against, say (New York Rangers forward) Artemi Panarin (who came out supporting Russian opposition to Putin’s invasion),” Mollica said. “While Panarin is a star with the New York Rangers who has voiced his opposition of Putin, his stature isn’t on the level of Ovechkin’s. Panarin was smeared by a former coach in Russia (who accused Panarin of striking an 18-year-old woman 10 years ago) and took a leave from the Rangers (he missed nine games).”

Jean Levesque, associate professor of Russian History at the University of Quebec in Montreal and an expert in Russian sports history, also questioned how much Ovechkin and his family would be at risk if he stepped away from his support for Putin. 

“I do not think he and his family are risking anything,” Levesque said. “He is one of the few athletes who are closest to the regime. He comes from a family of elite athletes who are integrated into the political-sporting structure.”

Levesque suggested that the NHL has the power to ban Ovechkin and other Russian players “if they are uneasy with his political leanings. After all, Russian athletes have been banned from most sports and this would fit with the current political atmosphere. But the NHL and Gary Bettman have decided that the show must go on.”

The NHL has cut business ties with Russian partners in support of Ukraine. But ban players? Wimbledon has banned Russian and Belarusian players. They were barred from participating in the Paralympics. The Boston Marathon did the same. Russia was banned from World Cup qualifying.

Far-fetched? We are, for all intents and purposes, in a war with Putin. President Biden pledged an additional $1.3 billion last week for new weapons and economic assistance for Ukraine. U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell and other top officials walked out of the G-20 meeting when the Russian delegation started speaking.

But Ovechkin, two months after his “president” invaded Ukraine, is still waving the Putin flag with his profile photo on his Instagram account — giving aid and comfort, you might say, to the enemy.

Hear Thom Loverro on The Kevin Sheehan Show podcast.

• Thom Loverro can be reached at tloverro@washingtontimes.com.

Copyright © 2022 The Washington Times, LLC.