Washington Capitals forward Alexander Ovechkin, who’s a known supporter of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been dropped by hockey equipment giant CCM Hockey as MassMutual halts the airing of a commercial featuring the athlete.
According to a statement to TSN, CCM chief executive Marrouane Nabih said that while Ovechkin is “not responsible” for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the company has decided not to include him and other Russian players in global marketing efforts at this point.
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for MassMutual confirmed on Tuesday that the popular commercial featuring Ovechkin has been pulled from the air. They also said that their engagement with the athlete was limited to that one advertisement.
Ovechkin has never been subtle about his support for the Russian president. His current Instagram profile photo shows him posing with Putin, and it’s been reported that the athlete is close enough to Putin to have his personal number.
In 2017, Ovechkin announced the launch of PutinTeam, a “social movement” to support the Russian president. He claims that it was his idea, but it’s been reported that a Kremlin-backed public-relations firm might have played a role in creating the movement and it’s been used to spread propaganda. Late Thursday, this PutinTeam video was posted on Twitter.
On Friday last week, Ovechkin was asked to comment about the Russian invasion and he responded with “please, no more war. It doesn’t matter who is in the war — Russia, Ukraine, different countries — we have to live in peace,” but did not seem to withdraw his support for Putin.
“Well, he is my president. But how I said, I am not in politics. I am an athlete and you know, how I said, I hope everything is going to be done soon,” he said and added that it’s a “hard situation right now for both sides and everything. Everything I hope is going to end. I’m not in control of this situation.”
As Ovechkin seemingly sits on the fence, other Russian-born players in the NHL are experiencing “disturbing levels” of harassment since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, according to NHL player agent Dan Milstein.
Milstein, who represents a majority of the league’s Russian-born and Belarusian-born players, was born in Kyiv, Ukraine. He immigrated to the United States in 1991 at 16 as a political refugee and is now a US citizen.
In an interview with ESPN on Tuesday, Milstein said that “the discrimination and racism these Russian and Belarusian players are facing right now is remarkable. We’re being set back 30 years. I have players calling me, parents calling me. They’re concerned whether they’ll be able to play, whether they’ll be safe.”
The day before Milstein’s interview, the NHL released a statement condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The league has suspended relationships with business partners in Russia and has also halted their Russian-language social and digital media sites.
5% of the NHL is made up of Russian-born players — by far the biggest percentage among the major leagues in North America — and Ovechkin is considered to be the biggest star among these players.
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