For decades, sports and entertainment celebrities avoided political endorsements lest they hurt their personal brands and lucrative pay days. This, despite notable exceptions like Ronald Reagan, John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, John Voight and Kelsey Grammer on the right and Mohammed Ali, Alec Baldwin, Barbara Streisand, LeBron James, and Carole King on the left. Their numbers have grown in recent cycles, but they have never been a majority in their industries. Donald Trump’s presidency, however, has forced many off the sidelines in full-throated declaration of their partisan allegiances.
Celebrity endorsements have seldom been of great interest to me. From Tom Brady to composer Richard Wagner, I’ve mostly been able to separate a star’s professional talent from his or her political views. I shrugged when celebrities Jack Nicklaus, Brett Favre, Dennis Quaid, Hershel Walker, Johnny Damon, Mike Ditka, and even Mariano Rivera endorsed Donald Trump.
But yesterday, when I learned that Boston Bruins legend Bobby Orr had taken out a full-page ad in the Manchester Union Leader urging undecideds in New Hampshire to vote for Donald Trump, that was a bridge too far. This wasn’t just a case of a sports hero disappointing a fan.
Bobby Orr held a special place in our family for decades. Both sons grew up in the Orr era, inspired by their hero to play hockey themselves. Thus began years of 5:30 a.m. ice times in freezing cold rinks, kids who could barely tie their shoes somehow eagerly getting into their gear while it was still dark out, vacations spent driving over half of New England for tournaments, inspired by the youthful Canadian’s speed, dramatic scoring, graceful play making and kind and good-natured personality.
One son had a stuffed animal named, you guessed it, Bobby Orr. Bobby Orr, the lion, went everywhere with us. When both my boys were grown and had kids of their own, Bobby Orr (seen to the left) retained a spot in their old room. Years later, when I met the real Bobby Orr, I told him about my household’s adoring fans and his stuffed namesake. Orr graciously invited us all to join him for a Bruins game in his box in the Garden. We never took him up on it, but the incident confirmed my sense that Super Hero Bobby Orr was a real mensch. A fine gentleman.
Why, oh why, did he endorse Trump? Yes, I understand that, as a Vancouver sportswriter observed, “hockey is a sport primarily played by rich white people… hockey players tend toward the conservative, right-wing end of the political spectrum,” and Orr may be simply responding to the self-interested sugar high of Republican policies of lower taxes for the affluent, long-term consequences be damned. Trump’s vituperative rhetoric never targeted people like Orr, and, living in a moneyed and likely Fox-news bubble, Number 4 is untouched by the harm Trump and his administration have visited on others. This may explain his endorsement; it doesn’t make it palatable.
Bobby never struck me as so naïve as to be be taken in by a contemptible con-man grifter, racist supporter of white supremacists, who disrespects and abuses women, cheats on his taxes, disdains science, lies pathologically, slurs military heroes, peddles dangerous conspiracies, undermines fundamental democratic values, and through at least his gross negligence is complicit in the deaths of many of the 230,000 COVID-19 fatalities in America. But, in embracing Trump, once- beloved Number 4 associates himself with these values and stands on the wrong side of history. His brand changed in a nano-second.
The photo in the full-page endorsement ad pictures a smiling Bobby and his wife Peggy, with Donald, all thumbs up, with bold copy claiming that Trump is “the kind of teammate I want. ” Orr says the President has “delivered for all the American people regardless of race, gender, or station in life.” What planet is he living on?
Orr asks us to take pity on the victim-president because he has “had to operate under extremely difficult conditions over these past several years” and “didn’t sign up” to deal with a worldwide pandemic. He tells us to ignore Trump’s tweets and personality but focus instead on “his policies and the people those policies assist.”
It’s ironic that Bobby Orr’s ad appears in the same deeply conservative Union Leader that last week endorsed Joe Biden for President. It’s the first time in 100 years that the paper has endorsed a Democratic Presidential candidate. In past years, Orr could have endorsed Ford, Reagan, Bush, Dole, McCain or Romney. But he remained silent politically until now. I don’t know if Orr is even an American citizen. Born in Canada, he now lives in Florida, and is reportedly not a registered voter.
He proclaims “I have never done anything like this before, but I am greatly concerned for the country in which I raised my family – a country I’ve grown to love deeply. I want my grandchildren to know the America I know, a place of patriotism and opportunity.”
Should we assume Orr doesn’t care about accelerating climate change or the impact of Trump’s headlong rush to deregulate environmental and health standards will have on his sons and grandchildren? Or the desirability of their growing up in a country keen on economic and racial justice?
As former Toronto Star sports reporter Damien Cox commented about Orr and Nicklaus; “We adored you as sportsmen. In retirement you been ambassadors for your respective sports and supporters of many good causes. But you’ve outed yourselves. You both speak of this mythical America you want to protect for your grandchildren. Hopefully they will forgive you.”
So, Bobby Orr, thanks again for your artistry on ice and charitable activities in retirement. But your place in this household is no longer hallowed. And, by the way, the name of that cherished stuffed lion, at my son’s suggestion, is no longer Bobby Orr. It’s Mia Hamm.