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CVS Bums Smokes, NHL Should Boycott Sochi

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Full Disclosure: I'm a Toronto Maple Leafs fan. They're among hockey's hottest teams with nine wins in their last 12 games. Phil Kessel's on fire. And the way the boys continue to bounce back from spurts of poor play (like Tuesday night's 4-1 loss to Florida) makes me think this year could be different than others with similarly high hopes.

So, given this hot streak, the Leafs fan in me worries about the unknown of how teams will respond after having their seasons interrupted by the National Hockey League's participation in the Sochi Winter Olympics.

A whole slew of clubs could use the break, but it seems to me the Leafs would be better off smokin' 'em while they got 'em. A break could make the recent run go limp.

But there's a bigger issue at play here.

One that relates, in some fashion, to CVS Caremark's (CVS - Get Report) decision to stop selling cigarettes and focus on its image and core (?) business as a healthcare provider.

Let's not mince words -- it took balls to make this move.

Despite intuition that this benefits Walgreens (WAG) and Rite Aid (RAD - Get Report), I reckon it puts pressure on them to do likewise. The real losers are tobacco companies.

CVS sees the future. There will come a time -- in the not so distant future -- when selling cigarettes at CVS, Walgreens or Rite Aid will be akin to openly displaying porno mags in the checkout line. Probably worse.

The NHL had the chance to make a similarly gutsy move. But it dropped the ball.

If you have a soul, an ounce of compassion and a working brain, this video is tough -- near impossible -- to watch. So, please, use discretion if you choose to roll it. But it must be broadcast as widely as possible. After I saw it -- as I was in the middle of thinking about the NHL on Sochi -- I could do nothing other than include it.

This is the country the NHL is sending its players to. Forget the real possibility that somebody gets blown to bits by a suicide bomber for a second and stop and think about this.

This is the National Hockey League -- an entity that went all-in on a move as gutsy, if not gutsier, than CVS's decision to man up to a social/health issue and stop selling tobacco products.

Now, just a couple years later, every single franchise in the NHL officially supports the You Can Play project. Outside of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier, I'm not sure there has ever been a more impactful stand for human rights in sports that transcends sports. Yet the NHL heads to Russia, a place where the State effectively sanctions discrimination -- and much worse -- against LGBT persons.

Of course, the popular stand says If you don't go, "they" win. But that's crap. You only embolden heartless scum bags and bigots by challenging them. When the type of people who hate the way the people in that first video hate come up against opposition, their resolve strengthens. They view their mission as even more righteous and vital. We're not dealing with individuals who possess intellectual capacities that respond to rational dialogue and pleas for understanding.

Plus the NHL already has its hands full as it attempts to enlighten backwards souls who still proudly and blissfully exist in every state and province in North America.

That's not to say we should let them run rampant taunting, humiliating, beating and killing homosexuals and others who happen to be "different." Quite the contrary. But, by going to Sochi, the NHL does little more than contribute to a dichotomous rhetorical circus. If it opted to keep its players at home, it could make a much more powerful global statement -- directed pointedly at hypocritical, do-nothing governments, particularly in the U.S. and Canada -- each and every time it's asked why.

A You Can Play-focused, diversity-themed NHL All-Star weekend scheduled to coincide with what would be a yawner of a medal round in hockey at the Olympics would have sent a much stronger message. 

I close this article with a link you should put to the top of your reading list. A January 2010 piece Brian Burke (he's in the second YouTube video) did for GQ Magazine. It's powerful. And, more than four years later, it's well worth your time, particularly if you're about to make rude, insensitive, ignorant and asinine remarks in the comments section of this article.

--Written by Rocco Pendola in Santa Monica, Calif.

Disclosure: TheStreet's editorial policy prohibits staff editors, reporters and analysts from holding positions in any individual stocks. Rocco Pendola is a columnist for TheStreet. Whenever possible, Pendola uses hockey, Springsteen or Southern California references in his work. He lives in Santa Monica.

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