The past few years have seen more NHL players speak out against Russian President Vladimir Putin and New York Rangers winger Artemi Panarin took his turn Thursday.
In a candid interview with Alexander Golovin, the 27-year-old was honest in expressing his lack of support for Putin and his administration.
"I think [Putin] no longer understands what's right and what's wrong," Panarin said (translated by journalist Slava Malmond). "Psychologically, it's not easy for him to judge the situation soberly. He has a lot of people who influence his decisions. But if everyone is walking around you for 20 years telling you what a great guy you are and how great a job you are doing, you will never see your mistakes."
Panarin recently signed a seven-year, $81.5 million deal with the Rangers at the start of free agency after leading the Blue Jackets with 28 goals and 87 points in 2018-19.
He mentioned in the interview that used to be supportive of the president until he came to the United States in 2015 and started to read American news and learn more about politics, which he mentioned he "was never really interested in" due to his focus on hockey. However, once he started to adopt American culture and engage with network news channels, he started to feel that "something is wrong [in Russia]."
"I just understood what type of horror is going on here. It's enough for a person to just see the two sides and he will understand everything," Panarin told Golovin. "You don't even need to be super smart, just be open to another opinion, that's all. . . Before, I was leaning towards that same atmosphere that is currently in our country: that everyone is attacking us, everyone is oppressing us. Now I know that there are good people there who think well of us. There are political games. There are reasons why they impose sanctions on us."
He went on to mention how he believes the lawlessness is an issue in Russia, and how there is no regulation. He also discussed that freedom of speech and freedom of expression is restricted, and in turn, that doesn't allow many to share their thoughts or point out problems in the country.
Ultimately, he said his comments, though critical, have good intentions.
"I may look like a foreign agent right now, but it's not like that," Panarin said. "I think that the people who hush up the problems are more like foreign agents than those who talk about them. If I think about problems, I am coming from a positive place, I want to change something, to have people live better."
Although he admitted that he was afraid of facing backlash and punishment for the interview, he said that shouldn't be the case regardless and that he should be able to express his thoughts whether they're positive or not. Additionally, he said that even though he's an athlete, he should still be free to share his thoughts.
"I think it's wrong [to say this]," Panarin added. "Athletes should pay attention to what's going on in the country. They should have a position. I don't want anyone to mess with mine,"