Sidney Crosby has a chance to speak up after Mario Lemieux's statue in Pittsburgh is vandalized

For years, Sidney Crosby has done everything possible to avoid saying anything controversial. But in today's climate, he may just have to pick a side.

Over the last several days, athletes and protesters across the nation have spoken out against police brutality and racial injustice in the aftermath of George Floyd's death underneath a Minneapolis police officer's knee. One of those athletes to speak up was Sharks forward Evander Kane — one of just 43 black players in the NHL.

MORE: Athletes, coaches call for more collaboration

Kane, appearing on ESPN's "First Take," challenged Crosby and Tom Brady to take a stand against racism.

"That's the only way it's going to change. We've been outraged for hundreds of years and nothing has changed," Kane said.

If that poke wasn't enough to get Crosby to say something — anything — on the subject, then the violent demonstrations this weekend in Pittsburgh might be.

On Saturday, the statue of Penguins legend Mario Lemieux at PPG Paints Arena was damaged with spray paint.

Lemieux had a hand in all five of the Penguins' Stanley Cup titles — first, as a player for back-to-back championships in 1991 in 1992, and then as an owner who saved hockey in Pittsburgh by buying a bankrupt franchise (2009, 2016, 2017). He's the only person in NHL history to have his name on the Stanley Cup both as a player and an owner.

Those accolades alone are enough to make Lemieux a living legend in Pittsburgh, but his philanthropy through the Mario Lemieux Foundation has further cemented his status in the city.

Beyond that, there's the mentor/mentee relationship between Lemieux and Crosby that began when time the Penguins drafted Crosby first overall in 2005. Crosby lived in Lemieux's house for a few years.

So the question remains: With players openly challenging him to speak up and a statue of the franchise's biggest legend and current owner having been defaced, how can Crosby avoid taking sides?

Don't be surprised if the 32-year-old center tries to thread the needle the same he way he effortlessly threads nutmeg passes through the legs of opposing defensemen. It's entirely possible, perhaps even probable that he tries to take a both-sides approach in order to not anger anyone. But what if he didn't?

He may not be "The Magnificent One," but Crosby is a Pittsburgh hero in his own right. He also helped flip the fortunes of a struggling Penguins team, leading the franchise to three Stanley Cup titles. If there's anyone in Pittsburgh who can compare to Lemieux as a player, it's Crosby.

The difference between the two is that Crosby has never revealed much about his personal life. He isn't on social media and has never taken a stance on matters of circumstance. But with the nudge from Kane and the violence that's taking place in the city that has helped make him an NHL icon, it seems selfish for him to say nothing.

Imagine what he could do for a league where fewer than 6 percent of the players are black, if he decided to stand with black Americans. Imagine what he could do for Pittsburgh, where the officer who killed unarmed 17-year-old Antwon Rose was acquitted on all counts four days after being charged with criminal homicide, if he spoke out against police brutality.

Crosby has been served an opportunity on a silver platter to weigh in on an extremely tangible issue that matters to his hockey hometown. The question is, will he step up and attempt to score, or will he pass to someone else?