Monday evening’s postseason contest in Edmonton between the Vegas Golden Knights and Dallas Stars began much like any other hockey game – or sporting contest – generally would. Players took off their helmets, those on the bench rose, and the starting lineup stood at the bluelines for the singing of the United States national anthem.
But then, things went slightly different in Alberta, as Stars forwards Tyler Seguin and Jason Dickinson skated over to the Golden Knights’ blueline, where the two joined Vegas forward Ryan Reaves and netminder Robin Lehner on one knee along the blueline. An action first made famous by former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in 2016, players across a number of different professional sporting leagues have been kneeling as a way of showing their support for various social justice and inequality issues around the world.
Although a hot-topic across many other sports, hockey – which is primarily played professionally by white athletes – has not experienced much in the form of racial justice. In 2017, JT Brown raised his fist alone during the national anthem while positioned on the Tampa Bay Lightning bench.
Following the creation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance by seven current and former NHL players, Minnesota’s Matt Dumba has since given a powerful pre-game speech while joined by fellow NHL players at centre ice. Dumba has also raised his own fist on the bench during an anthem, while Monday’s display of solidarity and unification between the Stars and Golden Knights has helped the NHL turn the page on a significant human rights issue.
“I just want to say that in no way was I trying to disrespect the flag or our people that have fought for this county,” Reaves said post-game on Monday. “I have the utmost respect for everyone that has fought and died for the freedom of this country. That’s not the message I’m trying to send. But at the same time, those people go across seas, go to war and families are torn apart in these wars for the freedom of this country, only to find out that this country isn’t free for everybody. That’s where I’m coming from. Not everyone is truly free in this country.”
Following the Golden Knights pre-tournament exhibition game, Reaves was also asked if he considered kneeling, to which the former Brandon Wheat Kings forward provided this response:
“It was discussed,” he said last week. “You know, I think we wanted to do something as a team. For a lot of guys, kneeling isn’t the way they would want to show support. If we wanted to do something as a team, my big thing was I didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable. I know that if I said I wanted everybody to kneel somebody, at least one guy was going to feel uncomfortable. I didn’t want that. This was the best way to be able to include everybody in it. Have everyone comfortable with what we were doing.”
Comfortability went out the window when Stars forward Tyler Seguin approached Reaves in the warmup on Monday, and indicated that he would love to join Vegas’ enforcer along the blueline pre-game.
“I talked to Reaves in warmups, and he said he’s been seeing what I’ve been doing in Dallas, and he said him and Lehner were going to kneel and if I’d like to join them,” Seguin said post-game. “I said ‘Absolutely,’ so I joined them. Before the game, I went in the dressing room and just told the guys what I was doing. I said there was absolutely no pressure to do anything. Dickinson grabbed me and said he’d like to be part of it and support his beliefs and my beliefs and support me as a teammate, and it was great to have him there as well.”
“Nothing against his teammates or anything like that,” Seguin continued. “Everyone’s got their own choices. I don’t think that means anyone doesn’t support him. But definitely being two white guys, to do what we did, I wanted to be a part of that movement if there was an opportunity. I can’t say honestly I was going to go out there on my own and take a knee, but with them having a black player on their team, and his beliefs, and how I’ve said from day one, I’m going to back it up in ways that I can. That’s why I chose to support that and why I’m very proud of what Dickie did, for standing up and doing what he believes as well.”
Dickinson also said the decision was an easy one to make.
“I’ve got some people of colour in my family,” he said. “My dad comes from the islands, and one of my uncles is black, so it was easy for me, an easy decision. I’ve been thinking about it since everything started, if I would do that. And I was probably nervous to think about doing it on my own, and when Seggy said it, it was a no-brainer for me that I wouldn’t be alone doing it… and to support the cause and support my teammates.”
As to whether any of the participating players would continue kneeling going forward, the thought has been had, but no decision has been made.