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NHL Continues to Miss the Mark: Black Lives Matter, But…

Photo by Christine Simpson

NHL Continues to Miss the Mark: Black Lives Matter, But…

Wednesday, August 26 was an historic evening, as sporting leagues across North America came together, and stood up to the real systemic racial injustice experienced by people of colour, as brought to light most recently by the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and the horrific shooting of Jacob Blake this past week in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

With both the National Basketball Association (Orlando, FLA.) and the National Hockey League (Toronto and Edmonton) operating out of hub city bubbles for the duration of their respective playoff runs, players on participating teams have time to mingle with one another within the hotels, training facilities and sporting venues. And according to many reports, that’s exactly what those in the NBA did Wednesday afternoon.

Due to mass civil unrest throughout the United States in the wake of the most recent police shooting in Wisconsin, players on the Milwaukee Bucks and Orlando Magic met prior to Wednesday’s game and determined the two teams would participate in a boycott that evening. Reportedly led by the Bucks and Toronto Raptors, this display prompted many other teams within the NBA to respond in similar ways, ultimately causing a league-wide boycott, with the potential of seeing the remainder of the 2019-20 season scrapped.

Major League Baseball also saw a number of teams with players sitting out contests Wednesday, prior to the announcement that games in Milwaukee, San Diego and San Francisco had been postponed. Major League Soccer also made the announcement that it had postponed its five matches Wednesday evening, following a decision by the players.

The Women’s NBA saw players on the Washington Mystics show up in white shirts with individual letters spelling the name ‘Jacob Blake’ written on front, with seven red dots, indicating bullet holes (the amount of times he was shot) on their backs. In a moment of solidarity, the Mystics and their competition Atlanta Dream met at centre court for a photo opp before leaving the arena arm-in-arm.

Interestingly enough, August 26, 2020 marked the four-year anniversary of the date when former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee in protest of racism during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner – something he eventually lost his job for. He has yet to find work in the NFL, despite his physical acumen.

The National Hockey League, however, did not cancel games, but rather featured an electronic ‘End Racism’ sign on the jumbotron prior to puck drop in the evening game between the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lighting. Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena public address announcer Mike Ross also read the following statement just before a 33.69 second ‘moment of reflection’:

“Racism has been embedded in our society for far too long,” the statement read. “Today and every day, the NHL and the hockey community are committed in the mission to combat racial injustice and achieve a fair society for all. The NHL would like to take this moment to wish Jacob Blake and his family well and to call out to our fans and our community to stand up for social justice and the effort to end racism.”

Despite the cancellation of games in leagues across the continent, the NHL felt that reading a short message, while displaying a black and white sign was significant enough in the fight against racial injustice. Much like the saying goes, if you’re not saying something against it, than you are complicit in supporting it. The NHL certainly has not said much on the racial front.

Evander Kane, co-chair of the Hockey Diversity Alliance spoke with Hockey Night in Canada host David Amber Wednesday evening, stating that as a minority player within the league, it shouldn’t solely have to be up to him or other players of colour to speak on the issues that black men and women are facing in North America.

“It’s not just my responsibility as a minority player in the NHL to be talking about these issues,” Kane said. “It’s not just Wayne Simmonds or Akim Aliu or Joel Ward or Matt Dumba’s stance or issues in this society, it’s everybody’s. Until everybody decides to take it upon themselves and maybe step away from some of their privileges to educate themselves and really fight with us, we’re going to be in the same situation we are today.”

“It’s great to write statements, it’s great to send tweets, it’s great to post stories and pictures on Instagram,” the former Jet said. “But at the end of the day it’s going to be about real action and meaningful change, and unfortunately that still isn’t occurring, and we need to be better.”

Minnesota’s Mathew Dumba – who made waves earlier in the postseason, as he stood on the bench with his clenched fist raised during the playing of the national anthem, much like that of Tommie Smith and John Carlos – also spoke on the matter Wednesday.

“I hope guys find it in them to stand up,” Dumba said. “You can’t keep coming to the minority players every time there’s a situation like this. The white players in our league need to have answers for what they’re seeing in society right now, and where they stand. I know there’s a lot of them that are good people. There’s a lot of good people in hockey. But the silence is as bad as violence, you know? You have to step out, really hear people’s stories, have that empathy and understanding of where they’re coming from and why we’re doing what we’re doing right now.”

“It’s so much bigger than sports,” he continued. “In hockey, that’s what it comes back to: You’re just relying on the minority guys to step up and say it. But what would really make the most impact is to have strong white leaders from teams step up and have their two cents heard. All the other white kids who grow up watching them, who might be their biggest fans, can look up and say, ‘Wow, if he’s seeing this and trying to stand up and to listen, then why am I not as well? Why am I continuing to hold on to this ignorance or hate that I feel towards a subject that I maybe don’t know everything about?”

On Thursday morning it was announced that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHLPA Executive Director Don Fehr spoke on Wednesday, and the expectation is that the dialogue will continue between the NHL and NHLPA Thursday. However, it appears unlikely that the league will change it’s position, unless serious action is taken by the players.

It is no secret that North America is sport-driven. And much like the COVID-19 pandemic, it took the shutting down of the major sports leagues within the continent for people to realize the severity of the situation they were faced with. Maybe, just maybe, the same will be said of the systemic racism and injustice faced by those of colour throughout North America, following the boycotts of ‘certain’ sports. Or else it will just continue to be well-wishes to the families of victims and 33.69 second moments of reflection.

Carter Brooks - Associate Editor of Game On Magazine - is a news writer and sports columnist situated in Winnipeg, MB. On top of reading and writing, his favourite pastimes include camping, car-modification projects and coaching hockey. Carter can be reached at carterbrooks1994@gmail.com.

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