Late last week, the National Hockey League observed a two-day boycott from games on Friday and Saturday. After watching the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and various other sports – both male and female – participate in racial injustice boycotts on Wednesday following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, the predominantly white hockey league went on with games as scheduled on Wednesday.
Following significant backlash over a ‘thoughts and prayers’ message delivered inside Scotiabank Arena from public address announcer Mike Ross prior to puckdrop between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said that the league would continue playing its games as regularly scheduled, unless something significant arises from the various players/teams.
Late Wednesday evening, something did arise. It was behemoth Winnipeg-born agitator Ryan Reaves from his hotel bed in Edmonton’s JW Marriott to the ringing of his cellphone. The call was from teammate Marc-Andre Fleury, whom he ended up speaking with into the wee hours of the morning.
“It was a day before what was supposed to be a game, and I ended up texting Flower hoping he was still up,” Reaves told Hockey Night in Canada host Scott Oake last week. “He texted me back, so I called him and we just had a chat. We ended up talking for about an hour at 1:00 in the morning. He just let me vent a little bit, heard me out and gave me his thoughts. But it was still a tough night because as much as he helped, I still didn’t know how it was going to go over. But then when I woke up and saw those texts from Shatty and Bo, it was a little bit of a sigh of relief in knowing that these teams were hearing me out, and it wasn’t just me leading a charge by myself.”
Reaves – who had spoken passionately the day before at a press conference with all remaining players in the Western Conference bubble on the topic of racial injustice – is one of a few players of colour within the NHL, and took his racial background and treatment to heart after watching members of other big league sporting teams boycott games last Wednesday.
“I was out for dinner with Brayden McNabb and a couple guys Wednesday and he just said, ‘Do you think we’re going to play tomorrow?’ And I just answered, ‘Yeah, why wouldn’t we?’, Reaves reflected. “And then I got to my room and said, ‘Are we really going to play tomorrow?’ All these other sports are taking a stand against this racism that is going on in the country, and I know there is not a lot of black athletes, but are we really not going to support what they are doing?”
“It was a tough spot that I felt I was in, being one of the few black athletes in a white sport, it kept me up all night,” he told Oake. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do, I didn’t know how it was going to go over with my teammates, with the league. But when I woke up and I had a text from Kevin Shattenkirk saying all the Eastern Conference teams wanted to talk to me. We had a good chat and after that they said, ‘well I think we ought to take the two days off; we stand behind you’. And then Vancouver is standing outside the dressing room, wanting to talk to me saying the same thing. We had a great chat, and they also agreed to take the two days off and stand up for this.”
As time would tell, the league did participate in a player-led boycott for two nights, ensuring that each team had a game rescheduled, in helps of turning attention to a larger worldly issue, according to Reaves.
“Look, hockey was supposed to be on TV yesterday and today. And it’s not. All the sports stations are talking about what we’re talking about. This issue has been raised and we have the conversation started, and that’s where we wanted to start… I think there are going to be some athletes who are really going to step up, and I’m definitely going to be one of them, either back in the Vegas community or home in Winnipeg, but the biggest key is not to just talk about it, but to be about it.”
Reaves, who has since returned to action alongside the other members of the Eastern and Western Conference teams, very well may ‘hate their guts’ while on the ice, but off the ice it’s a totally different story.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the players in this league, because it’s not necessarily an issue that touches them,” he said to Oake. “It’s not necessarily an issue that they know a lot about. But the fact that they see it through the media and social media obviously proves the point that it’s a big problem for them to take a stand like that… Because at first, the guys out east, they said that they were going to play. But after we had our chat they kind of changed their mindset. Great on them for even just listening. That’s the first step: just listening.”