The NHL’s players had an opportunity to stand on the right side of history Wednesday, but they blew it.
Protests and outrage have marked the past few days since a Black Wisconsin man, Jacob Blake, was shot in the back by police. In response, leagues like the NBA, WNBA, MLS, and MLB have had their players decide they won’t play games, leading to postponements and cancellations.
All this as we’re coming up on four years since former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick decided to sit, then kneel, for the U.S. national anthem as a form of protest against police brutality toward Black people.
MLS players like Jozy Altidore and Mark-Anthony Kaye called out their league and its commissioner, Don Garber, asking for support; a statement. The league eventually released one, saying it was “deeply saddened and horrified” by the “senseless” shooting.
Even an athlete like Josh Hader, the Milwaukee Brewers pitcher whose racist and homophobic tweets surfaced in 2018, made the decision to be heard on this issue as a sign of growth. Not an absolution of his prior actions, but growth nonetheless. The Brewers’ game against the Cincinnati Reds would later be postponed.
There were even rumblings of a shutdown in tennis.
The NHL, instead, decided it would have a “moment of reflection” before the games they’d play on Wednesday night. While some players — Evander Kane and Troy Stecher come to mind — have commented on Blake’s situation, the league decided to play on as other leagues stopped. Much to the chagrin of hockey fans, and even media.
Honestly, I’m angry and embarrassed to be a part of the hockey community today. If I was supposed to be playing tonight, I would not be playing tonight. Stop doing the bare minimum. Take your “moment of reflection” and learn from the real leaders taking ACTION across other sports— Ailish Forfar (@ailishforfar) August 26, 2020
The NHL’s “moments” of reflection were also embarrassing to say the least, and were promptly panned by critics. Some spoke against the fact that the moment of silence was only mere seconds in the Eastern bubble prior to the Boston Bruins-Tampa Bay Lightning game.
As for the game in the Western bubble? There were none.
The league was already soaking up the mess it made with the Akim Aliu and K’Andre Miller racial incidents. The Hockey Diversity Alliance, an organization founded to bring together players of colour, are not convinced that the league has done enough to support its Black players. Wednesday’s actions will only further that narrative and support their point.
While the league will serve as a rod for criticism and bashing, their players shouldn’t be immune. The commonality in all the leagues mentioned above is that their players felt empowered to take a stand. In the National Hockey League, only a handful of their white players said anything in support of their Black teammates and cohorts following the death of George Floyd.
None of them desired to sit out any of Wednesday night’s games, or do anything more beyond a moment of reflection while on the ice.
Players like Kane and Matt Dumba have been left to make statements and voice their displeasures alone. Hockey, a sport in which its “team-first” dynamic has been praised and commemorated, has mostly left its minority players to protest on their own with little support. Frankly, it’s cowardly of the NHL to do so.
Speaking personally here. I don’t see these strikes in other sports as one-day events. Teams like the Toronto Raptors were discussing the possibility of sitting out games before the Milwaukee Bucks announced what they’d be doing. If the NHL eventually follows suit, instead of being seen as proactive and progressive, their decision will be met with groans and even more criticism.
For the NHL, it is too little, and already too late.