Anger, apathy has set in for hockey players and fans of color

·NHL Writer
·4 min read

If there’s one thing my father, a mid-50s native of Trinidad & Tobago, and I can talk about ad nauseam, it’s sports. Yes, that includes the mostly white sport of hockey. When you live in Montreal, even if you’re a casual fan, you’re bound to discuss the Montreal Canadiens at some point.

But sports have taken a backseat in light of the global pandemic and anti-racism protests spurred on by the unjust shootings and deaths of Black people at the hands of police in 2020. It has led to some intense conversations at home between my dad and I, along with my mom and my siblings. We’ve even discussed what we feel athletes and leagues can do to be proactive and take action during this weird time.

Ultimately, whatever had to be done would have to affect the pocketbook of those who truly carry the most influence on lawmakers and professional sports owners. Athletes like LeBron James would have to be at the forefront of change for their respective sport.

But whenever the NHL comes up in conversation, my dad usually scoffs. The NHL? The last bastion for white people in sport? They’ve proven to be behind the eight-ball in their treatment of Black players in the past, so why should they be taken seriously with their attempts at supporting Black Lives Matter? Do they even care?

I am thankful to cover the sport as part of my living, while also enjoying games as a general fan. As much as I would like to see the league make more strides in treating other players of colour with respect, the NHL is proving my father right.

Some may feel disappointed at the league continuing to play games as other professional men’s and women’s leagues opted to postpone games in light of Jacob Blake being shot seven times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. But there’s a general sense of apathy that has also fallen, almost as if the league’s inaction was to be expected.

As the highest leagues in men’s and women’s basketball, baseball, and even auto racing have showed solidarity with Black Lives Matter, we’ve let the bar be lowered for the NHL.

It means players like Logan Couture can get away with putting out statements saying they stand in solidarity with players like Akim Aliu and Evander Kane, but ultimately aren’t expected to follow through on whatever reflection and learning they vowed to do. The league has no problem saying it will reflect and listen but won’t say “Black Lives Matter” as if it’s supposed to be a divisive statement.

Even players like Matt Dumba know their league is behind the times.

Dumba was the first NHL player to kneel for the U.S. national anthem, doing so during the play-in round. He then followed up his protest by lifting his fist, alone, before games for the remainder of the playoffs.

“NHL is always last to the party on these topics,” Dumba told Sportsnet 650 Wednesday evening.

“It’s kind of sad and disheartening for me and members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance and I’m sure for other guys across the league. But if no one stands up and does anything, then it’s the same thing. That silence. You’re just outside, looking in on actually being leaders and evoking real change when you have such an opportunity to do so.”

J.T. Brown, a Black player who received death threats for raising his fist during the anthem while playing with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2017, was equally unimpressed with the league’s lack of a response Wednesday.

Other hockey players including Aliu, Evander Kane and Sarah Nurse also spoke out against the NHL Wednesday, wondering why its players were silent as other leagues were much more proactive.

A league that claims it is for everyone was late to the punch with proving that fact. Instead, Black fans and players have once again been shifted to the side because of its racial blind spots, just as many expected.

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