By Steve Keating
TORONTO (Reuters) - The National Hockey League's New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes returned from a COVID-19 shutdown on Saturday without the players showing support for Black Lives Matter or other social justice causes that have marked the reopening of other sports.
But at the NHL's other hub city of Edmonton, the Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks formed a circle as a "WeSkateForYou" tribute played, and Minnesota Wild defenceman Mathew Dumba, one of a handful of Black players in the NHL, gave a speech and knelt during the U.S. anthem.
As the Rangers and Hurricanes took the ice at Toronto's Scotiabank Arena for the first game since March 11, there was little evidence that the NHL was part of the Black Lives Matter movement that has drawn support throughout global sport from England's Premier League to NASCAR.
There was no shortage of advertising signage on the ice, boards and electronic screens covering the empty stands but only a couple of small #WeSkateForBlackLives banners sprinkled among them.
While NBA, MLB and MLS players have all taken a knee during the playing of the national anthems prior to the start of their games in a show of solidarity with Black Lives Matter, not a single member of the Hurricanes or Rangers chose to protest.
In Edmonton, however, the Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks came together at centre ice and the words "Listen", "Change" and "End Racism" flashed. As Rogers Place fell silent, Dumba appeared on the ice and spoke emotionally about racism.
"I know first-hand, as a minority playing the great game of hockey, the unexplainable and difficult challenges that come with it," said, Dumba, his words echoing in the empty arena. "Hockey is a great game, but it could be a whole lot greater and it starts with all of us."
Following his speech, Dumba knelt as the U.S. anthem played, Blackhawks netminder Malcolm Subban and Oilers defenceman Darnell Nurse, both Black players, placing a hand on his shoulder.
Kneeling has become a symbol of protest for athletes who have united behind anti-racism demonstrations sparked by the death of George Floyd, a Black man in police custody in Minneapolis in May.
The NHL's restart in Toronto stood in contrast to the powerful messages delivered by the other leagues, teams and players on their return to action.
NBA players and coaches knelt and locked arms during the U.S. national anthem as the sport restarted on Thursday, some wearing messages like “Equality”, “Education Reform” and “Say Their Names” on the backs of their jerseys.
Black Lives Matter was also stenciled across the courts at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, while the NHL chose to have the sponsors logos on the Scotiabank ice.
On Major League Baseball's Opening Day last month players from all four teams in action took a knee while holding a 200-yard swath of black cloth.
Prior to the opening match of the MLS is Back Tournament, players took a knee for eight minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck.
(Reporting by Steve Keating; Editing by Toby Davis and Hugh Lawson)