NHL plays games amid sports boycotts, a move that misses the mark once again

The sports world took a stand Wednesday. 

Players and teams from the NBA, the WNBA, MLB and MLS stood in solidarity by setting aside games to draw attention to the recent shooting of yet another unarmed Black man by police.

The NHL did not. 

Instead, the league issued a short statement and observed a “moment of reflection” for a total of 33.69 seconds prior to Game 3 of the Lightning-Bruins playoff series in Toronto.

“Racism has been embedded in our society for far too long,” public address announcer Mike Ross said as he read the league’s statement. “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 call out to our fans and communities to stand up for social justice and the effort to end racism.”

The anthems played and the puck was dropped. 

Oh, and they didn’t even do the “moment of reflection” prior to the late game between the Avalanche and Stars in Edmonton.

It was yet another hollow response from a league that says it wants to do better. Because on a night when the blueprint of how to raise the call to action was laid out for them by other leagues and athletes, the NHL and its players instead said: “Game on.” 

It came across as if they were saying, “This was not our problem.”

Well, it should be. Because guess what — Black Lives Matter and it’s time the league shows that it’s ready to take true action. 

“[The] NHL is always last to the party on these topics,” Wild defenseman Matt Dumba, a founding member of the Hockey Diversity Alliance (HDA), which was created in June to eradicate systemic racism and intolerance in hockey, said Wednesday night on Sportsnet 650. “It’s kind of sad and disheartening for me and for 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.”

While players across other major sports have been kneeling, wearing shirts with social action messages, have used entire media availabilities to demand the arrests of those who killed Breonna Taylor, and more, the NHL’s players, for the most part, have stood by silently.

Yes, there have been statements and tweets. Yes, Zdeno Chara was at Black Lives Matter protest. Yes, the Maple Leafs wore Black Lives Matter T-shirts. Yes, the Stars’ Tyler Seguin and Jason Dickinson knelt during the national anthems with the Golden Knights’ Ryan Reaves and Robin Lehner. And, yes, Dumba raised a fist on the bench during the anthems. But as the Sharks’ Evander Kane, who is also a member of the HDA, told Sportsnet’s David Amber, the onus shouldn’t be on the minority players to take a stand.

“It’s great to write statements, it’s great to send tweets, it’s great to post stories and pictures on Instagram,” said Kane, who tweeted later in the night that NHL’s tone-deaf response was insulting.

“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.”

It would have been simple Wednesday night: Take the jersey off, hang the skates back up and put the gloves away. And do the right thing.

“I don’t think we should be here. I think the NHL should postpone the games,” Sportsnet’s Kelly Hrudey said before the Bruins-Lightning game. “I really feel we should be more supportive of Black Lives Matter. I know, for myself, instead of watching hockey I’d prefer to be having this conversation with my family. I’ve said many months ago when I made my video about Black Lives Matter, it means something to me and we’ve had many conversations with our family about this issue and I think we should continue on and today would be a great day to do that.

“And I think that the NHL is missing out. I think this would be an important night for many families to have the discussion again . . . I’m disappointed that we’re talking about hockey tonight.”

According to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, the decision was left up to the players and the message was clear. But as Johnston added poignantly during the second intermission of the Bruins-Lightning game, “This conversation needs to continue and it’s going to be on the players, I think, to force change here. 

“This was supposed to be a movement; it’s not a moment.”

This sentiment was echoed by NBC Sports studio analyst Anson Carter prior to the Avalanche-Stars game. He said that while he was OK with NHL players playing, the focus should be on making real changes.

“Yeah, we can protest. We can sit out. But what changes are we actually trying to do?” he said. “Now if you protest and you go about your business and nothing really changes, then what’s the sense of protesting?”

More than three weeks ago, Dumba stood at center ice in Edmonton and gave an impassioned speech as he stood shoulder to shoulder with the Oilers and Blackhawks.

“Racism is everywhere,” he said. “Racism is everywhere and we need to fight against it. On behalf of the NHL and the Hockey Diversity Alliance, we vow and promise to stand up for justice and fight for what is right.”

Wednesday night would have been a good start.

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