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NHL silent as other leagues and teams protest, advocate for racial justice

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There’s something bigger than sports happening right now, and we can’t use games to hide away from it.

Chicago Blackhawks v Edmonton Oilers Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Wednesday, August 26 may go down as a day the landscape shifted in North American sports culture.

At the time of this publication, three leagues, multiple teams and players, and more than a few broadcasters, analysts, and pundits chose to boycott, strike, and speak out about racial injustice. George Floyd’s murder in May sparked a wide-scale discussion about white silence and complicity amidst national and international protests against police brutality against the Black community. The attempted murder of Jacob Blake three months later on August 23 sparked wide-scale action in major league sports as teams and players called on their local government to enact change.

The senseless shooting of Blake, along with the subsequent murders perpetrated by a 17-year-old white supremacist with a rifle in the resulting protests, has prompted a reckoning in sports culture. The Detroit Lions were the first, choosing to cancel practice on Tuesday, August 25 as their way of protesting the latest in a far too long string of brutality against the Black community.

The Milwaukee Bucks chose not to play in Game 5 against the Orlando Magic Wednesday, citing the violence in their home state of Wisconsin. They also called on Wisconsin governor Tony Evers and state legislature to reconvene immediately in order to pass laws on law enforcement accountability, while also urging their fans to vote in the election on November 3.

The Orlando Magic also joined the Bucks in choosing not to participate in Game 5 (which was then postponed by the National Basketball Association). The senior vice president of the Milwaukee Bucks tweeted out his support of the players’ choice:

Reports were circulating on Tuesday night that the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics players had met to discuss a potential boycott of Game 1 in their series, slated to begin on Thursday, August 27. At the time of publication, no word has been issued regarding the status of that game by the teams or the league, though some have speculated that the games on Thursday would also be postponed. The NBA postponed the other two playoff games slated to take place today, between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers, and the Houston Rockets against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Several NBA commentators and analysts voiced their thoughts on the events in Kenosha, Wisconsin as well.

Chris Webber, former NBA All-Star and current commentator for TNT, spoke on the recent news and his reaction to it. He spoke, voice wavering with emotion, “I’ve young nephews that I’ve had to talk to about death before they’ve even seen it in a movie.” Webber went on to add, “If not now, when? If not during a pandemic, and countless lives being lost, if not now, when?”

In addition to that, Kenny Smith voiced his support for the players initiating what is quickly becoming a league-wide protest. He said, “As a Black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight.” He then unplugged his microphone and walked off the broadcast, saying, “And figure out what happens after that.”

His frustration and resigned heartbreak speak to the currents felt throughout society about the shooting of Jacob Blake, the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and far, far too many others. You can watch Webber and Smith’s full statements in the videos linked below:

The Women’s National Basketball Association also postponed all games scheduled for Wednesday. The Washington Mystics wore white shirts to practice with Jacob Blake’s name on the front and seven bullet holes on the back to represent the number of times he was shot while leaning into the car containing his young children.

Christine Williamson of ESPN shared a photo of the back of the Mystics’ shirts, the depictions of the seven bullet holes a stark, chilling reminder of the reason behind the league-wide protests in almost all sports across North America.

All players from the six WNBA teams scheduled to play Wednesday gathered on the court, with the Mystics and Jacob Blake’s name front and center, as it was announced that all games were canceled for the evening.

In addition to the NBA and WNBA, several Major League Baseball games were also postponed Wednesday. The Milwaukee Brewers and Cincinnati Reds chose to sit out their game, citing the events in Wisconsin. The Seattle Mariners’ roster voted unanimously to postpone their game against the San Diego Padres. No other games were postponed. The Mariners shared a link to their panel on Black voices in baseball, with a preview video that gets to the heart of the issue:

Major League Soccer postponed the remaining five matches scheduled for Wednesday evening. There were reports just prior to the announcement that FC Dallas and the Colorado Rapids were remaining in their locker rooms, presumably to discuss sitting out the match. MLS issued the following announcement shortly after:

League after league utilized their platforms to announce their boycott and call once more for local and national change. The National Hockey League, however, was the last of the major sports to wade into the discussion. Just prior to the beginning of the game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins, Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly stated:

Daly’s statement prompted outrage and comments from all corners of the hockey community. Former goaltender and current broadcaster Kelly Hrudey posted a plea for the league to listen to its fans and rethink their strategy of only holding a “moment of reflection” before the games:

The league proceeded as planned with the moment of reflection. During the brief speech, the announcer stated the league was committed to “achiev[ing] a fair society for all,” without citing any specific courses of action for doing so. In addition to that, they said they “wish Jacob Blake and his family well.” You can watch the full moment and speech here:

Several reporters in the Edmonton bubble tweeted that no moment of reflection was held prior to the start of Game 3 between the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. This means that the NHL’s response was only used prior to the start of the game between Tampa Bay and Boston, and lasted a total of 34 seconds, while teams and leagues around the continent chose to step back from sports and discuss a better way forward as a society.

Matt Dumba of the Minnesota Wild and the Hockey Diversity Alliance spoke to Sportsnet about the NHL’s moment of reflection and decision not to postpone any games. Dumba has been a leader on and off the ice, calling for change within the league and working with the community in Minneapolis to help create a more equal and safe community outside of hockey. Dumba also delivered a powerful speech before the puck drop of the game between the Edmonton Oilers and Chicago Blackhawks during the play-in round, reinforcing his actions while urging others to join him. You can read his full comments to Sportsnet in Greg Wyshynski’s tweet below:

Sebastian Jackson, a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, took to Twitter to explain why statements from teams and leagues matter, and why the NHL’s response is lacking:

For a league that continues to advocate that “Hockey Is For Everyone” remaining largely silent with what’s happening in the world today makes BIPOC fans feel this way. It’s the exact opposite of standing up for what the league claims to be one of its core values.

We as fans are sick and tired of watching the NHL be silently complicit instead of loudly living their very own ethos every chance they get.

Hockey Wilderness will not be posting any content Thursday, August 27. It just does not feel right for us to be “business as usual” at such a critical moment.

If you want to get involved, you can head to Black Lives Matter’s one-stop page to sign petitions, donate, contacting your representatives, make sure you’re registered to vote, and more.