The sports world was rocked last week after the shooting of Jacob Blake at the hands of a police officer in Kenosha, WI. Blake was shot while heading to his car after breaking up a fight. His three children were in the back seat. After the shooting, the Milwaukee Bucks of the NBA decided to forfeit their playoff game against the Orlando Magic. The Bucks were the catalyst for the many protests in sports that followed. The Bucks, as well as the other teams that protested, felt that it was no longer acceptable to allow themselves, as athletes, to be a distraction to what’s going on. Enough is enough.
For this edition of Blake’s Takes, all five of my takes will focus on how the shooting of Blake impacted the NHL. Sports can no longer serve as a distraction while more pressing issues like social justice and racial inequality exist in the world, especially in North America.
1. Hockey Stops to Protest Police BrutalityAfter the Milwaukee Bucks decided not to play their game last Wednesday, teams from many other professional leagues followed suit, the NHL included. NHL players protested their games on Thursday and Friday of last week, before returning to play on Saturday.
The goal of these protests was for the athletes to step away from the limelight and allow the national conversation to shift away from sports and towards social justice. In an article from NHL.com, Ryan Reaves summed everything up when he said,
“Over the last two days, a predominantly white sport decided to take two days off, step aside from the game to talk about Black issues around North America,” Reaves said. “For those athletes to step aside and say, ‘I haven’t walked a mile in your shoes, I don’t know what your people go through on a daily basis, but we see the problem and we stand behind you,’ is a very impactful, strong statement.”
I’m proud of the way the players took a stand. I think it’s important to remember that while the NHL may provide entertainment and enjoyment for us, these players are real people and do not exist to serve us. Sports cannot be a distraction and allow us to forget about what really matters in life. Jacob Blake was a father of three who will never be the same again. He was shot because of the color of his skin.
2. Evander Kane Speaks Out
Major organizations and professional sports leagues need to do more to fight systemic racism, racial inequality, and police brutality. It’s unfortunate it’s taken this long, but many who stuck their head in the sand when these issues have come up can do so no longer. People and organizations with power are now being held responsible to make change for the first time.
Last week, Evander Kane quote tweeted a graphic of him speaking out against the NHL and how they should fight for racial injustice.
— Evander Kane (@evanderkane_9) August 27, 2020
While the NHL has had a good summer in many ways, they have dropped the ball in this department. Kane is spot on here. The league has done little to make a firm stance publicly on what they plan to do to destroy systemic racism and prevent police brutality. While the NBA has allowed players to don jerseys with social justice messages and have painted “Black Lives Matter” on their bubble court. Everything the NHL has done over the last few months to combat systemic racism has been player-driven.
It’s the time the league put their money where their mouth is and take a stand. They need to risk losing a little money to protect their players and members of their communities. They also need to encourage their owners to push for change too. That’s where real change can occur. All of the league’s owners are filthy rich with political influence. They can make change easier than anyone else. We all need to start speaking up to push the people with the real power to use it in a way that’s socially responsible, or there will be consequences.
3. Black Players Being Looked to for Leadership
With everything going on last week, Pierre LeBrun tweeted this.
More than 100 players in the bubble had a call with Evander Kane and Matt Dumba this afternoon.
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) August 27, 2020
All I should have to say is, this is what they should do. But, this is a good thing. It shows that players from around the league want to know how they can speak up and get involved in the cause and that they are looking for the right voice to follow.
There are approximately 713 active players at any one time on an NHL roster. That means that according to LeBrun, about 14 percent of the league called Kane and Dumba in one afternoon. I’m sure there was a large additional pool of players who attempted to get involved via other means. This is a huge step that a large portion of the players want to fight systemic oppression and are trying to take steps in the right direction.
It’s also very important that those players looked towards Kane and Dumba for leadership. When I saw this, I first thought of one thing I heard around the time George Floyd was murdered. I learned that white people shouldn’t just look towards the black people in their lives to see how they can do better. They should attempt to do research and listen more. They shouldn’t just take the easy way out. However, Kane and Dumba are members of the Hockey Diversity Alliance. They are the NHL’s thought-leaders in this space. The fact that so many players called them shows that the two of them are respected voices on this topic. It means that the rest of the league cares what they think and want their message to match the message of Kane and Dumba. Most importantly, it means that, unlike what happened with Colin Kaepernick, there is a lower chance of the message being hijacked seeing as the players’ message will mirror that of the black community.
Again, this is another positive step in the hockey community fighting systemic racism. Unfortunately, it only seems to be player-driven at the moment.
4. MacKinnon Looks for Solutions
According to an article on NHL.com Avs superstar, Nathan MacKinnon is working to make immediate changes to fight systemic racism. MacKinnon has reached out to two teammates that are also people of color, Nazem Kadri and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. MacKinnon said,
“Just trying to figure out things to help in a positive way,” MacKinnon said. “I’m a white person, I don’t know what people are going through and I’m not going to act like it. That’s why you have to ask questions and learn and figure out how you can help (make an) impact.”
My goal is not to promote the attempts of another white person when there are plenty of people of color working to make a change. It’s to point out that one of the top three players in the NHL is publicly trying to make a difference.
Like the NBA, superstars control the narrative of the players. It’s harder for NHL players to do it compared to NBA players, but players follow the stars. One of the reasons is that it’s easier for a lesser player to face backlash if their decision isn’t welcome by their front office. That’s why the stars have more pull. No one in the state of Colorado is going to defy what Nathan MacKinnon says. If MacKinnon publicly works to fight systemic racism and police brutality, other players will follow suit and decision-makers will have to accept it.
5. McElhinney Honors Black Athletes
On a somewhat lighter note, Curtis McElhinney of the Tampa Bay Lightning will be sporting a new goalie mask according to this story on NHL.com
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This mask painted for Curtis Mcelhinney was designed with the help of Curtis teammate Mathieu Joseph. You can see some of the great black athletes in history. Willie o’ree Alice coachman Tommie Smith and John Carlos Jackie Robinson Muhammad ali Martin Luther King Jr. #blacklivesmatter Thanks to Curtis and Matt for your trust, that project ment a lot for me! @mathyjoz21 @mcelhinney_c30 @tblightning @nhl
The mask was created with the help of teammate Mathieu Joseph. The mask features some of the most influential black athletes of all time, including Willie O’Ree, John Carlos, Tommie Smith, Jackie Robinson, as well as Martin Luther King Jr.
This is another step in the right direction. We need more players to take it upon themselves to promote black voices and fight systemic racism. Although a small gesture, McElhinney is doing exactly that. He has honored six people instrumental to social justice who gave so much to their fight to end racism.
Again, the gesture is small, but if every player in the NHL can do the same, or take it one step further, we will see change. ■