Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs on Twitter

The NHL and its players need to care

If you haven’t already read the open letter to the NHL by Matthew Henriques, I strongly encourage you start there before reading my post. 

One of things that repeatedly gets said around the hockey world is that we’ve got the best sport, but we’ve got the worst league. Sometimes it would be nice if the NHL would stop proving that statement right, but yesterday was not the day.

On a day when the a move by the Milwaukee Bucks led to the postponement of the entire NBA schedule, and led to similar actions in the WNBA, MLS, and MLB, the NHL responded to these players boycotting their games by having a 33 second moment of reflection before one game with the words “End Racism” on the jumbotron.

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Obviously this is an incredibly embarrassing moment for the league. At a time when people are demanding real action be taken on the continuous police shootings of African Americans and players in other sports are using their platform to demand real change be taken beyond simple lip service to a substantial human rights issue, we are treated to a moment of reflection. Unacceptable.

To their credit, the on air talent of broadcast rights holder of the NHL had no problem calling out the league and its players for their inaction…

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Hopefully this will at worst guilt the NHL into realizing that they can’t continue to ignore this issue, or rely on their weak ass “We Skate for…” initiative to replace actual action. Although the response from the players certainly doesn’t give me much hope. Not finding out about other leagues boycotting games until they were at the rink and then deciding to play anyway is a cop out answer, and one given by both the Bruins and Lightning. And assuming there wasn’t an appetite to go as far as a boycott, there was still an option for players to take a knee, an action not a single player found necessary to do.

Unfortunately the NHL, the NHLPA, and the individual players continue to put all the pressure on people of colour to take action. This is a completely unfair thing to do. While it is something to look to players like Pierre-Edouard Bellamare and Nazem Kadri and ask them what they would like to see, I can’t see how at this point the white teammates of POC can’t figure it out for themselves that they put an incredible amount of pressure on those players by doing so and that the right thing to do is to show support without pressuring them into taking the first step.

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The fact that there is an open hopeless feeling about the NHL is a real problem and underlines how the race issues beyond police murdering and shooting unarmed black men. White players need to take steps similar to what we’ve seen previously from Robin Lehner, Tyler Seguin, and Jason Dickinson, and at least put their support out there. And while other leagues are far beyond taking a knee, it would be nice to see hockey players begin to catch up.

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As for fans, we’re not entirely bystanders in this, and we need to take a bit of action as well. For me, it starts with not watching the playoffs until change happens. It’s a pretty easy and weak decision to make given that the Leafs are out of it. Nevertheless the willingness of fans to walk away from the sport might make a difference, especially when the league is already in tough financial spot.

We also need to be telling the league and our teams what we think. Here are a few people who might want to know your thoughts…

Gary Meagher VP Communications for the NHL [email protected]
Steven Mayer VP Content for the NHL [email protected]

It also would be nice to see some actions come from the Leafs at some point. Kyle Dubas, Morgan Rielly, and others have said very promising things at time, and the Black Lives Matter shirts were nice, but at some point maybe we can move on from words to actions. There are significant resources at MLSE and while the Raptors have used them, the Leafs have not, and perhaps the Leafs can bring some of MLSE’s resources into the NHL. At the very least mirror the efforts of the Seattle Kraken.

As I finish writing this, we have this announcement…

The ball is now in the NHL’s court and we’ll see how truly committed the NHL is to Black Lives and human rights.